Image: Ubisoft/Eric Anamalay
Like many other teams all across the world, APAC North league leaders CYCLOPS athlete gaming have not been immune to the effects of fatigue. Of the six international events that have taken place following the COVID-related shutdown, they have only missed two -- the most recent of which was the Berlin Major.
This followed attendance at the Six Invitational and Charlotte Major this year, though CAG were unimpressive and finished at the bottom of their groups at both events. With the highly-coveted and highly-rewarding Japan League also a major focus for them, giving their all in both that and APAC North meant something had to give.
But the cracks that showed at those two events widened into a fissure in Stage 2, as CAG -- of all teams -- failed to adjust to the new, utility-light and frag-heavy meta. As a result, they lost three games in APAC North and finished in third place -- three points adrift of second-placed and Major-bound SANDBOX Gaming.
"We had to adapt to the meta by watching how other teams such as Elevate ... fight against international teams," said CAG coach Fumiya "Fuji3" Fujisaki through a translator in an interview with SiegeGG.
Watching Elevate also helped them bring an edge to their own game -- their players' prowess at securing kills was so strong, says Fuji3, that they became one of the most heavily scrutinized teams in APAC. Everyone wanted to be able to rebuff the aggressive and gung-ho CAG.
"We learned a different way to get many kills," explained Fuji3, indicating that his team had finally been able to successfully blend a more patient play style with their natural gunfighting ability. "[Instead of] looking for the enemy by ourselves, we waited for some opportunities to get a lot more kills than before."
The form this new, blended play style stemmed from scrimmaging with APAC South teams such as Elevate. According to Fuji3, his team had previously struggled to read the timing of when those teams were about to execute their attacks. Now, armed with that information, CAG have apparently not only been able to incorporate that into their own attacks, but have also learnt how to rebuff by securing the necessary kills at the opportune moments.
In Stage 3, these lessons were well incorporated within CAG, who only lost a single game -- a 6-8 loss to fellow Jönköping Major-bound team SANDBOX Gaming. Their players have been in remarkable form and were the first, second, and third-best players by SiegeGG Rating and also dominated in other statistical categories.
Their resultant 18-point haul thus gave them the first seed in all of APAC and has given them a rather favourable group for the Major -- Soniqs, Black Dragons, and MNM Gaming.
"It looks like we are in a bit of a convenient group, but we cannot underestimate any of the teams," admitted Fuji3, who praised MNM despite their struggles while attacking in the EUL. "I believe MNM is at a higher level than us, especially because the EUL is the best league ... We will (still) have to fight hard."
The caution is well-warranted. Although CAG have been to five international LAN events, they have failed to progress to the playoffs at any. The closest they got was at the Mexico Major in 2021, where they were unable to win three rounds against eventual champions Team oNe and were subsequently eliminated in a historical tiebreaker match.
"World-class teams have excellent counter-measures against their opponents... I think that's what makes the difference," explained Fuji3 in an assesment of his team's shortcomings. "This time, we also will be working hard to develop our own counter-measures."
CAG will be somewhat shorthanded at the Major, however, as they are one of the only teams to lack an analyst alongside their coach. They parted ways with their Italian analyst Riccardo "Hybrid" Massimino Font before Stage 2, but have not been able to sign a replacement due to a lack of "decent (available) candidates" in Japan that are not already with another team.
Fuji3 also expressed support for the idea of having a sports psychologist help CAG bridge any mental gaps to teams from other regions and lamented the dearth of professionals in that role, sharing that he believed "Japan is behind in the field of psychology".
Should CAG fail to deliver again, however, there could finally be changes bigger than the signings of a new analyst or sports psychologist. It has been nearly three years since they last made a roster change and while this team has proven successful domestically in Japan, the lack of international results have been frustrating fans.
"We believe the current roster is very balanced in terms of coordination and potential," said Fuji3, addressing a perceived reluctance to change the roster so far. "We have the potential to win a Major ... however, depending on the result of this Major and the Invitational, there may be potential roster changes."
Catch CYCLOPS athlete gaming on the international stage again at the Jönköping Major, which will take place from Nov. 21 to 27.
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