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'I think it’s the way we do things': Regionally-consistent DarkZero still searching for international title

DarkZero have been one of North America's most consistent regional teams for three years. When will they break through?

Image via Ubisoft/@Kirill_Vision

For around six months, DarkZero has had a consistent roster – a far cry from their 2021 turbulence. 

After moving two players off the roster, and two players to coaching status, some consistency paid off for DarkZero at SI 2022. They bucked most expectations with a top-eight placement – two wins in the playoffs over NAVI and FURIA, with a tough loss to all-Brazilian FaZe Clan to cap their run. Their Stage 1 run was solid, so was their Sweden Major run without much experience. 

All the same, there’s one thing that’s been commonplace over this DarkZero iteration’s history: slow starts. On the first day of the Sweden Major, DarkZero lost twice: a 1-7 loss to Vitality, and a 3-7 loss to Team oNe. First day of SI? 0-2 loss to Elevate, and early Stage 1 wins over a lowly Mirage and solid beastcoast gave way to an 0-2 week. 

“I think we get in our heads a lot,” said Kyle “Mint” Lander, DarkZero head coach. “We talked about it last SI – we kind of overwhelm ourselves, like in the moment we get over-hyped. And we need to just calm down … we go to the stage, we get hyped up and we start peeking everything and playing crazy.”

When DarkZero settles in, they start performing better. One of the carry-overs from the initial DarkZero squad – the former Flipside and SK Gaming core – is “unpredictability”, Mint says. He elaborates by saying that ever since Troy “Canadian” Jaroslawski joined the roster, the “secondary playbook” of sorts has been expanded. Mint’s old rosters were some of the first teams to scrimmage LATAM teams – which he says helped generate some of the more out there strategies. The current roster isn’t fully on-board with “how crazy I [Mint] would like it to be,” he says with a chuckle, but the undercurrent is there even if the specifics are disagreed upon. 

Being flexible has never been more important in Rainbow Six Siege. Mint thinks the current team has the flexibility to be successful, and helping the squad be successful is something he says he’s enjoying about this “next step”. 

“The X’s and O’s is what I love about this game,” Mint said when asked about his transition from playing to coaching. The time was right for him in early 2021, he says, and with the departure of Brandon “BC” Carr to the managerial part of the organization, he’s the only hands-on coaching guy. It’s taken some time-managing tweaks, but he feels he’s adjusted well. 

Regimented continuity is one of the things Mint believes aids DarkZero in being one of the most consistent teams to qualify for competitions. No matter if they’re “DarkZero LAN wins” – a nickname Mint describes as “kinda funny”, since Canadian helped spawn it and now he’s on the other side of the coin – getting to the competitions themselves takes a kind of skill. 

Currently, DarkZero, as an organization, is the owner of one of the longest stretches of S-Tier event qualifications in Rainbow Six Siege esports. They’re up to nine in a row now, a feat stretching back to Pro League Season 9 Finals in Milan. With training regimens ripped out of the traditional sports playbooks, Mint thinks it’s a top-down effort, despite DarkZero’s series of internal turnovers. “I think it’s the way we do things,” Mint said. "It’s everything: It’s our practice schedule, etc … we have to be doing something right."

That stretch of LAN qualifications has yet to come with international hardware – DarkZero’s trophy chest holds a Mini-Major title – Mint thinks it’s just a matter of time. “As long as we keep putting ourselves in contention, we keep updating our game to the best of our ability, staying on top of the meta, if not trying to be ahead of the meta, and just keep working our asses off – it only has to take one time for it all to gel and to click.”

Somewhat ironically, after all their 2021 changes, DarkZero is the North American representative with the least changes this time around. Astralis and XSET are new to the Major field, and Oxygen changed two players in the offseason transfer window after SI 2022. While not as explosive as some of the other teams in the field, qualifying for this Major took firepower – the NAL is deeper than ever before. Plus, it’s front of a home-field crowd. 

DarkZero, and the other NAL representatives, take the server May 16th in the Charlotte Major for the group stage.