Image: Ubisoft/Kirill B.
DWG KIA are viewed as APAC’s best hopes to win an international title for the first time ever. They came extremely close in Nov. 2021, when they pushed FaZe Clan in the Sweden Major semi-final harder than NIP did in the grand final.
But after a disappointing SI 2022, where they were only top 12, and failing to qualify for the Charlotte Major -- partially due to a late notice from ESL regarding VPN-usage, but also due to a preceding lackadaisical performance against CAG -- DWG’s dominance was beginning to show cracks.
But the Koreans responded in fine fashion come Stage 2, even opting to bolster their squad with the signing of Park "PJH" Jae-hyun as a coach. Six regulation victories meant that they became the first team from the region to qualify for the Berlin Major.
The string of victories came despite the added pressure that came with the removal of the APAC Playoffs, in direct response to the latency issues in the Stage 1 Playoffs.
“It was quite disappointing that the playoff is not going to be there any more,” recalled Jang "RIN" Byeong-uk through his team manager’s translation. His response was opposite to SANDBOX compatriots Hyeonjin "Arukaze" Hwang and Lee "GoodBoy" Ji-heon, who prefer the Stage 2 format.
The Stage 2 format meant that teams in APAC had to be in the top two at the end of the seven BO1 games, with no opportunity to qualify through the APAC Playoffs after finishing third or fourth. As a result, DWG certainly felt the pressure.
“It was quite fortunate we made the Major,” said RIN, who cited the CAG victory as a vital one, because it secured Berlin Major qualification for DWG, but also because it was against a close APAC North rival. “We were quite happy that we were maintaining strong team power (by staying top in APAC North).”
Credit to that ability to stay top was given to PJH, who helped the team improve its map veto and “other in-game” strategies, according to RIN.
The perception that DWG are the best APAC has to offer right now is certainly well-earned, but it may crumble come the end of August.
The Koreans pushed Spacestation Gaming close at the recently-concluded Gamers8 tournament, but lost 1-2 before being pushed aside 0-2 by Team Liquid. At Berlin, too, they might crash out in the group stage after having been drawn alongside a fearsome trio of XSET, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and Rogue.
But the Gamers8 practice -- and more specifically, the losses -- may just be what RIN and his team need to kick on in Berlin.
“The SI [performance] made us to think that it is not that great to win several games in a row,” said RIN, recalling how his team finally intrinsically understood the adage that failure is a better teacher than success. “Just winning is not that good.”
At SI 2022, DWG had a lossless run and only lost one map out in their four games won. But two playoff losses later, they were out. Comparing that with the Sweden Major, their most successful event yet, they had lost twice in the group stage before nearly progressing to the grand final.
Both those teams in the SI 2022 playoffs were also North American, as were SSG at Gamers8 this prior weekend, which RIN described as his team’s Achilles heel.
Failure to make an impact at Gamers8 is certainly cause for concern, especially off the back of a disappointing SI 2022 run. But, the three losses that followed DWG’s APAC North six-match win streak may just be what the Koreans need to recalibrate for the step up in strategy demanded at the Berlin Major.
“In the game that we lost, we can get something more than [the improvements we can flag after a win,” said RIN. “[And when we win so much] it is very hard to control that (excited and happy) emotion.”
But it’s not all well and good for DWG to have played at Gamers8. They were the only team there who will also proceed to play at the Berlin Major, which means that they will not get as much rest as the other 15 -- a factor that RIN cited in his team’s Charlotte Major miss. DWG will also have more tape on them for their Major opponents to study.
Catch DWG KIA on the international stage again at the Berlin Major, which will run from Aug. 15 to 21, and read up on everything you need to know about the event.