Image via Ubisoft/Eric Anamalay
The 2022 season has started in strong fashion for Invictus Gaming, with four wins in four games played (and a forfeit loss), but that was far from a guarantee.
After having kept its core trio of Glen “Lunar” Suryasaputra, Jeremy “HysteRiX” Tan, and Matin “SpeakEasy” Yunos constant for three years, the Aerowolf-turned-Giants-turned-Invictus squad finally changed its identity in 2022.
“We were constantly making Majors, but we weren’t ever performing in them,” explained HysteRiX in an interview with SiegeGG before the start of the 2022 season. Two Six Invitationals and two Six Majors had seen the team disappoint internationally, never making playoffs, and it had only impressed at the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals in Nov. 2019.
Their international failures aren’t to say the team was ever outrightly poor, though. The Singaporean team had been a giant in the APAC scene since 2017, and emerged second in APAC North in 2020 and top in a hyper-competitive APAC South in Stage 3 of the 2021 season. Yet, international results were what was desired, and HysteRiX, SpeakEasy, and iG coach Ellis “GiG” Hindle risked a sharp drop to the bottom to push for the taste of that elusive success.
The changes also stemmed from flirtations with the bottom of the table in Stages 1 and 2 of the 2021 season. But the quality was apparent for Invictus as they turned a do-or-die final play day in Stage 2, where they would have been either last or fourth, into Mexico Major qualification.
“Backs were against the wall, I guess,” said HysteRiX of that Stage 2 turnaround. “We needed to go through the playoffs to qualify for the Major… we had a really good playoffs run.”
Things were feeling good domestically again, and the team began dreaming of Mexico Major success after seemingly having fixed its issues. But that was all an illusion, with HysteRiX revealing that the event was when internal perceptions about their international strength began to deflate.
“There was definitely a lot of skill gap and a lot of issues with individual performance that led us to constantly getting knocked out of groups overseas,” he elaborated. “We had our individual skill to help us, but at the same time we weren’t as good as we thought we were.”
The players were also under a tight timeline to impress Invictus Gaming in 2021. They were only signed to an initial six-month contract, HysteRiX revealed. That was also a potential source of stress that the team failed to overcome, he reflected.
As good as Invictus looked in Stage 3, where they secured auto-qualification to the Sweden Major through APAC South and when Jo stated he finally felt like he had gelled with the rest of the team, there were “a lot of other issues” (such as a lack of “player confidence”) that lurked beneath the surface.
“During our SI Quals run … we eventually fell to CAG and we just couldn’t adapt,” spoke HysteRiX of their loss in the APAC SI 2022 Qualifier grand final. “The voices on our team weren’t strong enough to actually like (say), ‘Hey let’s make a change in the round right now’. We were just going with the flow, we just kept playing and playing but we weren’t actually trying to figure out what’s the issue.”
That lack of problem-solving ability and adaptability was attempted to be fixed by the leadership of Lunarmetal and SpeakEasy, but it “just wasn’t enough”. In addition, Lunarmetal’s desire to retire had apparently stretched as far back as the first-ever Pro League APAC Finals in 2017.
“He didn’t really plan for this to be a career, but I think one thing led to another and eventually we kept making APAC LANs,” revealed HysteRiX. “It was always on the back of our minds that he’s gonna retire one day … there were a lot of times when we lost LANs on the APAC level and Glen wanted to quit … and we kinda had to motivate him to stay.”
Lunarmetal was a vital part of the team since its inception due to his rarity in the scene as an IGL, according to HysteRiX. The team eventually came to rely almost entirely on his in-game leadership, making him further irreplaceable for a long time until he was able to finally take the retirement plunge in 2022.
So, gone were Lunarmetal, Jrdn, and Jo, and in were Patrick “MentalistC” Fan, Nathaniel “Naate” Williams, and Jack “Jigsaw” Gillies. MentalistC is a proven quantity -- he was a vital part of the Fnatic team at SI 2020, and had been a teammate to HysteRiX and SpeakEasy in 2019, including at the Season 10 Pro League Finals. Jigsaw and naate, on the other hand, looked fantastic on paper, but the former is making his top-flight debut this year, and the latter was relegated in 2021 with ORDER.
Still, such is the on-paper strength of their new roster, that HysteRiX himself and others have dubbed it a “super-team”. SpeakEasy’s “eye for the game” has seen him transition to a support role, naate comes in as a hard support, and Jigsaw and MentalistC are on the entry role. HysteRiX himself is continuing as flex support.
Stats-wise, the new iG seems like a pound-for-pound upgrade on the old one. SpeakEasy has not skipped a beat in the four matches played, and was a top performer in three, while Jigsaw and naate have also been impressive. Jigsaw was also the Oceanic Nationals 2021 Rookie of the Year, and naate had the third-highest 2021 Stage 3 Rating while playing the same role for ORDER. Only MentalistC has not secured high Ratings, but the environment is far more upbeat with him back on the team.
“We’re winning rounds we’re not supposed to win,” said HysteRiX of the firepower upgrade the team has received. “And I guess right now, everyone on the team is leading in some way … everything seems so fluid compared to our previous roster.”
But “super-teams” have come and gone, and they have – so far – been failures. G2 Esports’ first attempt was unimpressive, as was Team Vitality’s. Even Fnatic’s 2020-2021 roster, which was the closest attempt at an APAC super-team, was hamstrung by the issues with their desired move to Japan.
This iG has now increased its fluidity, but HysteRiX admitted that it has come with increased chaos. And this team also has two players that have never had the opportunity to play internationally.
HysteRiX seemed well aware of the poisoned chalice of “super-teams”, but his belief in his team to deliver, and his excitement at teaming up with proven leader MentalistC and hot prospects naate and Jigsaw, was unmistakable.
“Comparing ourselves to that old G2 super-team, I guess we have a more balanced lineup where it’s essentially individually strong players, but we’re also strong in different areas of the game,” said HysteRiX. “For example, naate is good at hard supporting, Pat is good at entry-ing, Jig is good at entry-ing, I’m good at flexing… We bring a lot of different aspects to the team unlike what a super-team (has) traditionally meant to be, where everyone is just a fragger.”
There’s always a risk of this iG also falling flat internationally, and the players seem well aware. But all they can do is put their heads down and play their own game.
Catch Invictus Gaming next in APAC South on Apr. 6, when they take on Knights at 7:15 PM UTC+8.