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"Our play style at that time wasn't ... true to ourselves": Astralis confident for Invitational despite SCS struggles

Astralis dropped off significantly after their Stage 2 NAL run... can they find their form at the Invitational?

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The 2022 season started off extremely brightly for North American fans. Not only were they having a Major on home soil, in Charlotte, they also had two home teams in the grand-final. Both DarkZero Esports and Astralis put on a show for their adoring fans, but that was as much cheer as they both received that year.

Like DarkZero, who won that grand-final in a 3-2 battle, Astralis failed to have any further international impact that season. Though they followed up their table-topping Stage 1 performance in the NAL with an identical domestic Stage 2, they were abject at the Berlin Major and crashed out in last place in their group.

Then, in Stage 3, they failed to make it to the Major entirely.

"In the plainest sense ... it was kinda complacency," explained Astralis coach Seth "Callout" Mik in an interview with SiegeGG ahead of the Six Invitational 2023. "We shot up really quickly you know, nearly touched the sun."

Astralis' success in Stage 1 had certainly come quick. The former Disrupt Gaming squad had only been signed by the legendary Danish organisation in Stage 3 of the 2021 season and had finished a mere seventh place then. One Roman "Forrest" Breaux signing later, they topped the NAL two stages in a row and had been one map away from a title win.

Callout went on to share that while unspoken within the team, Astralis had developed a "sense of entitlement" from that meteoric rise in the first half of 2022. That resulted in internal standards slipping, mistakes becoming accepted -- directly contrary to the ethos that Callout had spoken of ahead of the Berlin Major. No longer were Astralis "learn something new every round" they practiced.

"We would say the right things, it's just no one was actually doing them," said Callout, shedding light on why that ethos did not yield results at the Berlin Major.

How well they had performed until then also blinded them to this drop in standards, he continued, as the Astralis players' self-analysis was not as harsh as it would have been if they had been losing. However, one factor that was not a key driver of their decline -- as was with other teams -- was burnout.

Such was the dip in form in Astralis that it triggered a roster change. Matthew "Dpfire" Macway was benched after the end of the season, having been the fourth-worst fully-fledged player in the entire NAL in Stage 3.

"At that point we kinda needed, like, a culture shift in the team a bit (to stop the complacency)," said Callout of the decision to take Dpfire off the playing roster. "When it came to our players, Dpfire was probably, you know, performing the worst of everybody -- statistically he was, as well."

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Dpfire with Astralis in the Charlotte Major grand-final.

Signed as a replacement was Arial Arise Academy player Chris "Spiff" Park.

"We trialed a lot of people... I think it was, like, upwards of 10 plus people," shared Callout. "In the end, Spiff was just the person that, you know, stood out."

Callout went on to say that the final decision was swayed in Spiff's favour, away from "one other person" due to Spiff's "coachability" -- a more open and willing approach to learning. Spiff's discipline also impressed the Astralis coach and caused the final choice to be a "no-brainer".

However, things did not immediately improve for Astralis with Spiff as they had with Forrest one year ago. Although playing in the amateur SCS League, they only finished in the top eight during the Swiss stage and crashed out after a decisive 0-2 loss to Oxygen Esports in the quarter-finals of the playoffs.

"It was a good opportunity for us, we can get some game-day experience (before the Invitational)," said Callout of his team's reasoning behind playing in the league.

However, he was not too concerned about lingering issues from their struggles there.

"Our play style at that time wasn't, you know, true to ourselves," he explained. "We were a lot slower when we were playing that. We were trying to force out a fundamental way of playing Siege. ... We weren't at our peak and our goal is to peak at [the Invitational]."

Now, Jack "J9O" Burkard has taken up Dpfire's old role, while Spiff is now the primary Astralis entry player. This, says Callout, has helped his team become much different to what we saw in the SCS League.

Also helpful to Astralis' run in the Invitational will be the addition of Waiffer "Waiffer" Sibaja as an assistant coach. His role was identified as a necessity after the Berlin Major, primarily to help Astralis understand and fight against the Brazilian play style.

"Waiffer has experience coaching in Latin America -- that was one of the reasons (we signed him)," Callout shared, adding that he also felt confident in his new assistant coach after having been coached by Waiffer during the tail-end of his playing career.

Catch the Astralis roster in action at the Six Invitational 2023 starting tomorrow, Feb. 7.

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