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Red-hot Astralis looking to build off early stage momentum: “We’re playing off our first nature, we’re playing to win”

Arguably, no one has had a better start to the stage, all things considered, than Astralis. With several perennial powers out of the way

Image via Henry Danisch/Astralis

While tied 2-2 against Spacestation Gaming, with a need to pull back a 4-5 man count, Jack “J9O” Burkhard spearheaded a play. 

He impacted through the fountain wall and then impacted through security as teammate David “iconic” Ifidon crept up the security hatch on Oryx. Both J9O and iconic picked up a kill before making out like bandits, escaping just as fast as they hit. 

The impact kills pulled Astralis back into the driver’s seat in the round - they then rattled off six rounds in a row to boot en route to the 7-5 victory. 

“We came into the week very confident,” iconic said in an interview with SiegeGG – and it showed in their play. 

“...The armory wall was getting opened … so we timed it with that,” iconic continued. 

It isn’t the only impressive win on Astralis’ ledger close to halfway through Stage 1, and it isn’t the most recent either.

That’s how the re-forged Astralis plays – fast, aggressive, and in-your-face, as opposed to last season’s more regimented playstyle. Just 24 hours after their victory over Spacestation, their comeback capabilities were on display against DarkZero.

A 2-4 halftime deficit after a disastrous Oregon defense segued into the Matthew “DPFire” Macway show, as he notched a 10-2 KD to close out the map.

The right tools for the right job

Compared to other NAL teams, Astralis hasn’t changed much – which might be a bit surprising given their 2021 results. Astralis started off the year well – they would’ve made a Major after Stage 1 if SI 2021 wasn’t postponed. However, they continued slipping and sliding in the standings until they finished Stage 3 just three points off last place. Their final game of Stage 3, a 7-4 victory over DarkZero, netted Astralis seventh place and cleared them from relegation worries. 

They let Alex “Retro” Lloyd go in the offseason after the Stage 3 debacle, mutually parted ways with head coach Kevin “Easilyy” Skokowski, and then went back to a player Astralis NA head of operations Mark “cashflo” Flood had his eye on as a coach for over a year – Seth “Callout” Mik. 

“Back in 2020, after the whole eUnited thing happened…cashflo came to me then and wanted me to coach for DG then,” Callout said in an interview with SiegeGG. 

However, Callout said he wasn’t ready to coach then – he felt that there was more he had to accomplish as a player. He and Roman “Forrest” Breaux spent a spell in Challenger League with APE, which then became Wichita Wolves — but the path back to Astralis was always wide open. 

The role and impact of a coach in Rainbow Six Siege varies from team to team. Several teams notoriously only use their coach as someone who can keep tempers from flaring and vibes high. Other teams use them as the main strategical conduit. Others still have them crunch numbers primarily, and provide the IGL with the necessary information to make informed decisions. A normal coach is a combination of these three factors to some degree: data analyst, strategist, temper-checker. 

How Callout factors into that equation is with more or less equal parts of all. He says he’s spent time under many coaches, and has particularly learned a lot from Read “Read” Adams, Tanner "Forceful" McHattie, and Jacob "XecratioN" Campbell. 

“I took qualities from all of [them],” Callout said. “I’m pretty much a product of them.”

As for Callout’s specific style, his connection is “very hands-on” in regard to practice. The goal is to get Astralis to a place where he isn’t as “hands-on” on game day.  

“When that light hits the sky, it’s not just a call. It’s a warning”

If Callout is the brains, iconic is the heart. The bombastic, talented flex player is entering his third year in NAL – and his second with the Disrupt/Astralis core. Iconic’s latest bit, posing as Robert Pattinson’s Batman on Twitter, hearkens back to 2020. 

“Even if you look back to my rookie year, I was Kylo Ren. It’s just a meme-thing that I do. And the Batman, it’s kinda stuck…I owe it to myself to continue it,” iconic said.

If one of the themes of the new Batman movie from which iconic is pulling his presence is the maturation of the hero, his choice of persona might be quasi-prophetic. In the first game of the season, iconic notched a staggering 2.41 SiegeGG Rating in a 7-1 victory over Soniqs. He’s since cooled off a tad, but in many ways is still the face of the team – even if he isn’t performing at the same clip. Iconic rarely stops talking on the stage, and his knack for making plays is only superseded by his knack for making the week’s most meme-able face on after-round cameras. A top-four finish for iconic and Astralis would mark the 19-year-old's first shot at an international competition.

Plays like the one J9O and iconic made on Tuesday are indicative of where this new-look Astralis is heading. “Fluid,” and “quick[er]” were the words Callout used to describe the changes he’s seen in this team – changes he feels complement the roster more. 

“We’re playing off our first nature, we’re playing to win,” iconic said.

Indeed, there’s a wealth of potential talent on Astralis. Iconic and J9O have been known names to hardcore Rainbow Six Siege fans dating back to their time on oB, DPFire came into the league with great expectations, Shuttle was always a player highlighted for overperforming on his roles, and Forrest is massively improved since his last professional-tier stint. 

The tangible shift in Astralis has primarily come through practices and scrimmages, Callout says – there’s the freedom to try and find things that work, to not be so concerned with not losing that they forget how to win. Astralis has had this three-pronged attack with these three mechanically skilled players – DPFire, iconic, and J9O – and they're all being enabled. The meta being as aggressive as it is has been a bonus as well. 

Almost overnight, professional Rainbow Six Siege fundamentally changed in the offseason. The addition of attacker repick is challenging conventional Siege wisdom, and the map pool shifted from seven to nine. There’s a chance that some of Astralis's success is due to their willingness to charge head-first into the newness – Astralis played new map addition Skyscraper on day one, and took Spacestation to Border, a returning map that’s only been played twice in NAL thus far. As time passes, other teams could catch up. 

However, in the now, through four of nine playdays, Astralis is sitting in second in the league, tied with Spacestation in points but with the head-to-head victory. Before the season, analysts and fans pointed at Astralis’s front-loaded schedule and winced – Soniqs, Oxygen, Spacestation, and DarkZero are almost the worst four teams to start your season off with. Nevertheless, Astralis has eight total points, and with their form, the back half of the stage is looking very winnable. 

Astralis controls their own destiny with regards to making a Major for the first time in a year. It’s easy to see why – their young talent is off the leash, and their coaching staff is looking for ways to further enable them. In this meta, that’s valuable. 

"Job's not done"

The Stage is far from over. Beastcoast is looking strong. XSET and Parabellum are no slouches and are still on Astralis’s schedule as well. However, for now, Astralis are third in the league due to tiebreaker rules, the only teams above them is a literally perfect Oxygen squad and a Spacestation squad they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over. Next week they’ll have reigning SI champions TSM FTX on the docket – their job is far from over.

“We gotta make sure we stay humble and true to ourselves,” Callout said when asked what it will take to take the next step for Major qualification. “We’re not stopping the way we’re working – the process isn’t being too disrupted because of this initial success.”

Astralis has the beginnings of results to match their stellar talent. The next step is yet to come, but to say this isn’t a strong start for a squad brimming with potential is to deny reality.