The 2022 season started very brightly for DarkZero Esports. The organization, which had only made it to one grand-final before (back in Nov. 2019), had just come back from a top eight finish at the Six Invitational 2022. Kyle "Mint" Lander fully took over coaching duties from Brandon "BC" Carr and the team immediately qualified for the Charlotte Major with a third placed finish in the NAL.
Of course, the competition was greatly weakened at the Charlotte Major, with one team unable to attend and three playing online with high latency due to visa issues. Nevertheless, DarkZero took on what was in front of them and beat every team they had to to win their first piece of silverware.
And then, things went downhill. Two fifth place finishes in the NAL were not poor performances by any means, but they did mean that DarkZero missed out on both subsequent Majors in 2022.
"Stage 2, I think to start things... we had a little bit of complacency to start," said DarkZero captain Troy "Canadian" Jaroslawski in an interview with SiegeGG ahead of the Six Invitational 2023. "We (also) always struggled more with best-of-ones, so I think that's just how it kinda goes, I guess."
The struggle is a common one for many of the NAL teams that are perceived to be the traditional heavyweights, including Spacestation Gaming and TSM -- the latter of whom are not even in attendance at the Six Invitational this year. DarkZero themselves only qualified for the Charlotte Major on the final day of Stage 1, beating Spacestation in a mere 7-5 win.
Stage 3 also saw DarkZero player Paul "Hyper" Kontopanagiotis have to step away from the competitive game for an "extended break" due to burnout and a drop in the passion to compete in Siege. It mirrored that of Canadian himself back in 2021, with the then-Spacestation captain first announcing his retirement in March and then coming back to play in July having realised he just needed a break.
"We actually asked [Hyper], you know, kinda headed into the stage about it and he said he was all good," recalled Canadian. "I think he was expecting that starting the [stage] would give him motivation back and that kinda didn't happen."
DarkZero were thus forced to bring Alexander "Skys" Magor in as a replacement, but still performed well enough to finish in the top five and clinch a place at the Six Invitational 2023. Skys had not been announced as a subsitute signing at first, with Canadian revealing that the information had been withheld from the public because DarkZero had been hoping that they "wouldn't need" Skys.
However, there was no ill will towards Hyper himself for his decision from the entire team even though Skys was forced to step up mid-stage. This was meant to intially be a temporary signing with a short contract, but the player was officially signed on a permanent basis after the new year.
"I think we realised he fits really well," explained Canadian. "A mixture of like, how he's worked with me on the roster... as well as in a different role."
Canadian also stated that the future rebuild of the roster worked better with Skys as a part of it, especially after DarkZero also parted ways with Tyler "Ecl9pse" McMullin.
"We didn't really have any natural supports on the team outside of myself," he continued. "We didn't really have a natural flex, either. So, it kinda put us in an awkward situation where we kinda had to force [Ecl9pse] out of his comfort zone a bit."
Signed alongside Skys was also Gaven "Gaveni" Black from Challenger League squad Reality TV.
"It was very straightforward," said Canadian of the Gaveni signing. "We needed a fragger to replace [Hyper]. We're just kinda looking at upcoming talent and he was like... the 'stick-out' talent."
Also on the market was eventual Soniqs signing Ben "CTZN" McMillan, who Canadian said was offered to DarkZero as well. However, the team opted against even trialing CTZN due to a likely "ridiculous buyout" that they felt was unnecessary with "good options" like Gaveni available domestically.
Settled and self-assured, DarkZero will now head to Canadian's home turf in Canada next week. They will avoid BO1 games entirely, even in the group stage, which might give them a strong chance at mounting a title challenge. They will, however, still be debuting with Gaveni and will not have it easy in a group alongside FaZe Clan, M80, Heroic, and Team Secret.
Catch the new-look DarkZero next week at the Six Invitational 2023, starting from Feb. 7.
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