Image: Ubisoft/Eric Anamalay
Rainbow Six Siege, like any esport, is no stranger to monumental comebacks. One only needs to look at FURY, from APAC South, who scored no points in Stage 1 but find themselves headed to the Six Jönköping Major. Or look at G2 Esports and Ninjas in Pyjamas in Stage 2, who managed to find their way to the Berlin Major despite single-digit chances at one point for both to qualify.
Still, one could argue that Mirage qualifying to the Jönköping Major is even more incredible.
Mirage were a laughing stock for most of the 2022 season, having finished in 10th place in both Stage 1 and Stage 2. Out of 18 games played, they had won a mere four and lost the other 14 in regulation time.
They were also no stranger to seemingly bizzare roster changes, with Tomas "Tomas" Kaka dropped from the team after what seemed like a sudden, internal about-face after the Charlotte Major in Stage 1. Dillon "Razorr" Presley, the best player on Mirage in Stage 1 by SiegeGG Rating, was also dropped, while Zachary "Nyx" Thomas returned to the team despite having just won the Charlotte Major as a freelance analyst for DarkZero.
In the next transfer window, Nyx was benched and became the assistant coach, while the support-oriented and high-potential Emma "Marmalade" Peterson was dropped in a move widely panned by fans.
Yet, Mirage are going to the Jönköping Major.
"This feels like a redemption tour," said Mirage coach Cristian "Guerra" Guerra. "Not because of the two previous stages, it was more so of a redemption of Stage 1 (in 2021) ... we managed to get third place back then, but of course, the Major back then was replaced by SI."
Losing an opportunity that would have otherwise got them an immense amount of international experience was a blow that Guerra thinks would have helped Mirage be able to replicate that first-stage form.
Instead, Mirage found themselves finishing 10th place twice in 2022 that Guerra chalked up to external factors.
"Stage 1, we had a bit of an emergency where I had to step in," he pointed out. "The second stage, we quite literally started the [stage] with COVID [and were plagued by it for most of the stage]."
The season started off in rough fashion for Mirage, who lost Mitch "Dream" Malson to Oxygen Esports unexpectedly, leading to an official investigation into Oxygen regarding poaching allegations. Instead of just two changes, Mirage thus had to make three.
Guerra did admit (with a laugh) that "it's kinda become a normalcy that Mirage has had a little bit of some chaotic, last-minute stuff going on". He also clarified that while he prefers to minimise the number of roster changes, it did not mean that he was against them if they were necessary -- referring specifically to the changes made after Stage 2.
"It was very clear that there was just some tension on the team and so it kinda just had a split down the middle," he shared. "I basically just decided to go with what I believed in, which was essentially to keep, specifically, [Robert "Melted" Kormylo] on the team. And the team eventually kinda found its way of, like, building its way out ... I feel like it's a natural way for the team to develop chemistry."
That decision has paid off now, with Mirage able to squeak into the top four in Stage 3 -- albeit not convincingly. Keeping Melted on the team was especially vindicating, with the former Parabellum Esports player the best on Mirage in Stage 3 by SiegeGG Rating and 11th-best overall in the NAL. The oft-panned Benjamin "Benjimoola" Ligacki, too, found some impressive form and was the second-best player on the team and 13th-best overall.
But the performance of both players -- and the entire Mirage team -- came under a significant amount of pressure for them and Guerra to make it work.
"With this [stage] in particular, for me, it was almost like, 'Okay, there's quite literally no excuses remaining'," he recalled. "There's only been a handful of people that have stayed on the team for... I guess since the inception of the team. And so, if the team didn't work out ... then, you know, there's only a handful of couple issues and I'm always looking to see if it's me."
Thankfully for Guerra, that level of self-reflection is not necessary this stage. While the team was not aiming for a place at the Major outrightly, he began to notice that there was "something special" with the new Mirage as the games wore on.
That point, said Guerra, actually came early into the season.
"By the end of week two, we had already had six points," he recalled. "That basically tied [previous seasons] ... Once that six points happened so early, we were like 'Wow! We're in a position where we can get a ton of points by the end of the stage.''
Mirage will unquestionably be one of the biggest underdogs at the Major, but that's a benefit for Guerra. Underdog status means low expectations and that's exactly where they thrived this stage in the NAL. Playoff qualification will be extremely tough -- but Jönköping Major qualification was supposed to be impossible for this team as well.
"Anything can happen in BO1s, we all know that," concluded Guerra.
Catch Mirage on the international stage for the first time at the Jönköping Major, which will take place from Nov. 21 to 27.
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