News broke of Gabriel "LaXInG" Mirelez's impending departure from Oxygen Esports on Aug. 13, just two days before the start of the Six Berlin Major. The decision had been taken to drop LaXInG after the Major before the event, with the player himself informed a few days beforehand.
With the team set to lose one of its longest-serving players, the impact on their Major run was unsurprisingly severe. The Charlotte Major semi-finalists crashed out in the group stage at the Berlin Major, only managing to be better than international debutants Gaimin Gladiators.
"LaXInG was a big part of our team, you know," said Oxygen Esports coach Taylor "Redeemer" Mayeur in an interview with SiegeGG ahead of the Six Invitational 2023. "It wasn't a decision that was taken very lightly."
Redeemer revealed that the team had decided to inform LaXInG of their joint-decision before the Major began "out of respect" for the veteran player, but rued the fact that it was "at the cost of the entire Major".
He noted that many players were not informed of their impending exits from the team until events ended, which he said Oxygen wanted to avoid with a player that had been with the roster since Jun. 2018.
Signed in his place was hot beastcoast prospect Jacob "Sweater" Bravico, but the key factor during the change, said Redeemer, was the timing of it.
"Do you do it, like, after the Major? Which, gives you kinda less time," he explained. "Or, like, do you even go all the way through Stage 3... which, then, do you wanna bleed that into Invite?"
The decision was then taken to "sacrifice" Stage 3 instead, as Oxygen had virtually secured qualification to the Six Invitational 2023 already -- and a blood sacrifice it was.
Oxygen started off Stage 3 of the NAL in disastrous fashion that led to fans almost immediately questioning the wisdom of the roster change. A team that was previously on an upward trend and had been tied for first place by points in Stage 2 now found itself with just one point from five games -- all losses.
"In the beginning of the stage, you kinda were watching us... essentially just roll with the punches," shared Redeemer. "We already had a system in place and we didn't have enough time to rebuild it."
That lack of time to be ready for Stage 3 was, of course, a conscious decision, as it saw Sweater "plug and play" into the existing Oxygen Esports play style in LaXInG's position. But the lossess were expected without role changes for Sweater, Franklyn "VertcL" Cordero, and Davide "FoxA" Bucci that were to come eventually.
While those five games only yielded one point total for Oxygen, they allowed Sweater to acclimatise to the culture within the new team -- both inside and outside the game.
"That was that building stage," said Redeemer of those initial losses. "If you go back and watch our games, each game is, like, really... like, they start to get better and better and better and better. That process that you're watching in real-time is those changes (in play style)."
The longtime Oxygen coach noted how viewers in the chat of each broadcast were imploring him for role changes that the team was already implementing, but pointed out that "there is a process" to a rebuild such as theirs.
Having taken the pain for five games, Oxygen had finally bought enough time to transplant their players into the new system they had been working on internally.
The five losses were followed by four straight wins to close out a triumphant second half of Stage 3. These wins were also not against any pushover teams; one was over world champions TSM, another was over Charlotte Major champions DarkZero Esports, and a third was over eventual Jönköping Major semi-finalists Soniqs.
"It never was a kill issue," elaborated Redeemer. "There was a dynamic on the team that we felt Sweater would be able to do just a tiny (bit)... not, like, 'better', but different."
The goal for Oxygen with the change, then, was not to secure more kills per se. Instead, it was to find a player that could "synergise" with Ethan "Nuers" James in terms of opening duels better than Franklyn "VertcL" Cordero. With Sweater, Nuers has a "natural synergy".
This improved synergy was given a test run in the SCS Esports league, where Astralis were also participating to gel with their new signing of Chris "Spiff" Park. While it was much more of a struggle for Astralis, Oxygen took win after win to take the Season 7 title.
"[The goal] was being in an environment that surpassed the scrim level," shared Redeemer. "When you're scrimming every single day, it's very easy to fall into a mindset of 'I'm showing up to work and, you know, let's get it done' kinda thing."
The ultimate goal, however, is to peak at the Six Invitational 2023. Oxygen still do not like long breaks, but they seem to have worked through a serious change, packed their schedule with low-stakes but fully competitive games, and have found the form that got them to a Major semi-final again.
How far can they get in Montreal? Catch them in action at the Six Invitational next week, starting from Feb. 7.
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