Dire Wolves seemed to be riding a high in Stage 3 last year. They had identified their failings in Stage 2 well and had formulated a confident plan to return to the top of APAC South.
Key to this plan was also a roster upgrade to match the more aggressive meta with the signing of Wu "Reeps96" Weichen, dubbed the “Asian Spoit” by Dire Wolves coach Odin "Odin" Hempel.
The plan worked and Dire Wolves recovered from a fifth place finish in Stage 2 to finish in first place with another lossless APAC South stage, like in Stage 1. Then, in a tough group at the Jönköping Major with FaZe Clan and Wolves Esports, they still managed seven points.
This was despite difficulties that saw Reeps96 get a late visa and their IGL Hou "Ed" Tsung-cheng get no practice in the lead-up to the event due to his National Service.
“I think it was still a [partial] success for the situation we were in,” reflected Odin in an interview with SiegeGG ahead of the Six Invitational. He also revealed that the team also came to the decision to bench Ed during the Major itself, which resulted in their run in Sweden becoming further “complicated”.
“Without Ed, five of us can communicate better and more efficient,” explained Dire Wolves player Huang "HARAM3E" Chih-hang.
This was not to say, however, that the Taiwanese team thought it had reached its full potential, clarified Odin.
But their hopes of a strong Six Invitational qualifier run soured when Reeps96 told his teammates he was leaving the team a mere “one hour before [their] second scrim” after their return from Jönköping.
“He was gone, just like that… and no reason (was given),” recalled HARAM3E. Not even the lure of near-guaranteed qualification to the Six Invitational was enough to make Reeps96 stay.
Now having decided to bench their IGL and suddenly having lost their star player weeks before the APAC Qualifier, Dire Wolves found themselves in dire straits.
“It felt pretty shit,” admitted Odin. “He gave us no time to prepare (for his replacement) … Everyone felt shit, betrayed.”
Such was the hit to morale in the Dire Wolves camp that Odin revealed that he briefly thought that was the end of the team -- for good.
“I got influenced by all those people saying, ‘yeah, without these two players, Dire Wolves is done’,” he shared.
But HARAM3E did not lose hope and his dogged belief dragged Odin and the rest of the team out of the mental rut they found themselves in. The team, after all, still had four of the five players that had pulled off a 7-0-0-0 run in Stage 1 and had qualified for the Charlotte Major.
With the little time left, Dire Wolves thus needed two players. HARAM3E had already been slated to replace Ed after the team had decided to bench the IGL, but a Reeps96-replacement was still necessary.
With pickings slim, all HARAM3E could do was scroll through his list of friends and settled on Chen "Ray" Rui-wei. While the signing was not exciting, even though Ray was exploring a top-flight return with SEAS Demons (formerly Tyde), it had to be enough.
Filling in Reeps96’s shoes was an ask made tougher with the fact that Ray had last played in APAC South in Oct. 2021 -- over a year ago. But with HARAM3E’s dogged determination to “carry” his team, like he had Velocity9 before he left for Dire Wolves, a direct qualifier invite was all his team needed.
Ray, too, shook off any rust that may have accumulated since Oct. 2021. While jitters meant he was the worst player in Dire Wolves’ 2-1 win over Team Bliss, he found his form from scrimmages against SANDBOX Gaming in the qualifier grand-final to become the second-best player on his team and help them win 2-0.
Now, despite the APAC Qualifier win, Dire Wolves are still working on the fundamentals ahead of the Six Invitational next month. With Reeps96’s sudden departure, they only had a few weeks of practice together and are lacking consistency due to mistakes associated with a team as new as them.
“Usually droning, mis-droning, things like that,” explained Odin. “Calling out, these are the basic things… the main things we are going to work on and then obviously some strats, some maps, we have to also work on.”
Catch Dire Wolves at the Six Invitational next month, starting on Feb. 7.
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