Stage 1 of the Rainbow Six North American League is bound to commence soon. The new year carries along a host of changes to the format and the participating teams. After all of this, will Team SoloMid still be the favorites of NAL?
Roughly four months ago, Jason “Beaulo” Doty and his colleagues won the November Major. At the US Division Finals, they then secured the follow-up victory and established themselves as the top team of the region. While Spacestation Gaming had kicked off the year with a Six Invitational trophy, they were increasingly being pushed into the background in the months after. DarkZero Esports shocked their opponents at the August Major, but afterwards they were unable to consistently remain at the top.
The second season of the North American league will see these teams appear almost unchanged. DZ have removed Matthew “Hotancold” Stevens in favor of Nick “njr” Rapier, Oxygen Esports are counting on their new duo of Evan “Yoggah” Nelson and Leo “Kyno” Figueiredo. The biggest headlines, however, came in the form of Troy “Canadian” Jaroslawski announcing his departure. During his career, the legendary Canadian player managed to hoist two Six Invitational trophies. Most recently, he was the shotcaller for Spacestation Gaming. Now, however, he has announced his intention to retire. Even though he wants to continue supporting the scene and the game, we most likely will not be seeing him again in a playing capacity.
THE STRUCTURAL CHANGES TO NAL SEASON 2
Gone are the lengthy Best-of-Three matches, which had accompanied the last season. Ubisoft have also scrapped the concept of Winner’s and Losers’ Groups. Just like in EUL, the teams will face off against each other in a Round Robin bracket. Each of these teams will get to play in a total of nine match days.
Since the Major that was originally scheduled for May has been cancelled in favor of holding the postponed Six Invitational, the Top 4 of Stage 1 will not receive Major slots this time around. Instead, the total prize purse has been increased and the league extended to three stages. These changes will enable the underdogs to hunt for smaller victories and try to achieve upset victories over the top teams. But how well can these new rosters and players actually perform in NAL?
THE NEW NAL TEAMS
The league welcomes three new organizations. XSET, Mirage, and beastcoast are now joining after Tempo Storm and eUnited left the R6 competition towards the end of last year. These teams are now putting up interesting lineups with talented players, some of which we have actually seen performing and delivering impressive results in NAL already.
Tim “Creators” Humpherys has found a new home under the XSET banner. Even though he didn’t really get to celebrate a lot of victories with Tempo Storm, he managed to become one of the league’s strongest performers. Despite a last-place finish in the standings, he recorded a 1.17 rating – which placed him just behind Beaulo and Gabriel “LaXInG” Mirelez.
Mirage will feature Matthew “Hotancold” Stevens. The former DarkZero member will be supported by Creators’ old colleague, Mitch “Dream” Malson. In the Canadian Division, the team already celebrated a few minior victories, but failed to compete with their US counterparts in the Major Qualifiers.
The beastcoast boys will be the biggest X factor in the league. So far, the roster has not managed to mount any impressive results in their region. They lost out in the Challenger League Relegation and have nonetheless received an invite to NAL. This puts them into the bracket as the absolute underdogs and they will have to prove themselves first and foremost.
WHY TSM, OXYGEN, DZ, AND SSG REMAIN FAVORITES
Last year, there was an enormous gap between the Top 4 and the rest of NAL. Over the course of 2020, Team SoloMid, DarkZero Esports, Spacestation Gaming, and Oxygen Espors held themselves at the top. While the hacking order between these teams eventually changed, none of the underdogs managed to play to their level.
This will likely not have changed for 2021 either. Even though players like Shuttle and Creators have the potential to upset some established rosters, they are pretty much alone with that ability. One star player is simply not enough to throw the likes of TSM off the throne. After all, the entire TSM roster can perform when necessary.
The #R6NAL is BACK! Playday 1 is just a week away! What match are you most excited for?
— Rainbow Six Esports NA (@R6esportsNA) March 17, 2021
Oxygen have consistently made last place in competitions featuring these Top 4 teams. With Yoggah and Kyno, they have taken in some rather unknown talent. Maybe these newcomers will breathe fresh air into the roster. Davide “FoxA” Bucci and his men were already close to finally squeezing past DarkZero and SSG.
Now that Canadian is gone, SSG will work with their analyst Luke “Luke” Slota as a stand-in. At the NSG x DarkZero Pro-Am, he already took on that role. The team managed to secure third place right after Disrupt and DarkZero, but that results doesn’t hold a lot of meaning in the bigger picture.
After all, TSM already blew it in the Group Stage. For their first engagement in the new year, this was quite an underwhelming result, but did they really prepare for this tournament properly? In NAL, the stakes are obviously much higher. There, they will show a different form of respect for their opponents and surely put in the work and the effort to win. The TSM we saw last year was virtually unbeatable. If they have managed to retain their level after the winter break, they will dominate this year’s competition as well.