Japan League 2023 - Stage 2 is set to kick off this week on September 2nd, seeing Japan's top eight teams fight for one of two direct spots in the BLAST R6 Major in Atlanta. Ahead of their debut, here's what you need to know about each of the teams in attendance, lineup changes, upcomers and potential negative surprises on the horizon.
CYCLOPS are indeed still the main hope of the region is in this new season. The team made significant improvements during the offseason, even without changes in the starting lineup. They secured spots through open qualifiers and showcased impressive performances in the Japan Invitational.
The team received an invite to the closed phase of Gamers Without Borders, which guaranteed the sole APAC slot for Gamers8. Facing off against Talon and Sandbox, the Japanese squad emerged victorious without dropping a map, which allowed CYCLOPS to secure a spot in the most important tournament of the offseason, even without competing in the Six Major. However, in a game where they put up a good fight, the team was eliminated with two losses, one against W7M, where the party had few chances, and another against Oxygen.
In the local tournament, the Japan Invitational, the team smoothly secured a playoff spot by defeating Crest Gaming LST and SCARZ. In the playoffs, they overcame IGZIST, but in the grand final, they faced defeat against the invited international team MNM. Despite that, the team again displayed an impressive performance, coming close to winning the match; 7-8 in the first map and 5-7 in the second.
With positive results, the team expects to continue performing well and secure one of the three slots designated for Japan in the Six Major Atlanta.
The Lone APAC Representative in the playoffs of the last Six Major, the team enters Stage 2 under immense pressure to secure at least another spot in the international tournament. And to achieve this, the team has placed its bets on the continuity of the lineup that has already demonstrated its capability to deliver results.
It's worth noting that during the offseason, the team only participated in the Japan Invitational, where they suffered a 2-0 defeat to CYCLOPS. However, they recovered in the losers' bracket and secured a playoff spot. As the third team to qualify, they faced the invited MNM. The team was defeated 7-4 in a challenging match but still secured a top-four finish.
The team is expected to secure another spot in the Six Major, this time in Atlanta.
The organization has yet to participate in a major Rainbow Six: Siege tournament since the Six Invitational 2020. Many players have come and gone from the team and they've changed regions since then. In 2020 the team was still based in Australia with four Australian players. However, by APAC North Season 1 in 2022, the lineup featured five Japanese players (due to visa issues, the legendary Fnatic player Etienne "Mag" Rousseau could not compete in tournaments). Many players have joined Fnatic since the Six Invitational 2020, including the French player Léo "Alphama" Robine, the first European player to compete in a high-level APAC competition, but success has eluded them. However, the goal remains alive.
The organization retained the same lineup as the last stage, utilizing the off-season period for team adaptation and growth. This strategy has paid off, as in Stage 1, the team won only one match against a Japanese team, and it was a walkover against Quintette Shizuoka. During the offseason, the team participated in the Japan Invitational, where they secured two decisive victories against Crest Gaming LST and FAV Gaming. The latter has been competing for the last Japanese spot alongside Fnatic in recent years. The team's elimination from the tournament came after losing two matches to SCARZ, one in the winners' bracket and the other in the decisive BO3 match for a playoff spot.
The expectation is to contend for qualification, with their significant opportunity likely coming through the Last Chance Qualify Japan.
One of the qualifiers for Six Major Copenhagen comes into the second stage with surprising changes in the lineup to secure another qualification for the international tournament. As one of the Japanese teams with the most lineup alterations, they arrive with the astonishing signing of South Korean player Jang "RIN" Byeong-uk, who previously played for the well-known DAMWON. Alongside RIN, the team welcomes Keisuke "CoPaHiPo" Kimura, a player who has experience with NORTHEPTION and REJECT.
The team expects to achieve a result similar to the first stage, securing a spot through the Last Chance Qualifier.
Despite the negative results in the first stage, the team has retained the same lineup. The team has proven competent in shorter duels like BO1 matches, winning four out of their last seven encounters.
IGZIST needs to demonstrate that they can compete with the region's top contenders, and their qualification for the playoffs of the Japan Invitational is already an indicator of their progress in that direction.
While there has indeed been improvement, the team expects that they might need the Last Chance Qualifier to vie for a spot in the Six Major.
The team has yet to perform well enough to compete in an international tournament throughout its history. In the previous stage, the team was eliminated in the group stage of the Japan League, needing to compete in the Last Chance Qualifier, where CYCLOPS eliminated them in the semifinals.
During this offseason, the team underwent some changes in the lineup, with the departures of "Sironeko" and Yuta "ReyCyil" Inoue and the additions of Souichirou "Acerola" Kumazawa and Shinji "ShiN" Funai. The hope is that this new formation will help the team achieve better results in the Japan League. Nonetheless, the team needs to show that they've also learned from the losses in the Japan Invitational, even with the new lineup.
Having qualified for the last Six Major, the team comes with concerning performances in the offseason and changes in the lineup. In the previous stage, the team secured the second spot in the Japan League, with an outstanding performance in BO3 matches, losing only six rounds in 4 played maps (the combined lost rounds aren't even enough to secure a won map!). However, the team struggled in BO1 matches, losing overtime to SCARZ and suffering a clean defeat against Crest Gaming LST. The concern deepens when we see that their sole victory was against FAV Gaming, a team that also overcame NORTHEPTION during the offseason. The team has a specific imbalance regarding shorter matches. Since this is the format of the group stage, the team needs to work on their mental game to avoid this affecting their playoff qualification or putting them in a better position for the playoffs; securing the top spot in the group would place them only one BO3 away from qualifying for the Six Major.
NORTHEPTION's Season 2 in the Japan League primarily revolves around adding recruits "Akusu" and "Sylvia." However, the expectation is for a team that can make it to the playoffs but might require the Last Chance Qualifier to aim for a spot in Atlanta.
Crest Gaming LST
The team enters the second season with only one change in the lineup, the departure of Souichirou "Acerola" Kumazawa and the addition of "Sironeko." Despite this change, the team still needs more experience, having players who have yet to have the opportunity to compete in an international tournament, making their situation more challenging. Alongside the lack of experience, the team has had negative results in the first stage and during the offseason.
The expectation is for a team that may attempt to secure qualification, as they've had time for adaptation with the new signing and training. While they can achieve a qualification opportunity, it remains distant from the team's current reality.