Before there was Operation Burnt Horizon, original Aussie operators Fnatic had already been impressing with their performance on the world Rainbow Six Siege stage.
In the current world climate, the words ‘fanatic’ and ‘siege’ illicit cringes more than cheers. But in the world of Rainbow Six Siege, Fnatic is a fantastic fit for any gamer keen to cheer on a top-notch Australian team in the increasingly popular shooter.
We were recently in Montreal for the Six Invitational – Siege’s equivalent of a World Cup – which has grown from a cramped back alley studio to occupy the hallowed ice hockey halls of Place Bell. What started as a ‘fingers crossed, hope it works’ experiment for Ubisoft has grown to a US$2 million prize pool. And all of that in just two years since the inaugural Six Invitational.
Fnatic has been there since the start, in talent if not in name. Both player-turned-coach Jayden “Dizzle” Saunders and in-game-leader Etienne “Magnet” Rousseau are ex-Mindfreak players: a team that repped Australia in the first two Invitationals.
For Dizzle, his appearance at the first Six Invitational was part of the Xbox One league, which was scrapped on the pro circuit to solely focus on a PC league. This successful console-to-PC trend continues in 2019 with the fresh recruit of ex-PlayStation fragger Jake “Virtue” Grannan.
Though Fnatic was bumped out of the Six Invitational by APAC rivals Nora-Rengo in the quarters, Virtue proved that the jump from controller to mouse is negligible, scoring the top player ranking for the top eight of the tournament.
“[Virtue] was on our radar [earlier],” admits Dizzle. “He’d just come into the scene. He was from PlayStation. He was a good player, but we just weren’t sure how he would be as a teammate or as a person outside of the game, which is very important to me when I’m looking at people to come into the team. We noticed that Siege was becoming faster, more aggressive, a lot more gunplay instead of strategy. Virtue was a really good choice for it.”
Even with shooting ducks in a row, raw talent only goes so far. In the Mindfreak days, the then top-of-the-region team would scrim against local ANZ teams or deal with the high latency and weird hours of whatever overseas match-ups they could line up. Fast forward to the age of Fnatic and now the training is more intense.
“In terms of practice, with the support that Fnatic offered in our recent [London] bootcamp, we’ve been able to take our training to the next level,” says Dizzle. “It’s a lot more in-depth, a lot more detailed, [in a far] better practice facility. We were really well-practised for this Invitational, whereas for the [2018 Invitational], we just flew over and competed. This time we had a full two weeks of preparation before we got here.”
In terms of specifics, Fnatic has learnt some tough lessons in the six months between major tournaments. “What we learnt in London was just how vital drones are,” says Magnet.
“We figured out that the more information we gather, the more we can be proactive instead of reactive on attack.”
“On defence, information is everything. But we were still pretty good at gathering information on defence anyway. A big change in our game plan is we’ve become a much less strategy-based team and, instead, a team that revolves around what the opponent is doing. So we just cut back on all our dry runs with just trying to look at new strategies.
“Instead, we tried to work on more teamwork-oriented play and just trying to work off each other and talk to each other, instead of having a set plan where, ‘You sit here; you look at this’, we try to make a fluid defence and attack at the same time.”
According to Dizzle, the defensive meta on the pro circuit is stronger than the attacking one, to the point that if the team that starts out on attack wins two rounds and loses four, that’s considered square. He predicts this defender-skewed meta will be even stronger once the new Aussie defender Mozzie enters the competitive operator pool during season two.
Ubisoft Montreal will likely have to address this concern with continued operator balancing as part of its current war on destroying player frustration.
“Perception is always true,” admits game director Leroy Athanassoff. “What might not be true is what you think causes this perception. Still, when you’re frustrated, you’re frustrated. I can’t contest the fact that you’re frustrated. And people were frustrated by Lion.
“This is something we can’t contest. It’s something we need to address because if you’re frustrated with the game, with a system or with someone, you don’t engage with it anymore. And we want people to engage with the game.”
This is likely why both attackers Lion and Glaz have been reworked to be more in line with their originally intended roles: Lion as a global (but not OP) intel-gatherer, and Glaz as a sniper rather than a run-and-gun entry-fragger. If this Siege shorthand reads more like encoded numbers scrolling down a screen rather than looking like the Matrix, fear not.
Ubisoft Montreal is finally introducing better player onboarding and a more direct path from greenhorn to pro. Siege newbies can now swim in the safer shallow waters of the newcomers playlist that, like iOS for older smartphone users, is deliberately restrictive to simplify the learning curve. For this playlist, only ranks one to 50 can access it, and it’s limited to three maps and one mode.
The kid gloves are designed as an obvious pathway to the (not so) ‘casual’ playlist that allows play on all maps and modes. And for the pro wannabes, ‘ranked’ will soon ditch its long-standing ‘beta’ tag in favour of a full 1.0 mode that mirrors the tournament format.
On the way to Ubisoft Montreal’s 100 operator pledge, Ubisoft Montreal has teased what to expect. Athanassoff says that one of the unrevealed 2019 defenders will mirror Mira’s Black Mirror ability. This logic could well be applied to other defenders who have unique roles – much like how Kaid acts as a Bandit sub-in – which means Smoke, Mute and Castle doppelgangers might be on the cards.
Considering creative director Xavier Marquis revealed there’s an internal team dedicated to actively disrupting the game meta, Siege is one of those games that changes so frequently that it continually rewards fervent fans and first-time fraggers alike.