Friday, 20 September 2019

EMEF's In-depth Breakdown Of The Krakow Preseason Invitational

(Picture courtesy of EA)
By Alistair "EMEF"

This weekend saw the first Major-level tournament of Apex Legend’s life cycle, located in Krakow, Poland, where 80 teams competed for their share of 500,000 USD. Hosted internally by EA and Respawn, organisers spared no expense in making the event as special as possible for the Apex Community, and to add as many members to their ranks as possible. Overall, I think everyone would consider this event a resounding success.


Sparing no expense seemed to be the theme of this weekend, with the line-up of English-speaking broadcast talent is one of the best of all time for a title’s first event, helping to amass nearly 60,000 concurrent unique viewers. Having had the pleasure of speaking and working with some of them, they are a group of passionate, competent, and incredibly hard-working individuals that have already more than proven themselves in other game’s competitive circuits, and were tangibly eager to learn and perform in this game. The whole weekend was phenomenal, and throughout one of the toughest playdays I’ve ever seen in esports, they managed to maintain professionalism and entertainment and really tied the whole event together. So, a special shout-out to them.


The aforementioned near 11-hour playday has been the topic of much debate within the Apex scene since the event, with varying opinions from within the camps of players and spectators. Whether you are one who enjoyed the constant adrenaline of the finals, or someone who feels that the “next 1st place wins” win-condition leads to non-competitive scenarios, I think it’s fair to say that there are definite improvements that could be made to the format. 

The first 2 days, however, were so much more than I could have hoped for. With 80 teams invited, I expected for the first 2 days to be a case of weeding out the lower-tier teams, and the real enjoyable games would come on Sunday. How glad I was to be wrong. The unique group stage and loser’s bracket inclusive format gave the event a lot of consistency and competitive integrity that battle royales typically strive for while keeping one of esports biggest traditions and draws alive by being able to witness some magical loser’s bracket runs. We saw teams like SJ, Secret, and Third Impact make miraculous turnarounds from poor early performances, which really set the tone for the event as an exciting and competitive environment. 

As for day 3, with Loser’s Bracket Finals (LBF) and Grand Finals being played right after each other, combined with the new Grand Finals format, where the games keep coming until a team that has hit a certain point threshold (50) earns a game victory, the 11-game Grand Finals series almost pushed the length of the day to 11 hours for teams that had qualified through the LBF. With complaints surrounding the safety of players in such conditions, especially in tight, soundproof booths, for such long amounts of times, I hope that we never see anything like this again. It’s entirely unfair and unethical, and is simply solved by extending the event by 1 day like a lot of other esports majors have recently been adapting to. As an aside on this topic, I would like to see a player’s union established A.S.A.P. Battle Royales have a history of predatory organizations due to the average age of their competitors, and given the quick success of the game, now is exactly the right time to take action to protect the future of competitors.


Bringing the conversation back to the games that were actually played, there has been a lot of discussion around the usage stats and metagame of the event. This is more so in the context of legends, but I will discuss weapons briefly first.


The weapon meta remained mostly static from scrims and APL games to the event. R99, Longbow, and Alternator were mainstays in the hands of teams that found them, but I saw a surprising spike in usage of Peacekeeper on LAN. The risk of taking such an inconsistent high-risk high-reward weapon should have been a massive deterrent for teams looking to make a deep run in their first major event, but the added consistency of LAN hit registration meant that confident mechanical players could add chunks of damage to their stats on a merit basis, as opposed to a technical one. One downtrend in meta weapons was the Devotion. Frequently memed by the community as “a controller player’s weapon”, the quicker and smoother damage taken in a LAN environment meant that charging the weapon in any kind of rush scenario would lead to a ¾ health reduction before the Devotion even began to fire. Not to mention the direct counter that a Peacekeeper poses to the Devotion, stylistically. Repeated peek-shooting with a guaranteed 90-110 damage hit at a range close enough to manipulate the other player’s charge-up times is about as clear-cut as a free fight win gets. Some players even reported feeling that the loot table was altered, finding fewer Turbochargers than usual. Although that is likely placebo.


The real nitty-gritty of the debate comes from the usage stats of the legends themselves. With the final 3 series of WBF, LBF, and Grand Finals consisting of 20 Pathfinders, 20 Wraiths, and 20 Wattsons (or 19 Wattsons if you’re teaming with Snip3down). The only teams to deviate did so to characters with a unique utility like Bangalore for smokes, Gibraltar for endgame barrages, or Caustic for somewhat of a hybrid between the two, with mini smokes that can dominate small rings with their DoT. Anyway, none of that matters because they almost all got double first-rounded. And the teams that did make it out of round 1, quickly changed up their legend rosters to the traditional Wraith/Path/Wattson composition. 

So this brought up the age-old question that games like Overwatch and Rainbow Six (pre-ban system) have faced. Is a lack of diversity in a meta a good thing? Some find enjoyment in the fact that the games become infinitely more nuanced, with players having months to master each intricacy of a character as they play them non-stop. Eventually, this system would become similar to a board game, with everyone knowing what their role in their team’s success is, becoming pieces whose impact on the game is a certainty, as opposed to the flexibility that some find exciting. Those people would argue that a balanced meta where strategic innovation is encouraged before and during the game allows for a more creative and enjoyable experience. However, this can be countered in a couple of ways, the biggest being the question of how. How could a game become perfectly balanced? A lot of developers go on to kill the soul of their game in their quest for balance, and while historically Respawn have treated balance very painfully gently in their previous titles Titanfall 1 and 2, adjusting balance too quickly or too slowly could seriously affect the character and style of the game at both a professional and general level. Besides, if creativity is such a fundamental aspect of enjoying spectating a game, wouldn’t an innovation made in a rigid meta be even more entertaining than one made in a meta that is constantly shifting? There’s no right answer to this debate, it’s one that has plagued all esports titles thus far, and one that will never be concluded. My answer will change dependant on the meta in question, but I feel that the current meta of Wattson/Wraith/Pathfinder is a healthy one. It has enjoyable dynamics in its counterplay, room for individual displays of talent, team set plays, and easily distinguished roles, and for that reason I do not see a necessity for additional Legend balance changes outside of whatever new content is added (which will no doubt be aimed at tackling issues the game has, anyway). Would some tweaks to Wattson’s kit to make her less self-sufficient hurt? No. But those are exactly the kind of changes that would be ok for a meta like this, tweaks. This meta has no need to make drastic and sweeping legend buffs and changes that I have seen suggested, at least not in this Pre-Crypto Pre-Sidewinder era.


Now, this event wouldn’t be anything without its competitors. This segment of the article is devoted to those who went onto that stage and put on a real show. Specific shout-out to Rogue, Wyvern, Gamersorigin, Gambit, Third Impact, C2, Natus Vincere, Succubus, and Counter-Logic Gaming for competing through the gruelling final day, especially Gamersorigin, MVP, and Wyvern for nearly taking it all despite having to endure LBF and Grand Finals back to back.


This event was a shock to a lot of people, both experts and casual observers alike, as the dominance of the CIS region compared to Central Europe or NA came to the limelight. The 4 “unknown” CIS rosters 789, Gambit, Na’Vi, and Winstrike came out in full force, with 3 of them making it to the Grand Final, and Winstrike coming as close as is possible, in the LBF 11th place. With by far the best average placing of any region (12th), I would not be surprised to see uninvited CIS teams such as ROFLANQ or the new CrowCrowd roster get interest from large organizations and official TOs before the next event.

Having predicted MVP to be potentially one of the top teams before the tournament, I shouldn’t be surprised at the Korean region’s performance. But still, the mechanical dominance that the main 2 SK teams of MVP and WyVern stylistically out-talented NA’s fraggers and EU’s pacifism, netting them an average placing of 18th. Some of the displays provided by Ras, Selly, and Mondo’s perspectives are things we have never seen, and will likely not see again until the Koreans take the stage next. Despite their lack of solid practice opportunities, these teams absolutely crushed at this event versus people that have grinded APL 24/7 for months, and I can’t wait to see which other Korean teams come to the limelight soon. 

I think it’s fair to say that the driving force of this event was the sheer number of Central European teams that swarmed the later stages of the tournament. Sure, there were some dominant teams like Virtus.Pro, G2, Gamersorigin, and Penta, but the majority of the European teams were just consistently better than the majority of North American teams, which lead to some broadcasters struggling to talk about the dozens of high-end teams that were not invited to X-Games/FACEIT or had large organizations backing them. Gamersorigin, k1ck, SUCCUBUS, and teams like them absolutely deserve equal or higher public respect than the weaker North American teams that took precedence to a lot of people, especially for the phenomenal performance they showed this weekend while constantly being looked down upon. 

However, to say North America disappointed would be perhaps the most confusing statement regarding the event. While prominent NA teams (as if there are any non-prominent NA teams) like CLG, Sentinels, and NRG made a decent impact on the talent pool and obviously having TSM win it all would seem to be a good showing for the region, that is only 4 teams packed within the filler of Europeans. Representation within the top 10 teams in the Grand Finals was extremely poor for the public’s expectations of North America, with only 9 of the top 30 players being from NA.


On the topic of player representation, individual talents popped out and popped off this weekend. Despite the inherent heavy team focus of Apex Legends, singular players absolutely have the room to have an influence on the server as we have seen, and the 3-way tie of Apex Predator award for the most kills demonstrates both the team-based and player-based impacts that are made. WyVern’s Selly, as well as Na’Vi’s Clawz & 9Impulse, racked up 23 kills each across the 11-game Grand Finals series, and Na’Vi’s conflictingly aggressive non-CIS playstyle suited them extremely well on a player-talent basis. Between Na’Vi, the Koreans, and 789, individual-centric playstyles have shown that they absolutely can stack against the typical team-focused style of CIS, CEU, and top NA teams. 

Some other top individuals I want to make note of that got overshadowed by finalists are Team Secret’s substitute Liemek. Having had the pleasure of working with Liemek all too briefly, I am so happy he found a team that could put his talents to their best possible use. While everyone on the roster turned it up a notch, he was an integral part of Secret dragging themselves out of 19th place in their last Loser’s Bracket match all the way to 1st to keep their tournament hopes alive with a stunning 12-kill comeback win. 

Gamersorigin were a team that was in an absolutely dominant position to win the entire event, and in most parallel universes, were the champions of the Apex Preseason Invitational. Their incredibly consistent and anchor-heavy playstyle is supported by IGL Mpe, who provides a pseudo-coaching role for the team, which was a literal coaching role under their previous name, AllPlanned. His authority and game-knowledge kept Gamersorigin’s decision making correct, and their plan executions tight, while providing an above-average statistical performance, something that was historically lacking for this team. 

Finally, I would like to highlight the face (and hair) of Pittsburgh Knights Apex, Hodsic. A team with a somewhat similar record to Team Secret, albeit not as drastic, the Knights showed high levels of in-game play, but rarely did it translate to statistical success in the standings. Barely scraping through by the skin of their teeth each round, and making it all the way to the LBF, Hodsic’s composure and sheer lust to win seemed to keep the team’s tank full at all times, and despite the narrow opportunities they were given, they played each round as if they had won the previous one. In terms of performance, the PK player was no slouch with a PK in hand, leading his team in both final blows, and in-game. Hyper-invested attitudes like Hodsic’s are something I hope to see from more players as the public personalities of Apex Legends’ players evolve over time and the tournament stakes get higher.

Uninvited Teams

Looking to the future, while the 80 invited teams of 3 was an incredibly generous number of players to give the opportunity of stardom, there will always be incredibly talented teams just on the cusp of making it to these events (Liemek never would have made it and performed the way he did, if it weren’t for Secret needing a substitute). Whatever the next event is, and whenever it arrives, some teams of equal talent to the ones invited to Krakow that I would love to see invited to the next event are:


NerdRage: FunkMastaaa, Galatorix, Kozay

NerdRage’s second roster, NerdRage Logic: Oxbow, Buttzyy, Daniomega

Aequilibritas’ second roster, AeQ Pink: Fitzys, KaDyH, Piotreza 

Playing Ducks: LeshiCl, Zailito, PODDY

BFL: Liemek, Blasts, Fokarn, Iction

Zaphehe’s team: Zaphehe + literally anyone else, he’s one of the best players Europe has produced and it’s a travesty he didn’t make it to Poland


ROFLANQ: dsblf, Hardecki, Leogri3x6

CrowCrowd: MrTaishyn, Kerebere, Pacl

North America

Vengeance: Speedhack, Resookie, Tsupii

Singularity’s second roster, Singularity NA: FutTuRe, Kurtis, BishUP


WGS: Sunwoo, JaeGeun, ALH_AFO


I’ve said it a million times, in a million ways, on a million platforms, but the Apex Legends Preseason Invitation was truly special, despite its flaws. As someone waiting on tenterhooks to see if the time and passion that myself and hundreds of others have invested in this game and community would be repaid, Respawn, EA, Ghostayame, Shahin, and everyone else who contributed to this weekend’s success has answered loudly and unequivocally: YES. Apex Legends is shaping up to be a unique, exciting, and competitive esports title, and I could not be more engaged in the future of this game and those who choose to pursue it as an esport.

(You can find more Apex Legends Pro circuit-related information on Twitter following @haloofthoughts & @theEMEF


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