Picture via Ubisoft
Closed-minded. Resistant to change. Easy to read. These are terms used to define the current Team Empire roster, a team unwilling or seemingly unable to change.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Russian cyborgs slap their opponents with the ease of stealing candy from a child. Believe it or not, Empire’s heyday dates back to three years ago when the team finished second at SI 2019 and won Pro League Season 9.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.
Team Empire’s last encouraging result in international competition was seven months ago at the Mexico Major. Although this is a good result, if you read it between the lines you realize that things could have turned out differently.
The Russians were drawn into TSM’s squad, which was forced to play with Owen “Pojoman” Mitura instead of Bryan “Merc” Wrzek due to complications from COVID-19. Two of the Empire’s only three regulation wins at this stage of the event were against the North American team.
Danila “dan” Dontsov and Artur “ShepparD” Ipatov also carried the Russian team through the first six games of the event, narrowly avoiding another disaster in the group stage. The Russian duo kept the team alive as they played pivotal roles in the overtime win over Invictus Gaming, and the first and second win over TSM. Although they lost both games against Liquid, the two players were the only ones to register positive ratings against the Brazilians, with Dan being the best of their game on Consulate and ShepparD leading the charge two days later.
Later, the other names in the team would get back on track, which was essential for the team to reach the very last game of the event.
Last but not least, the Russians reached the Mexico Grand Final through card ban stages. Empire has played all of its Group Stage matches in Consulate (4) or Clubhouse (2), two of its flagship maps. The quarter-final match against SSG was played at Kafe (another top Empire map, 7-4) and Clubhouse (8-7), while the semi-final match against BDS was played at Kafe , Coastline and Consulate. The mistake of the French may have been to ban Villa instead of Consulate, which would eventually lead to a Russian victory.
After all that, Team Empire lost the Mexico Major Grand Final to Team oNe by 3-2 – the Russians winning at Clubhouse and Consulate, and losing at Chalet, Villa and Coastline, which was the tightest map of the series. (8 -6).
Empire players are aware of their equality. “If BDS had won against us, they would have won the Major,” Dan said in a pre-Sweden Major interview with SiegeGG.
Empire’s card pool was reduced to three clear cards (Clubhouse, Coastline, Kafe) after the Mexico Major, when Consulate was removed from the pro card pool in favor of Bank. Since then, the Russians have played Bank seven times, winning just two.
In Sweden, we started to notice how Villa was slowly being introduced into the Russians’ map pool. The Italian card has been chosen in three of its six group stage games, with the rest being played at Coastline (2) and Oregon. Unfortunately for the team, the adaptation wasn’t good enough and the roster couldn’t make the final installment.
A month later, Empire used the European League Finals as a training ground for the Six Invitational. A 2-0 win over Natus Vincere (Oregon and Coastline) was followed by a 0-3 loss to BDS (Coastline, Chalet and Kafe).
“We are struggling in our card pool, both in the Russian Major League and the Swedish Major, we have to choose between Oregon, Bank, Chalet and Villa, and now we are preparing for the Six Invitational, our second objective being the EUL,” Danil “JoyStiCK” Gabov said in a postgame interview with host and caster Ghassan “Milosh” Finge.
Overall, Team Empire is a big unknown. The Russians practiced and adapted to other maps after realizing the roster had to adapt to recent times.
Looking at the current map pool, Chalet will likely be the team’s most banned map, as they’ve only played it twice in T1 events. From there, if the team succeeds in integrating Villa into its map pool, while improving its performance on Oregon, we could be in front of the resurrection of the cyborgs. The one that could take us back to 2019.
Individually, we’re talking about one of the most experienced and capable teams in the room. Adaptation is key, and although time has passed, the team’s mindset has remained the same. The historical quality is there, but it’s do or die time for Empire.