Today was a day full of surprises and a day I may not forget in a very long time. I went into Margret Court Arena first thing this morning, not expecting much at all out of the Mindfreak verses ACME Association match. Like most, this match was a formality, and we just needed to see how quickly it took Mindfreak to advance to the semi-final. What I got was so very different in two crucial ways and will make me look at the esports scene in a whole new way.
ACME is a very young group of kids, just turned 18 and a self-started, Australian Rainbow 6 esports team. These guys are not a Pro League side; however, they almost were, and definitely will be before long. ACME only got their jerseys made for this event, not something most teams need to worry about at this level. The Six Masters finals are not only the first LAN event they have ever competed at, but it is the first time the team has met in person. Now that I know all this about the team, they had no chance to win today, let alone put up a fight at all.
There is one thing I know about sports that transfers to esports, nerves can be a killer, and it takes something special not to let them get to you. Just one of the factors above could cripple a player or a team, let alone all of them together. ACME Association not only put up a fight under all this pressure, but they also excelled under it. On the first map, ACME Association got pushed hard, the team found themselves in a real fight, rounds went back and forth with no side gaining a good advantage. When it all mattered, ACME lifted and won the first map in style.
The second map was painful to watch. ACME had turned from a team with nothing to lose into a team in front and had everything to lose. ACME stopped going hunting for that first kill and let Mindfreak play their natural game again, and they rolled over ACME pretty convincingly. Going into their shell was the fear I had for any team in their shoes from the start and spelt warning bells for the final map.
There is a defining factor for sports teams that rise to the top, time and time again. The ability for a group to lose a lead and then bounce back to win is a rare thing to find and a trait to be cherished. Not only did ACME bounce back after a horrible map, but they also dominated the third map over Mindfreak and found themselves with three match points to move into the semi-finals. It was impressive to watch the team come together as they won over the hearts of the crowd in the deciding map.
Once again ACME retreated into their shell, waiting for Mindfreak to come to them and win the match that way. The freedom let Mindfreak control the map once again and proceeded to shift the momentum back in their favour resulting in a five-round winning streak to take the match. Mindfreak will count this as a game they should not have won. Watching ACME walk off the stage after coming so close was devastating, and I knew that feeling would be so much worse for those five young men.
The second aspect of the match that hit me was the audience I watched the game alongside. I found myself next to the loudest part of the crowd, naturally. ACME had an excellent cheer squad that was made up by their family, showing everyone precisely what these teams needed today and going forward, support. You could tell their mums, grandmother and other family members didn't fully understand what was happening except their boys were doing what they loved. This level of support we usually see reserved for the soccer field or any other sporting field.
To see esports get this level of support from parents is a significant step forward for the scene. It is also an essential part of helping, what is younger and younger kids, deal with the stress that comes from all aspects of competing at the highest of levels. The fact that these mums were making all this effort and seemed like they would do anything to help their kids succeed was so heartwarming and the reason why ACME has a good shot at going further.
The whole match, which went for over three hours, was a terrific advertisement for what esports does for people in the best way. Here we have a team of friends, meeting for the first time through esports and getting to live the dream of playing in front of hundreds of people in the game they love. Being given unconditional support from the ones in their life that matter most. My greatest hope from this match for ACME is, however, that they learn from this, learn not to retreat into their shell and always play their natural game. If they can take this and not focus on the aspect of the defeat, they have a bright future ahead of them.
If you didn't catch the game I recommend going to watch the stream here so you can see first hand exactly what I am talking about.