Spacestation Gaming break the NA Rainbow Six Siege tourney drought

Peter Chau/Six Invitational

It had been 1,106 days since a North American team won a major tournament in Rainbow Six Siege, and on Sunday night, it looked like that counter would tick up to 1,107.

In front of a hometown crowd at Place Bell in Montreal, the home of Siege game developer Ubisoft, a North American team was about to lose again. A few days early, that seemed impossible. A troika of NA squads -- Spacestation Gaming, Team SoloMid and DarkZero Esports -- were nestled in the upper bracket of the tournament, a fast pass to the final that appeared to be an almost assured all-American affair. Yet DarkZero was eliminated by Brazil's Ninjas in Pyjamas, who then went on to take down TSM in the semifinal.

Once the final began, everything began to unravel for North America's last hope. Their map choice, Villa, which the Ninjas had been shying away from and seemed to be a slam dunk victory for Spacestation, turned upside down almost immediately. Before the fans in the venue could even catch their breath, the first map of the grand final was over, the Brazilians tying up the best-of-five series with SSG getting an auto-win for having qualified from the upper bracket without losing a match.

The next map, Border, was more of the same. If you believe in momentum in sports, the Ninjas had all of it. SSG were ransacked in a second straight map with the stunned crowd not knowing how to react outside of the pockets of Brazil fans in the arena, screaming for Ninjas to bring its country their first Siege world title home. On the map that would have brought them the title, they once again jumped out of the gate, pushing themselves a couple of rounds from lifting The Hammer, the aptly named trophy given to each year's best Rainbow Six Siege team.

Up 5-3 and on the verge of pushing the series to a match point, it came down to a one-on-one duel. SSG's captain, Javier "Thinkingnade" DeAndre Escamilla, was chunked down to a single hit point, but he somehow pulled through, clutching from the depths of defeat and sparking the Montreal crowd to rise from their seats.

And once they were up, they didn't sit down. From that single play that could have gone to Ninjas on any other day in the year, SSG never looked back, the fans propelling them to a comeback victory to win the series in five games. The team's newest addition, Troy "Canadian" Jaroslawski, an icon in the Siege community who was part of the last North American team to win a major title in 2017 at the inaugural Six Invitational, was there to put a dagger into the streak of futility.

"It's f---ing amazing, there are no other words," Canadian told ESPN minutes following his second world championship victory. "I've been working for it for so long. Ever since I blew a lead at the 2018 [world championship], I've been working, putting everything I have into it to get back. This ... made it all worth it."

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For Canadian, the 1,000-plus day record without a North American championship has been a curse. Where other players have come in and out of the spotlight, as the de facto face of his region since he began playing, it's stuck with Canadian every step of the way. From social media posts to post-match interviews, every loss at a premier tournament has been followed up by questions of when would he, and North America, win again.

During the 2018 Six Invitational, Canadian's Evil Geniuses team were in an almost unbeatable position against rival European organization PENTA. Up two games in the five-match series, he was one win away from winning back-to-back world titles and cementing himself in the history of the fledgling game as its first legend. He would be called the greatest of all time. The best. Instead, EG were reverse-swept and PENTA, who later became G2 Esports, became the team that would win back-to-back world championships, while Canadian was labeled a choker.

Since then, Canadian's career became one of tragedy. Like Sisyphus, doomed to roll a giant boulder up a hill for eternity to only have it come crashing down on him, Canadian was in a forever loop of potential to only end in dismay. At the 2019 world championship, he was confident and ready to get revenge against the now-G2 Esports, a year removed from the reverse-sweep. Canadian didn't even make it to the semifinals, where he would have played G2, falling in the quarterfinals and having to answer once again what went wrong.

After bombing out at another major tournament, the Raleigh Major, Canadian needed a change. Spacestation Gaming, a team made up of talented and flexible players, needed an in-game leader. So he left Evil Geniuses, the core with which he won his first title and was built through friendship, a decision with only one goal on his mind -- lifting The Hammer in Montreal.

"[I've changed] my attitude and how I handle myself as a captain," Canadian said. "I think I've definitely caused some problems on my past team, EG, where I could be condescending and hard to work with. I don't think it was horrible or the guys on EG thought it was horrible either, but it definitely could have been better. Towards the later days of EG, I really tried to work on it, but once I joined SSG and got into the right environment I think, I really kinda shined through. I think I've become a whole new person and teammate, and I think it's for the best."

Along with the end of its three-year championship drought, the North American Siege scene had more good news during the weekend. In the developer's yearly panel before the grand final, where Ubisoft shares the changes to the game and esports leagues across the globe for the upcoming year, they announced that an offline domestic league for 10 North American professional teams would begin following its Proleague final this coming May in São Paulo, Brazil.

It's a new era for Canadian and North American Siege as a whole. While it wasn't an all-NA final like it could have been, the region was by far the strongest during the 2020 world championship, with three of its teams finishing in the top six and the only team that failed to make it out of the group stages, Team Reciprocity, was more unlucky than unskilled. With up-and-comers like eUnited, an old guard in Evil Geniuses and the four teams that impressed in Montreal, the newfound offline North American Proleague could become the new standard.

"I'd like to think that North America has always had the potential to rise to the top and that 2019 was just an outlier stumble for NA teams," Che Chou, the senior director of esports at Ubisoft, said to ESPN. "I don't know that anything we've done structurally in NA has affected the success of the NA teams here at SI, but what I do know is that the reason SSG, TSM and DarkZero have done so well through groups is because they're great organizations who invest in their players, all of whom are hungry to win."

North America, often ridiculed, has been redeemed. A bright future on the horizon, an offline league only enhancing the strength of the region as a whole.

Canadian, liberated from his past failures and now changing not only as a player but as a person, will now take his rightful place among the greats as a two-time winner and three-time finalist. One of, if not the best, in-game leader in Rainbow Six Siege history until someone steals the title from him.

It's Feb. 16, 2020, and it has been 0 days since a North American team won a major tournament in Rainbow Six Siege.