Things are less than tense the night before the New Zealand finals of Red Bull Solo Q. As competitors mingle, talk and enjoy the evening, everyone is guarding their secret strategies, pocket picks and strategic bans.
Bringing a live audience to New Zealand, Red Bull Solo Q – held live at Auckland’s Studio 230 in Ponsonby – is a huge deal, especially for domestic esports.
With these finalists fighting for a chance of a lifetime – a trip to New York to represent New Zealand in the Red Bull Solo Q world finals – and the opportunity to stamp their name in the halls of esports history, a lot is on the line.
Gone are the qualifier rules these players grew used to in the early stages of the event. Summoner’s Rift has been replaced by Howling Abyss. Gone is the 100CS threshold players could reach to win: replaced by a brand new set of rules designed to separate the best from those who simply can’t hack it. Take down the opponent twice, take down the opponent once after the seven-minute mark, or take down the enemy tower to win.
The new rules favor aggressive, assertive plays. Scrappy, intense fighting is undeniably the new status quo.
Some competitors are quaking; some are brimming with excitement.
For the first bracket finalists, Hansung ‘Kimchii’ Jang and Sabrina ‘Silent Reverie’ Li, all eyes will be on them to kick off the finals in style.
In personality, they could not be further apart – Jang is a former semi-pro with a number of prior esports events under his belt; Li brings a decade of amateur League of Legends experience to the table.
Jang exudes bullish confidence, creating a stark contrast against Li’s verified underdog status.
,[The competition] is pretty average. I think it’ll be pretty easy,” Jang said.
The winner of this top bracket will scrap in the semi-finals against one of two formidable foes: Sam ‘Cool Maths Games’ Cartwright or Will ‘Cave Commander’ Brown.
Cartwright, coming in off the back of qualification at Armageddon, will be looking to prove his mettle in the upper throes of competitive play. After all, he stunned audiences as he reverse-swept his opponents in a brilliant 3-2 run, but can he repeat the trick on stage?
Brown also has something to prove.
He’s anticipating a grudge match due against Shaan ‘JAK’ Panchia, who sits in the second bracket. Panchia knocked him out earlier in his qualifier journey, meaning Brown had a lot to prove to fight his way back into the tournament.
Despite early setbacks, he’s confident too.
“A lot of these people haven’t touched a patch of grass in about three weeks, so I’m coming in with a lack of experience compared to these guys, but I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to wipe the floor with them.”
There’s the potential Brown might not get the chance.
Panchia goes up against former pro player Isaac Tilting’ Bellamy in the first round of the second bracket. Bellamy’s veteran attitude and pro experience could make all the difference in the tournament.
Bellamy is the clear favorite for the tournament. An ex-player in Oceania, having played for a large stable of esports organisations, he’s gearing up to claim his ticket to New York for the world finals of Red Bull Solo Q.
His experience on LAN [a live audience] could be a total gamechanger at this stage of the competition, and he knows it.
“It’s definitely a huge advantage. I’d say I’m a favorite to win this all. It’s the experience, mentality, practice… It makes me a favorite to win.”
Despite Bellamy’s strong industry credentials, Panchia is quietly confident in his own ability.
“There’s a pro dude [Bellamy], I’m a bit worried about him but other than that, it’s smooth sailing.”
Panchia said he was so confident, he considered the event a formality to claim his ticket to the world finals.
“I’m just here to pick up my plane ticket to New York, after I win this tournament.”
The final game of the second bracket features David ‘DVD123’ Nguyen and Jahan ‘WORLD’ Panchia. Jahan is Shaan’s elder brother, and will be looking to knock his brother down a peg.
Nguyen has a win in sight too, although has remained quiet about his underdog status. What strategies, comfort picks and bans are a mystery.
With the winners of the first round, the semi-final storylines only get better.
Should Cartwright triumph in the bracket, he would continue his winstreak. Should Brown take the bracket, it would be a trial of fire to reach the grand final and finally take on his old compadre Bellamy, who he once watched clean up the competition as a pro player.
There stands an outside chance of an interested brother-v-brother matchup, with Shaan and Jahan each requiring a first-round win in the bottom bracket. Both would face stiff competition for this semi-final culmination, but the audience will be watching with bated breath to see the grudge talk between the two.
With New Zealand’s top League of Legends 1v1 players competing for clout, a sweet prize pool from sponsors including a year subscription to Norton 360 for Gamers, an ultimate PC setup from PB Tech, a OSIM uThrone Gaming Massage Chair and an Astro A20 wireless gaming headset , there’s a lot on the line for these players.
Who will take the crown of Red Bull Solo Q New Zealand champion? Who’s got the chops to rise above the competition?