Spacestation Gaming making the most of time with stand-in

An unfortunate situation for one of the NAL's strongest teams is becoming a prolonged transition period.

Screengrab via Spacestation Gaming

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire North American Rainbow Six Siege scene felt deflated. Viewership for the newly-minted North American League failed to meet expectations and the fan and player bases both grew tired of the “20-second meta.” That exhaustion escalated to anger and few felt it more than Spacestation Gaming and its in-game leader, Troy “Canadian” Jaroslawski.

Canadian, one of the game’s longest-standing veterans, thought about stepping down in August. But his teammates and coaches pushed for him to make a return. In a team meeting, Canadian committed to play through the Six Invitational and gained back some of the competitive fire that made him famous.

“In the midst of trying to explain his feelings to the team, all of them stood behind him and were like, ‘we don’t want anyone else. We want to play with you,’” Spacestation head coach Justin “Lycan” Woods told Dot Esports. “They reinvigorated him. He got super excited to play again.”

The energy in the team remained all the way through 2020. And with SI 2021 in their sights, it seemed like Spacestation could hold it together.

Then, disaster struck: the French government closed its borders in early February and SI, slated to be played in Paris, was postponed until May 2021. As the end of the coronavirus pandemic seemed to come into sight, the sobering truth—that localized events would remain the norm—became utterly clear. The only competition Spacestation could play in before the NAL season resumed on March 24 was the NSGxDZ Pro-Am. During that tournament, reality set in.

“[Canadian] played the first game and it just did not go well,” Lycan said. “We’ve all seen Troy’s passion, the different clips and stuff just shouting and having fun, and that just wasn’t there.”

Canadian retired on March 13, the second in a series of Rainbow Six Siege legends who either retired or were dropped from their teams in the offseason before the 2021 regular season. Niclas “Pengu” Mouritzen, Fabian Hallsten, Kevin “Easilyy” Skokowski, and Daniel “Goga” Mazorra Romero all retired or were put in a position where they won’t be available until the first stage of their respective leagues has ended.

“For the last two years or year and a half, we’ve never cared about the roster rules because we never planned on making changes,” Lycan said.

Changes were inevitable, though. And due to the closure of the transfer window and rules forbidding picking up free agents outside of the transfer window, Spacestation was forced to find a replacement. Lycan had played professionally before, as recently as 2018, but SSG went in a different direction, tapping their analyst, Luke Slota, to fill in.

“I got a phone call from Lycan, and I kind of had a feeling about what it was because he only calls me if it’s super important stuff,” Luke said. “I wasn’t at the house at the time so I knew it was something important and I kind of figured it was something about [Canadian].”

Luke described Canadian as “one of his best friends at the house.” The analyst said that news of the veteran’s retirement left him “stressed, sad” and with a “mix of emotions.”

The impact of Luke’s debut in the NAL server was mostly hidden. He didn’t have a single kill during Spacestation’s season-opening 7-4 victory over Disrupt but contributed in intel factors and other ways. If your support player doesn’t have a kill but you’re winning by a large margin, it really doesn’t matter. Luke said he wasn’t too terribly nervous because of his previous experience during the NSGxDZ tournament. “I was more so excited, and like, very energized,” he said.

Somewhat comically, the biggest change that Luke had to adjust to was the temperature in the Esports Arena building itself. Luke said SSG have been practicing in their room with their air conditioning on full blast to prepare for the extremely cold conditions.

In a way, Spacestation is the team best equipped to handle a roster emergency like this one. Luke often played ranked games with the team and other professional players before and is widely recognized as someone who can hold his own in a gunfight no matter who he’s up against.

But Luke being a long-term fit for the team isn’t exactly Spacestation’s current plan. Lycan said that while Luke is a viable option in the meantime, he’s not the most optimal choice for the bread-winning team. For now, though, there’s a bit of a secret advantage. Given their previous work together behind the scenes, Luke and Lycan are well synced up in terms of macro strategy.

“[Luke] really understands like how I want things to be done,” Lycan said. “And like, I can’t talk to them during the game obviously until the timeout, but he is now able to talk to them full time. So, in that way like it’s a little bit of a cheat code.”

“I know a lot of peoples’ tendencies,” Luke said. The advantage of having an analyst in the server is that despite not playing against the other teams, Luke has a good idea of where everyone is on the map just based on raw statistical tendencies. It’s not like having a coach in your communications, but it’s just about the closest thing to it.

But having a good IGL makes or breaks even the strongest Rainbow Six rosters—and SSG is no exception. Canadian wasn’t just one of the best IGLs in NA, he was one of the best in the world, and replacing him isn’t an easy feat. Lycan said on Twitter and later confirmed to Dot Esports that the IGLing is done by committee for now, but all options are on the table moving forward.

Ultimately, if Luke wants to win a spot on NA’s most decorated roster, it’ll be a long road ahead. SSG are actively looking for the fifth piece to the puzzle, Lycan explained, and there are tons of options on the table.

“Every week. I’m watching all the games,” Lycan said. “I’m trying to see people who I think might fit what we’re looking for.”

Shawn “Unit” Pellerin, Spacestation’s manager, echoed this sentiment earlier in March with a tweet playing at Complexity Gaming CEO Jason Lake’s CS:GO Juggernaut tweet but later clarified on Reddit that he was 100 percent serious about returning the roster to championship-winning form.

Spacestation won’t be able to make a change until at least May 24, according to the current Rainbow Six competitive calendar. Even then, with the Six Invitational postponed, the timeline for crucial roster moves is murky. Barring absurd circumstances, Luke will likely be on the active playing roster until May 24. But that’s when he and Spacestation will have to make a choice.

“I told him personally this is his spot to earn, not his rightful spot, basically, he doesn’t get this spot [permanently] until he’s earned it to me,” Lycan said.

Even if Spacestation goes a different direction, Luke could draw the eye of other Rainbow Six teams who’d want to take a shot on him as a player. For now, though, Luke wants to stay with Spacestation, even if it means returning to the analyst role or wherever they may have a fit for him.

“I look forward to whatever happens after whether it’s going back to the analyst role or still playing,” Luke said. “But I want to be with SSG obviously.”