The Soniqs Ethos: How positive thinking is fueling NAL’s ‘villains’

Things aren't always what they appear to be.

Screengrab via Susquehanna Soniqs

The day after Susquehanna Soniqs’ Rainbow Six Siege team suffered a 7-2 defeat at the hands of Mirage, losing their stranglehold on the first-place spot in the NAL, everyone was “chipper” in their post-Stage meeting, according to head coach Joe “jobro” Reyes. 

They hadn’t secured the coveted number one spot, but the promise of SI points and the immediate success after a publicly controversial series of roster moves had everyone in the room excited. They were bouncing ideas off each other, discussing the Stage candidly, ready and raring to go to the next match less than 24 hours after an emotionally draining defeat. 

“Looking back on the goals of what we wanted to accomplish, they were just to come in and be able to work together and have that right attitude,” jobro said. 

The roster was built using the fiery, but mostly unsuccessful core of the eUnited roster, which had been relegated by eUnited pulling out of the scene. At one point during NAL’s 2020 Stage One, eUnited was the worst team in the league and arguably one of the worst teams in the world. They rebounded following a coaching change and scrapped their way to a seventh-place finish, which would’ve been safe from relegation had eUnited remained in the scene. The promising but mostly inexperienced crew joined Soniqs and soared to a second-place finish in the first stage of the 2021 NAL season. While not the entire reason for their success, jobro attributes the quick turnaround to something that’s become colloquially known as the “Soniqs Ethos.”

The Soniqs Ethos, among most Rainbow Six fans, has up until now been defined by what it isn’t. Over the offseason, Soniqs dropped four out of their five players, leaving them with sometimes controversial support player Seth “Supr” Hoffman. In a statement, Soniqs GM Darren “Tribizzle” Moore mentioned the word “ethos,” and it became a fixation of irrational fans and a few haters all looking for an explanation to a perplexing move from a bird’s-eye view. Several fans interpreted the statement as saying the players that were dropped had low character or had engaged in unethical behavior. 

Perhaps the disconnect that happened is due to the word “ethos” sounding like the word “ethics;” a difference in ethics is vastly different than a difference in ethos. “Ethics” is derived from “ethos,” and covers a much more specific moralistic set of principles. Maybe the disconnect was just irrational behavior, coming through after seeing favorite players let go. Maybe it was a misunderstanding of how esports organizations with any kind of professional behavior function. Supr did not drop them by himself, as members of the community alleged. It was a management-level decision. There might have been an assumption that because Supr plays a villain role at times, he actually was functioning as one in this circumstance. Supr said to Dot Esports he believes Soniqs are a villain of sorts in NA, and that he “definitely plays into that.” 

Whatever the reason, there are still those convinced that something ethically dubious happened. The difference, in reality, was pretty simple: there was just a difference in overarching vision. Over the course of interviews with jobro, Supr, Pablo “Gryxr” Rebeil, and Alexander “Yeti” Lawson, the Soniqs Ethos was described with one statement above all others: “positive growth mindset.” 

Teamwork is at the forefront of Rainbow Six. It’s arguably the most important aspect of being a championship-caliber team. In the Soniqs’ case, part of their effective teamwork comes from a deep sense of solidarity between the former eUnited members.

“Me, Pablo, Evan [“Kanzen” Bushore], and Richie [“Rexen” Coronado], we went through the whole losing eUnited and losing a house kind of thing,” Yeti said of the time period between eUnited exiting the scene and joining Soniqs. “We were like slum brothers, we were just ‘down bad’ together, super depressed. We just lost our job, we’re losing the house, so we had a really strong bonding experience together.”

They were cooking every night to save money, not knowing where their next opportunity would come from. Rexen and Gryxr got snapped up by Soniqs in December 2020 to play with the team that was coined the “SuprSoniqs,” the original iteration of the new Soniqs roster that included current XSET player Tim “Creators” Humphreys and current Mirage player Mitch “Dream” Malson. They played in the Six Invitational 2021 NA Qualifier, simply wanting to test the waters in what was a very winnable tournament for them. 

“It wasn’t quite clicking like we thought it would,” jobro said of the SuprSoniqs. “So it wasn’t anything like crazy, but it didn’t feel right for what we were trying to accomplish.”

Dream and Creators left, and the Soniqs were left looking for two more players. At the time, Rexen was pushing hard for the rest of the former eUnited team to join. It ended up being a near-perfect fit. 

“What we have now is a group of guys who are willing to work together, who are willing to problem solve, are willing to listen,” Supr said. “And win or lose, the attitudes never change.”

Supr describes the current roster as the most positive team environment he’s been around, and he’s seen quite a bit. He’s been competing in Rainbow Six titles since Rainbow Six Three on the Xbox and has over a decade in the various Rainbow Six titles that released over the years. At times over his career, Supr said that even coaches, who are meant to be the conflict mediators, would exacerbate or even create conflict among the team themselves.

There’s something to be said about a positive mindset though, which is something Yeti says most upper echelon teams already have. There are sometimes individual exceptions on top teams to the rule, and there are some entire teams whose mindsets are poor. 

Avoiding players bickering and squabbling isn’t some kind of mind-blowing new strategy that no one’s tried before. Most agree having a positive environment to flourish and grow in is key to success on any level. The difference is in implementation. Talk is cheap, actually walking the walk is hard, and Soniqs claim they genuinely walk the walk. 

If you’re an NA Rainbow Six fan, you might see a bit of a contradiction here or may be a bit puzzled. Soniqs are supposed to be the villains. From some fans’ point of view, they dropped four members of their team unfairly and disrespected their name upon departure, From a player’s point of view, they’re the upstarts making brash, harsh predictions, with the captain (Supr) who publicly roasts other players.

To the confused, Soniqs would say internal team affairs and external commentary are two completely different things. Supr claims “99%” of what he says is for an interaction. This isn’t a new concept; he’s made this claim publicly before, but it’s restated for the record. 

Playing the villain publicly is something he’s seen the new Soniqs buy into slightly as well. “I feel like Yeti is kind of playing into that (the villain persona) a little bit too,” Supr said. “Which is funny, because he’s always been like a really positive guy, like everybody likes Yeti, and then he’s just like talking shit to everybody.”

Whether he likes it, whether he deserves it, whether it’s real, the Soniqs controversies always begin and end with Supr in some way. But he doesn’t feel like the persona he puts on externally necessarily extends internally. 

Internally, the positive mantra comes from jobro, who uses his background in acting and improv to juice a creative, flowing style of play within the positive growth mindset ethos. “Jobro’s always constantly reminding us of things we need to do, like, okay make sure we’re calling resets, make sure we’re listening, make sure we’re doing this, that, and the other before practice,” Yeti said. Across all interviews with players and coaches, a common theme of enabling and empowering teammates to make plays as they see fit emerged. 

“I think nowadays it’s not so much like a focused IGL on a team,” Gryxr said. “It’s more like somebody who kind of calls the initial push, which could be our IGL (among others) and then it’s like shotcalling (among individuals). It keeps your team dynamic…So with the ethos that we revolve around the team, I think it makes everybody a lot more confident.”

Gryxr was awarded Stage One MVP honors for his efforts. He led the league in K/D +/- with a staggering +41, and his KOST% was second in the league with 73 percent. Gryxr was instrumental in the moment where it became readily apparent that whatever Soniqs were doing, it was working—in the comeback against TSM. 

On April 13, Soniqs went down 5-1 to TSM, a team that before this stage, was forecast as one of the teams with the best chances to win the Six Invitational 2021. Soniqs fought their way back into the game, and with the score tied at seven, the next round winning the game, Yeti made a call. 

The “Total War” pre-workout guzzling, mile-a-minute speaking Yeti told his team to trust him, then locked in Ela, with the FO-12 shotgun—a very bold move to say the least. 

“During the round I just remember Gryxr saying, ‘Alright guys, We have like 45 seconds left. Yeti is the president, protect him at all costs,’” jobro said. Gryxr shot two, Yeti dropped another pair, and Kanzen finished the last TSM member off. The gamble paid off, and it was at least partially due to the ethos. Yeti called his shot on round 15 against one of the best teams in the world, his team reacted positively and enabled him to make a play, and it snagged Soniqs an overtime victory against an Invitational favorite. 

Soniqs didn’t finish first but ultimately that doesn’t matter to them. According to the players Dot Esports spoke to, the overall race is about qualifying for the Six Invitational 2022. If that means a first-place finish, great. If it doesn’t mean a first place finish, it doesn’t matter. 

Their successful Stage was by design, not accident, but the Soniqs were far from “dominant.” They had three overtime wins and zero overtime losses in the first Stage of the NAL, the best OT record in the league. Those aren’t necessarily sustainable numbers, but the majority of the teams they beat in OT aren’t slouches. TSM are incredibly talented, Oxygen won the Stage, and XSET, despite their struggles, are still a professional R6 team. There’s no guarantee this level of success can be maintained, however. 

For now, Soniqs will have to wait for a spell. The Six Invitational 2021 was rescheduled to May, and it’s taking the place of the May Major they would’ve qualified for. While there’s going to be a fairly significant lack of tier-one competition for Soniqs to keep their edge, they aren’t worried about the SI break. In fact, they think it’ll help. Soniqs are carefully crafting their plan to avoid burnout, something Supr and jobro think is affecting portions of NA currently. 

“Having tier one competition go away for a little while shouldn’t hurt us,” jobro said when talking about the break and plans for the upcoming Stage. The mindset heading into Stage Two will be the same as Stage One, according to Yeti. The ethos Soniqs have cultivated over their short time as a team will be the rudder for their ship, and they think it’ll lead them to similar amounts of success. 

“When I think about the season as a whole, like, ‘Oh my god we got to finish top four, we got to finish second,’ that’s the goal obviously,” Yeti said. “But we’re gonna go out there and play, that’s all we’re gonna do; we’re gonna go out there and play.”

Currently, the NAL’s return date isn’t certain. It will have to be after the closure of the transfer window, set to end on June 6. When it does return, Soniqs are confident they can build on the momentum the end of Stage One gave them, as long as they maintain the binding principles they built their team on: their ethos.