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Rainbow Six Siege: Interview with Alphama, eUnited's Frenchman in North America

Rainbow Six Siege: Interview with Alphama, eUnited's Frenchman in North America
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Backyard bonfires, unexpected realisations, the North American League, a lot of Rainbow Six, and a few societal takes thrown in for good measure. Now an expat in the US, the Frenchman talks about the journey that has taken him from his hometown to Kentucky.

Rainbow Six Siege: Interview with Alphama, eUnited's Frenchman in North America

I assume you're currently isolating like most people, or at least your current movements have been severely restricted?

Right now, we're not confined here. Quite a few shops, cinemas, and gyms are closed, but most shops are still open. The problem that I have is that one of my only daily routines, outside of practice, was going to the gym, and the gym that I usually go to is currently shut.

To make up for this, I'm just streaming every day, instead of going to the gym, but being unable to go there is taking its toll on me. We're supposed to keep an eye on our fitness at the house, but obviously it's not the same sort of thing...

Riots, Anonymous vs Donald Trump, and racism... things are certainly at a boiling point in the US at the moment...

I live in a quiet residential area in a small, suburban town to the south of Cincinnati. As a result, I'm quite removed from the violence and the riots that have sparked up across a lot of the United States. I have a lot of sympathy for pacifist movements that try to change the status quo.

I myself left for the US during the middle of the violence between the Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vests, a protest movement in France; Ed) and the Parisian police in December, and I find myself here amidst similar circumstances. Obviously, there are different factors at play, but having violence play out on the street is never a good sign. I hope that this will be seen as a turning point in US history for the advancement of equality in this county.

How are you spending your time in the US outside of your working hours?

Before confinement, it was limited to the gym. I'm not 21 yet and we live in Kentucky, so going out to a bar or a club isn't possible. In addition, I can't keep myself entertained by doing what I used to do in France, as that isn't possible here either. So we've been keeping ourselves preoccupied with campfires. We've been making fires with a bunch of Xander's friends (Yeti, a teammate on eUnited) and gathering around them, which is pretty calming.

Where are you allowed to do that?

Ah just in the backyard! You're allowed to do that here, in a metal circle.

So you're pyromaniacs-in-training, then?

(Laughs). Basically, that was it, besides going to restaurants with Callout (another teammate on eUnited), once every month.

Besides being near your friends and family, what do you miss the most about living in France?

The thing I miss the most about France is my independence. I had my own apartment, my own life, and my own way of getting around. I cooked my own meals, and right now that isn't an option anymore. At least, I'm no longer fully independent, as I live in a shared apartment and I don't have a permit here, nor a car.

Your former coach, Crapelle, also made the decision to leave Europe and has since joined Fnatic in Australia. What do you make of his departure from Rogue?

I think him deciding to leave Rogue can be explained in part by their five disappointing performances at major events. Two consecutive first-round exits at the Six Invitational, in addition to two first-round exits from the European Pro League, and a quarter-final finish at a Major, where they had a completely one-sided loss to a team from the Challenger League.

So, without sounding too harsh: with all these let downs on LAN, whilst playing so well online, the problem has to lie in the mental side of the game. And I think that Crapelle tried a lot of things, but ended up feeling like he had nothing left to offer. That's what I think, but keep in mind I don't know how it played out in his head.

By any means, the chance to work with Fnatic is really cool, especially since he gets on so well with Dizzle. I know they've always been close, and they have a similar beliefs in how a team should operate. It's good to see that they're on the same team and that he was able to bounce back, in such a good team as well. I'm happy for him.

©SiegeGG - Millenium
©SiegeGG

Going back to Rogue: what do you make of their result at their most recent LAN, the Six Invitational? It seems that removing you ultimately didn't end up making any different to their results on LAN.

At LAN, you could say that. However, they were able to become Pro League champions in a pretty consistent season. Despite having some extremely close matches, they managed to pull out victory each time (Laughs). Though, as for the LAN side of things... kicking me hasn't been extremely... useful. In my opinion, ripz, who replaced me, is too different a player to myself. In any case, from an outsider's perspective, I don't feel that he is the team-changer that was worth kicking me for.

Essentially, I was kicked to make the team different, a different project — but I don't believe that I saw a different Rogue, during the Six Invitational, to the Giants that played in Tokoname. I don't feel like there has been a shift towards an identity that is more suited to performing on LAN, even though it's only been one event so far, and that they've since had 6 months of working together to show that it will pay off.

Before we start talking about your current team, what do you think of the current state of Siege? It's something that a lot of people have been talking about.

Hmm, I think that lot of people are impatient. I feel like there are a lot of people who don't understand that we're currently slap bang in the middle of a global pandemic. Currently, it's incredibly difficult for Ubisoft to have a constant source of updates to deal with the issue of cheaters and consistently recurring bugs. Rainbow Six is a very complex game, and as to be expected from a complex game, it certainly produces a lot of bugs. You always need to invest a lot of time and resources into fixing them.

We're in the middle of a crisis, so personally, all I can do is be patient and even look on the bright side of things! I don't know if you've noticed, but as of last month, I've been playing Solo Queue on my stream for several hours each day... so I essentially run into three to four cheaters everyday. I did a funny video about it where I laughed about it.

So you see, it's not too bad. I love this game, so much that I decided to invest the last few years of my life into it. It's never nice to see so many cheaters, but it's not the end of the world. It's only a game, so you just have to be patient and wait for things to play out, just like they always do.

After half a season at eUnited, how do you view your decision to play in the American league?

From an overall standpoint, it's quite deceiving. I think that if you go off of our results in practice and matches, we have massive potential. We played very good matches against some of the biggest names in the American scene, going toe-to-toe with Spacestation, TSM, and DarkZero. But we've had some terrible matches against teams towards the bottom of the table.

I think this can be attributed to the fact that we have Bagel as a new coach, myself, who arrived in America with a certain way of playing the game, based on my days in Rogue, as well as what remains of the Obey roster, who have their own way of seeing the game. Our problem was that we had a lot of conflicting ways of seeing the game, so we were all over the place.

Before this mid-way point in the season, we would have needed more time to find our own identity. This made us lack consistency, whether it be in our preparation for matches or in our own play, and I think that this lack of consistency can be explained by a lack of a clear identity from within the team. This is something we've worked on a lot during the break so that we can meet in the middle, which is something we're hoping we can display in the next season of the NA League.

On a personal level, what have you gained since arriving in the US?

It's been a massive weight off of my shoulders. I started to understand that I played better when I was having fun and believing in myself, when I stopped putting too much pressure on myself, and when I played for the team and for fun. From that moment onwards, I understood what sort of player I wanted to be. This half-season in North America has been a huge revelation for me.

What are your goals for next season — besides wanting to win and finish first, of course?

The main objective is to finish in a Major qualifier spot. As a team of underdogs, that has to be the first step, especially for a team as young as us. It's very important for us to start gaining experience in major events. At the end of each stage, we need to be one of the 16 best teams in the world to qualify for the Six Invitational.

Then, once we've made it, it's a matter of performing as well as we can, all while gleaning as much experience as we can. This has to be taken step-by-step.

Millenium

To achieve that, you've got MeepeY alongside, a very highly regarded ex-pro from Europe, who has taken up a role within the staff.

After Bugs, our previous analyst, left the team, we had carried out a wave of interviews and decided upon his potential replacement. Our main criteria were having a good work ethic and being open to innovation. When MeepeY become a free agent, I immediately asked us to put an end to the interview process and put him forward for the position.

Being an experienced ex-pro, his analytical capacity, his statistical tools, and his understanding of the game are an immeasurable asset for our team. I'm very pleased that we were able to bring him onboard.

As for your own game, you've shown off some great performances since you arrived on US soil. Have you received any offers as a result?

In the off-season, we had one transfer offer, but that was all. I hadn't even started playing at that point. Regardless, that's not my goal. What I want to do is make sure that we can advance what we started.

You're going to have the chance to take part in a league that will be played entirely on LAN. Does this prospect excite you?

Oh... I can't wait! (Laughs). Especially knowing my countless successes on LAN already. (Laughs). But really, it's going to be insane. It's the best environment to play in to improve yourself as a pro. It will also give us a a lot of experience, as playing on LAN is very different from online. And there are a lot of things that come with playing in a league each week, such as living with your team and having other ways to manage team-building, which may solidify the team identity or put it into jeopardy.

We were already supposed to be in Vegas, and I don't know when we will go — we're still waiting on more information — but I can't wait. This will also make Rainbow Six a great esport to follow.

In Europe, the matches will still be carried out online. Do you think that this will afford North American teams an advantage and go on to make them the favourites for Majors?

It's obvious that this will give us more LAN experience. You can try to replicate this experience in bootcamps later on, but the thing is, when you hold bootcamps, you're practising. You don't play official matches, and even if you do, you're not on stage, you don't have cameras or the spotlight on you. Nor are there fans to watch you. A bootcamp is essentially a synthetic simulation of a LAN, with a lot of missing elements.

So yes, ultimately playing in an offline league every week will essentially provide you with an experience that other teams won't have in Europe. I mean, Brazilian teams have played on LAN in the Brasileirão for several years now and haven't had any major advantage over Europe in Majors in the Pro League. On paper, it offers an advantage, but how will it play out in reality? I can't say.

Without putting yourself in a delicate situation, what do you personally think of how Evil Geniuses and Luminosity Gaming's former players have been treated?

It's always hard to see. Seeing your fellow pros, who are excellent players, who have dedicated their life to the game, and a team like Evil Geniuses, who have had so much success, be treated this way... it's especially hard to see.

Right now, I feel like Ubi is taking the flak for a lot of things, while at it's core, Luminosity and EG didn't want to stay in the scene. These two organisations took the decision to leave the game, thereby releasing their players. Therefore, I think that all parties are partially responsible here.

And what does public opinion say? How have other pros, casters, and fans reacted to all this?

There's an awful lot of sympathy for the players affected, who are very well liked in the community. Currently, the issue is that as players, broadcast talent, or viewers, we don't have any impact on these decisions or what's next for these players...

©Ubisoft - Millenium
©Ubisoft

The NA region was often a target for ridicule, seen as the weakest region, even though SSG, Team SoloMId, DarkZero, and even EG have put up some very impressive results in the past. Now that you're a part of the NA scene, what makes it different from Europe, and is it really a weaker region like they say?

I'm often asked this question and I always respond the same way: I don't think that there's any overall difference between EU and NA. I believe that if there is a different, it isn't in the level of play, but instead elsewhere, in mentality and relations between teams.

A while ago, you could definitely say that Europe was well above the level of North America, but I think with teams like SSG and TSM, who have really levelled up these last few years, and the ever consistent DarkZero, there are already three out of eight teams, in the NA league, that can compete for a major title without any issue.

You mentioned problems with the mental side of the game. Could you expand on that?

In the US, everyone speaks the same mother tongue, so everyone has relationships or friends in so and so team. This can also be said for rivalries, as everyone has an issue with some pro or other, as everyone knows everyone.

A while back, the scene was seen as being a bit 'incestuous', with players shuffling from one team to the next — a bit like the old French scene in CS — and creating countless rivalries in the process. This can be explained by the fact that you have professional players constantly playing against their ex-teammates. These players know each other very well, they have their own private group messages, and spread information and gossip everywhere.

Players are closer with one another in the US, which results in more drama, arguments, and feuds, but also in closer friendships. When you play in the European League you obviously have good relations with other teams and play fairly, but you're very distant. There are very few teams that are close with one another, while in NA on the other hand, there are a lot of important members from rival teams who are very friendly with one another, which creates more tension.

It's truly a different mentality and a very different environment.

It sounds more like a soap opera than a professional league...

(Laughs). Well, I don't know if I'm saying this right — and I never want to be someone who moves to a region and immediately starts laying into it — but I don't feel like all this is very healthy. That's only my opinion, based on the six months I've spent here. Logically speaking, from an external point of view, I feel like everyone will dispute the way in which the USA scene and its Pro League works, which has until now been largely composed of American players.

The biggest victor from this regionalisation in North America is surely Canada — can you now expect them to make an advancement internationally?

Clearly, this will finally allow them to nationalise and have a real scene. There was a Canadian league before, but it was widely mocked and not extremely respected or followed. Now, they'll have something that is a lot more polished and developed, that will allow Canadian players to reach the top level. Though we'll have to be patient with it, as the team will have to make up a large gap since the best players in the country already play in the American league. That will take some time, but I think that this is a really good decision in the long term.

This is completely unrelated, but the chicken in Kentucky: is it all its cracked up to be?

(Laughs). I've tried a bunch of it, but... it's still chicken at the end of the day. (Laughs). It's good, and its true that it's better than a lot of others that I've tried. But it's still chicken, it's not really going to change your life. (Laughs).

Millenium

Before you go, could you tell us about the craziest thing that has happened to you since the start of your American Dream?

Just give me a moment to think for a bit, as there's one I'd rather not talk about. There have been a few things, but I could never talk about them in public, especially in an interview.

Hold on... okay: I was going to the supermarket, because I needed to go back to France and was heading to the French embassy. I needed an I.D. photo from less than six months ago, and I didn't have one on me, so I had to go to a photo booth.

I've never hidden my love of clothes and fashion, and I was dressed just like I normally would be, in a French way: a trenchcoat, a sailor shirt, and chinos... what I didn't realise, is that for young Americans where I live, the style is hoodies, shorts, and sneakers. It's unusual to see someone my age dressed like I was.

So I got to the photo booth, where there was a guy waiting to take my photo. He made a move on me, assuming that I was gay based on the way I dressed, which was out of the ordinary. It was funny and surprising, even though I had to tell him that I wasn't interested. (Laughs).

I found this cultural difference very funny, where your sexual orientation is based on what you're wearing.

So has this been a frequent occurrence?

Actually, after several weeks I realised that everyone I came across was particularly interested in the way I dressed. Simply put, being French here and wearing a trenchcoat is appealing to other men. (Laughs). So it's happened several times, though not so overtly, but a fairly similar thing has happened to me several times.

So you're not looking to abandon your style?

Not at all. I'm going to stay the same. I care about the way I dress and I don't care what others think about it. (Laughs).

esports

Fabian Hällsten: "I’m not gonna be happy until I lift the hammer for the third time."

A pure product of the Arctic Circle, the world's best self-proclaimed player of the Rainbow Six scene confided to us in all simplicity.

Translated from the original French by James Whitmore.

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