MONTREAL --- In a city where the Flag of Europe flies freely in the chilled winter winds, it feels almost poetic that the finals of the Rainbow Six Siege world championship will be contested between two teams representing the European region.
"Montreal is pretty much Finland," said G2's Joonas "jNSzki" Savolainen, one of the 10 Europeans playing in Sunday's world final. "There's snow on the ground. Sometimes it's warm, and the snow is mushy and wet. It feels like home."
After a week of intense competition, the field of 16 has been cut down to the final two teams. G2 Esports is no stranger to the final stage. For over a year, the same core has dominated the Siege scene, lifting trophy after trophy with little resistance in their wake. Four of the five members of the current G2 squad were in Montreal last year when they won the world championship under the PENTA Sports brand.
Even with a new organization in G2 and member in Juhani "Kantoraketti" Toivonen, their reign is on the verge of becoming a legitimate dynasty.
"For G2, it's simply the best team to ever play the game," said Parker "Interro" Mackay, one of the lead commentators at the world championship. "They want to add an additional exclamation mark to that status by taking home their second trophy and holding onto the title of world champion."
Any time G2 is on the ropes, pushed to exert itself beyond its normal level, it's a cause for excitement for the crowd. When one of the surprises of the tournament, Spacestation Gaming, took the first map from the world champions in the quarterfinals, the arena sounded as if a team had just won the whole thing.
While G2 would regain its composure and take a close 7-5 win on Villa to advance, the unbeatable squad didn't appear so unbeatable.
I've been saying it ever since dreamhack, DO NOT SLEEP ON SSG.— G2 Pengu (@G2Pengu) February 16, 2019
Ggwp to the space bois they took us all around the. Solar system, it was beautiful.
Although G2's online form has been less than stellar lately -- the team was No. 5 in the European division of Pro League going into the Six Invitational -- it was expected to dominate. And in the semifinal, against another North American side, this time Team Reciprocity, which upset fellow NA squad Evil Geniuses in the quarters, dominate is exactly what the world champion did. There was never a second of doubt in G2's qualification into the world final. The dark-horse organization based in Canada didn't even given a second to dream about playing for the world championship in front of its hometown fans.
"We [didn't] care who we faced [in the final]," said jNSzki. "It's nice to clearly see that the European scene is arguably the best there is right now."
Compared to G2 Esports, Team Empire is only beginning to learn its full potential. Last Pro League season, Empire was in the minors before sidestepping the weaker competition to make it into the competition with Europe's elite. So far in the new season, Team Empire has been on fire online, taking six wins out of seven with its only non-victory coming in the form of a draw against G2 Esports.
Those online performances, which sometimes don't translate under the microscope and stress of the live stage, have continued in Montreal, as the team topped its opening round group stage before defeating both Brazil's Team Liquid (2-1) and Japan's Nora-Rengo (2-1) to reach the world final.
After having only a single blemish to its name to begin 2019 -- the draw to G2 still lingering in the back of the players' heads -- Empire has the chance to clear it from its record, and in doing so, take G2's crown and become the world's best Siege team.
"It's crazy," Team Empire's Danil "JoyStiCK" Gabov said about making it to the world final. "It's really great. In Europe, you don't have so much salary with organizations like in North America, so you can just full-time play Siege if you win tournaments like this. It's crazy."
What Empire lacks in experience and finesse, it makes up in pure mechanics and aggression. In both the quarterfinal and semifinal matchups, Empire fell behind by losing the opening maps in relatively easy fashion, but then came back twice with brash, well-coordinated play to take the match. Empire is a team that might not be the most flexible and can sometimes fall back on similar strategies, but time and time again, it gets up from a deficit and charges forward.
Every time Nora-Rengo was on the verge of returning the momentum to its side, JoyStiCK or Dmitry "Scyther" Semenov would string together a couple of kills to end the comeback. By the end of the semifinal, the usually energetic Japanese squad was dead silent, eyes downward, its unorthodox, stylish strategies shut down completely by the Russians.
"Unproven but inspiring amounts of potential in Empire," Interro said. "[They're] looking to put to rest all the doubt and all of the questions people have about them being the real deal and if they can translate their success from online to [onstage]."
As the two teams emerge from the tunnel Sunday toward the stage that will decide it all, the future of Siege will hang in the balance. Either G2 Esports will cement its place among the elite franchises in esports history as one of the truly great dynasties in competitive gaming history, or Empire, the online dynamos, searching for a better life with the money that comes from the title of being world champions, will begin its own legacy.
"Everyone wants us to lose," jNSzki said. "For example, today [in the semifinals] we came to the stage and people were booing us. That's how it is. You can't let it get under your skin. We've been in this position many times."
For Empire to conquer the world, it will need to bring down an empire in G2 Esports.
The fans in Montreal and the eternity of Russia might be against G2 on Sunday, but as jNSzki said, the team has been here before. Those other times, when the crowd urged for someone to take down G2, its cries were left ignored. Sunday, we'll see if those calls will finally be answered.