MONTREAL --- Outside, as the white snow fell, a flag of the same color waved on center stage at the Six Invitational inside the Place Bell arena. At the world championship of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, Japanese team Nora-Rengo celebrated under the assorted production lights, dancing and yelling in victory, the Japanese flag proudly held up for everyone in the attendance to see.
Nora-Rengo celebrated as if they had just won the world title -- or at least made it to the final. But neither would be correct guesses. The exuberant crew from Japan was semifinals-bound, though, for a date with Russia's Team Empire on Saturday to see which team will make its way to the grand final the following day.
The raucous reaction to Nora-Rengo's 2-0 win over Fnatic was just a typical part of the proceedings for a team that shouldn't have made it this far and has earned the right to flaunt its progress.
Nora-Rengo, led by coach/team owner/head cheerleader/bodyguard Yasuhiro "Kizoku" Nishi, literally dance to beat of their own drum. Be it in a qualifier or a world championship with millions of dollars on the line, rhythmic dancing and unbridled shouting are a staple.
After eliminating the Australians from Fnatic in the quarterfinals, Nora-Rengo entered the media area at Place Bell like pop stars. The Japanese media flooded over to the group, with the "big boss" Kizoku leading the way with cheers, one-liners and catchphrases. In a room with media from across the world and an array of different languages bouncing around the concrete walls, every single thing Kizoku and his team did in front of the cameras connected.
Guests of the event and media members, not knowing even a single word of Japanese, came up to the Siege players from Japan, wondering if they could do their signature dance alongside the newly christened semifinalists.
Like he'd done it a thousand times before, Kizoku would look at the onlooking crowd, giving a furrowed look and saying, "Ah, another one?" before suddenly snapping up like a bottle rocket and yelling, "All right!" to the glee of his adoring audience. A true showman.
The owner has confidence to match. Like Lavar Ball, he's ready to try to speak his wishes into existence. Guarantees of a finals appearance? No problem.
"One hundred percent," he said, grinning at the camera as if he's auditioning for the next big lead role in Hollywood.
With Kizoku, it's hard to find where the character begins and ends. Maybe he's not performing at all. When his team is away from the cameras and numerous pleas for team pictures -- at one point, Kizoku even forced his team to join in on a humorous group hug -- his voice doesn't get any quieter, the same booming tones heard as clearly 20 feet away as if you were right next to him.
While Japan has a long history in esports, that success has primarily come from the arcade scene, where fists full of quarters have defined a video-game generation in the country. Computer games, on the other hand, have largely been overlooked by the general public. Although Japan has improved in some titles, including DetonatioN FocusMe making waves at the most recent League of Legends World Championship, those results are nothing compared to what Nora-Rengo is doing in Siege.
After making the semifinals at the Pro League Season 8 Finals in Brazil, a top-four (and possibly higher) finish at the world championship has proven the wacky and theatrical tactics of Kizoku and his team are more than just for show.
One semifinal might be a fluke, but two? That's substantial.
"Rainbow Six Siege isn't only about shooting," said Yudai "Wokka" Ichise, one of the team's star players, whose strength lies in his flexible use of different operators in the game. "Tactics is very important. In other [first-person shooter] games, there is only aiming and shooting. Tactics aren't as important. That's why we're so [skilled] at Siege."
In a game of pure aim, Nora-Rengo players admit they might not have it takes to become a world championship. But, as Kizoku pointed out while pointing at his head and grinning, the game they're playing isn't all about aiming. Smarts matter in Siege. With a variety of different operators, maps, and ways to play the game, simply being the most gifted mechanically won't bring home the championship.
Siege championships come from a mix of intelligent play and mechanical prowess, with the former being the pivotal skill. That's where Kizoku, Wokka and the rest of Nora-Rengo, believe they excel, and it's why they think they have a shot at the title.
On Sunday, surrounded by a packed, sold-out crowd, Nora-Rengo might be dancing again, the Japanese flag once more waved around with Kizoku at the head of the charge, yelling into the heavens. This time, though, it won't be a championship-like celebration. It'll be a celebration of the new Rainbow Six Siege world champions.
So next time you see Kizoku on stage, headband on, arms flailing around with his eyes full of fire, don't underestimate him.