After playing their final match on June 10, the Knights thought they were out of the Six Masters playoffs race. However, the stars aligned for them in a tight three-way tiebreaker, and Jaedan “Stryder” Calder says they aren’t going to let that chance go to waste.
Thursday June 11 was meant to be the end of the Pittsburgh Knights’ journey in Six Masters. The night before, they had lost to Wildcard 7-5 7-2, and their hopes of playoffs were dashed.
James “Devmarta” Stewart in his post game interview with Stryder asked the Knights leader about “the pressure being off” after a long season filled with roster shuffles and close matches. Stryder spoke about working towards next season with a new and improved roster.
However, some faithful luck fell on the Knights’ side on the final day of the regular season. As Ferox and LFO battled it out for what many thought would be the final spot in playoffs, the unlikely happened. A draw between the two teams forced a three-way tiebreaker most people didn’t account for. The Knights ended on top in fourth, and were sent to the playoffs.
Their off-season was cut short within 24 hours, but in the best way possible. Such storylines in the past have proven to give teams great elation and relief. However, for Stryder and the Knights, it was like any other Thursday.
“If the planets align and you manage to get in on a technicality then great, but there’s not much you can do about that so the emotions were pretty standard I’d say,” he told Snowball Esports.
In some senses, making it in esports requires an element of luck. While he’s a talented player in his own part, his first position in a pro team back in 2017 with Taboo blindsided him. It wasn’t necessarily luck, but more like fate.
“I wasn’t actively looking to join the pro scene when I first started playing. The former IGL of Taboo [Crude] was looking for a fifth member to join his team after many core players from Taboo quit playing or changed teams.
“He asked me if I would like to play competitively because he was trawling through his friends list for potential players. I just finished Year 12, so I thought ‘what the heck, what’s the worst that could happen?’ I wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but Crude saw potential in me to learn.”
It took Stryder a while to find his feet at the top level. While he was surrounded by talented players heading into Season 7 of Pro League, Taboo barely missed out on a playoffs spot to Athletico. It was the same in Season 8, where Taboo finished fifth yet again.
However, Stryder took everything in, well, his stride. Every loss, every battle scar, was a learning experience he used to propel himself into the next contest.
“Individually, the players I was with back in Season 7 were very good but roster instability made it hard to compete at the highest level.”
By Season 9 though, Stryder’s well-meant fate to make it to Pro League was starting to become a bad omen. After leaving Taboo to help create the ACME roster in Challenger League, he failed to qualify for Season 10 — despite having a better win loss and round differential than the team in second, Equinox.
It was in this season that he forged one of his strongest companionships to this day though, with Mark “Dino” Abboud. After seasons of having rosters bounce around, Stryder took it upon himself to pair up with Dino, through thick and thin.
“Being friends is central to a cohesive team. Dino was one of the first teammates that I ever met in person and we’re always down for some banter together.
“As I’ve come to play with Dino I’ve learnt that he is a very smart player behind the scenes and he is not just all aim.”
It wasn’t just Dino though. He had Hayward and Stigs by his side too, and he finally managed to crack one tournament where he wasn’t gatekept from the next stage — requalifying for Pro League with Homeless in Season 11. For once, Stryder had found a core he could possibly run with for longer than a month at a time.
But, fate called another one of his teammates. After HomeLess got picked up by the Knights, they finished Pro League Season 11 in sixth, and Stigs was off to Fnatic. JoeyG, another longtime teammate of his, was also off. Once again, Stryder was forced to rebuild heading into Six Masters. It didn’t help that it was two crucial players on that roster.
“Stigs leaving obviously throws a spanner in the works but he knew that we would be ready for that kind of change. One player does not make a team, he would say. This meant that the role of the IGL was up in the air and the more experienced players have needed to fulfil that role.”
However, now an experienced head in ANZ Siege, Stryder was willing and able to step up. He had Dino and Hayward by his side, he called on Arlo to fill in some shoes while Jsh was waiting to turn 18, and Juicy also came in to fill the void.
“We don’t think we were phased by the ‘roster’ changes from Arlo to Jsh since Arlo had been our teammate before and the pieces fell back together. Jsh is an outstandingly talented player already and he is still improving weekly. The Knights are only getting stronger.”
Why all this backstory matters is because Six Masters 2020 is a change of fortune for Stryder. He’s fallen short of making it to that next stage numerous times in his career. For once, he finally broke into the playoffs.
Despite the fact the Knights have struggled against the rest of the top four, he believes that it’s all just a “misnomer,” and that they lost a lot of their close games themselves. All they need to do is turn those small losses into wins.
“Yes we didn’t win [a map against the rest of the top four], but we lost it ourselves for many of the maps and we weren’t able to play with Jsh (nothing against Arlo though).
“I don’t think that any of the teams in the top four are expecting to win again by default. If they want to beat us, they’re going to need to play better than us. It’s as simple as that.”
Sometimes, things happen because of fate. That’s how Stryder found himself in this position as a Siege pro in the first place. However, he has the chance to take control of that destiny now in the Six Masters playoffs, and he knows that it’s not out of the realm of possibility to stun everyone once again.
“We would love to catch some teams off guard. We know we can be number 1.”
The Six Masters playoffs kick off on July 3.