Wings Up 2-0 OG. Even reading it now, hours after the series concluded, one still struggles to comprehend the weight behind what Wings Up have accomplished at ESL Challenger Melbourne — and they still have the most important day to go.
The Chinese squad, thought to be nothing more than minnows at an ESL Pro League Conference qualifier, took down both EG.PA and OG in back-to-back sweeps to qualify for the Challenger playoffs.
26-year-old rifler Yi “gas” Ding was excited, as one would expect, but also relieved when speaking to Snowball Esports after the historic victory.
“It was really f*****g good.
“It was also a huge relief. We were kind of nervous a bit but we kept on going.”
Team Manager Haoxiang “MZRY” Hu added that the team didn’t feel any pressure coming into the best-of-three — for they had nothing to lose.
“We honestly didn’t feel any pressure. We knew coming in we were the underdogs, so when we play against a team like OG — a top eight team, a good performance at BLAST — we weren’t feeling any pressure at all.
“Even though we were tired, we had to keep up good communication at all times, it was loud [on the stage], we were nervous — but we still made sure not to feel any pressure.
In the beginning we just said we would play our best game — that’s it. Whether we were going to win, or going to lose, it didn’t matter. Let’s show the best of us.Haoxiang “MZRY” Hu
Wings Up went close in their opener against OG 16-13, but pundits merely brushed the result off as a day one underperformance from a European squad that was still struggling to adapt to conditions in Australia.
What viewers did not expect was Wings Up would bounce back with an utter demolition of sole North American hopes EG.PA.
“We were really surprised that they picked Nuke against us,” said MZRY. “We were really in shock, and just did not expect to play Nuke.”
An 8-4 T half on Nuke from the Chinese squad spelled the end to EG.PA’s Australian adventure, with Wings Up running away with the series 16-11.
MZRY revealed that, while the team had prepared before the event, there was no team- or player-specific counter-strategy, as the team could not travel with coach BiaoHong “Rita” Huang.
“For preparation…we don’t have a lot of preparation as our coach was not coming with us, he stayed in China.
“He did some homework with us just before the match started, we printed out some notes about our vetoes and what our opponents like to do. We don’t really go in knowing things like which player plays which site — we have no idea about that.”
Nevertheless, Wings Up sent EG.PA packing, then moved on to their biggest challenge yet — a full best-of-three rematch against OG.
But while it was certainly a learning experience, gas explains there wasn’t as much to take away from the loss ahead of the decider.
“To be honest, we didn’t think too much about the best-of-one match [against OG] at all,” said gas.
“Of course, it was a really close game, and there’s some crucial rounds we didn’t make it out of, so we focused fully on today’s best-of-three. We were fully prepared with our vetoes and we were really confident about our Inferno.
“We just don’t think about losing — we just built good momentum.”
gas would drop 46 kills in the two-mapper, right behind teammate Junhao “ChildKing” Peng’s 50, but what was more impressive was the fashion in which Wings Up did it.
With thousands of Aussie fans screaming and a top eight squad against them on the server, they stuck to their roots and played their brand of Counter-Strike with pure confidence.
Their curious blend of aggression — a descriptor used for many Asian representatives in the past — with structure and control was their key to victory, and it’s something Wings Up kept at developing themselves with limited outside influence.
“Influence from other teams? No, not really,” said MZRY.
“We learn it at a base level, then develop our own playstyle,” added gas.
MZRY explained: “Of course we watch a lot of demos, we try to learn from the other top teams. Every day we’re watching tournaments and that, but for us, some teams are on another level — we cannot just copy their strategy.
“We did try that before — even if we copy the strategy, learn every grenade, learn every movement, we can’t really understand the point or the end goal. So we try to learn it all but at the same time we create our own approach with what we learn. If we just try to copy everything, it’s just not good.”
Speaking of their compatriots, the discussion shifted to the APAC RMR, where Wings Up were eliminated in the semi-finals by Rare Atom.
The APAC RMR has been a point of contention for some time, with discussions over whether the four slots offered for the RMR is enough to properly showcase the depth of competition the Asia-Pacific region has to offer.
With plenty of opinions offered outside of the scene, there are few opportunities to hear directly from arguably the largest sub-region of them all in China. But, as Snowball Esports learned, Wings Up and the Chinese teams in contention are in the same boat.
“We think the same as everyone else,” MZRY confirmed. “Four slots for everyone, and only one slot for China — it’s really hard for us.
“Before the COVID situation we had the Asia Minor with eight teams — that would be much better for us. If we want to go through right now there’s only one team that can go out and try to play in the RMR, and we want more.”
“At least an eight team RMR, I mean we think this is available for us. North America has sixteen teams, all we want is eight again like before, we would all feel so much better about it then.”
MZRY believes the level of competition between the top four in China is that close that on any day, any one of them can emerge a tournament winner, while the remaining three are left to lick their wounds and away the next opportunity.
“First of all, all four Chinese teams — Rare Atom, TYLOO, Lynn Vision, ourselves — we play against each other every week for every tournament for every single day, so we know each other too well,” said MZRY.
“So it comes down to a lot of individual performances in each game. Our first day [at the China RMR Qualifier] we performed really badly against Rare Atom, so we had to go through the lower bracket.
“We tried to fully focus for the lower bracket; we caught a win against TYLOO but then against Rare Atom again, they did great preparation and were really good. We didn’t have a good day again, we didn’t show some good individual play and we just lost — never had a chance.
Gas added: “We play against the same teams too much, every team is really really close, so how you perform on the day, anyone can win.”
Rare Atom emerged as China’s representative for the RMR, taking victory over Lynn Vision in the grand final to secure their tickets to Melbourne in early October for the APAC RMR at PAX Australia.
As for Wings Up? They aren’t bothered by anything else but their remaining performance here at DreamHack — resuming tomorrow in a playoff semi-final against paiN Gaming.
The team has most certainly exceeded expectations for the event, but with a 2-0 of powerhouses OG, the sky is the limit for the squad in the Rod Laver Arena.
When asked if paiN should be worried about a Wings Up brimming with confidence and a fire for a grand final appearance, gas’ response was instantaneous.
“We are the underdog, they are the favourite — just like our match yesterday. Today was a huge relief, sure, but we still don’t feel any pressure. I think it will be a 50-50 game.
Aussie fans will need to be up bright and early to catch Wings Up attempt to keep their EPL Conference dream alive against Brazilian squad paiN Gaming. The best-of-three kicks off Sunday morning at 9am AEST.