Oi, You! Avid TF2 fanboy! Yes, you sat slumped in your chair, listen here:
Are you familiar with the European scene? Do you think you know everything about North American TF2? You enjoy watching the Australian TF2 games at breakfast, and even the South American scene is on your radar, right? Well I have some good news for you: a true enigma has emerged out of the mists of the Far East.
I must confess that, even as a self-professed connoisseur of competitive TF2, I could not name you one player from the AsiaFortress league. I am aware that they have a growing community, with regular competitions and I think I even saw a kick-ass fragmovie once. I've decided that this lack of knowledge is simply unacceptable, and I'm embarking on a Columbus-esque expedition to find out about our Asian friends. You can be the judge of whether or not I'm more successful than my navigationally-impaired idol.
In order to keep my feeble body from succumbing to the journey, I've employed the services of the two finest guides AsiaFortress has to offer, shounic and teejay. They originally came to me to talk about the current AsiaFortress Cup 8 they have going on, and the Grand Finals that are happening this Saturday! Don't worry loyal twitch viewer, TeamFortressTV will be there to cover all the action as it unfolds.
A Short History About The Scene
The first difference to wrap your head around is that the AF scene talks about Cups rather than Seasons. They run roughly one cup per year and the most recent AsiaFortress Cup 8 had 3 divisions (Division 1 down to Division 3). This time around, each division had seven teams battling it out - they all play a round-robin phase before taking the top four teams into a single-elimination playoff. In case your maths isn't the best, that makes the scene a fairly small one at only 21 teams; all in all, this is a small but vibrant community that showcases the best talent Asia has to offer.
One of the best things about the upper echelons of this community is how fiercely close it is. In the past, much like their European and North American counterparts, the top has been dominated by two superteams - mostly due to the language barriers, these have often been national teams hailing from Korea, Japan and Singapore. Historically it has always been the Korean superteams which edge out a victory in the Grand Finals, while the Japanese are left to pick up the pieces and fend off any Singaporean teams that are eyeing up the podium as well. The last few Grand Finals have been very close affairs, but the Cup itself had been dominated by two teams, never in doubt of a 1st and 2nd place finish. A similar story also exists in that a lot of these teams are recycled from the same band of old-school Division 1 players, occasionally picking up fresh talent to fill an open slot. This time though, for AFC8, the superteams scattered. But more on that later on in the article when we take a look at AFC8 in more detail!
I took a more general look into the scene to begin with. The general opinion is that the scene is growing, albeit slowly, but there is difficulty with players making the jump up the skill levels; this is a frequent problem in TF2 communities where there is such a skill separation. This is probably down to a mixture of factors: the higher level players don't have enough time to commit to mentoring, there are difficult language barriers to overcome so incestuous national teams form and stagnate, and the Divisions contain such a range of talent that the lower skilled teams don't have a great opportunity to play similarly-skilled opponents and improve. Nonetheless fresh talent and new teams do appear fairly regularly, and I think the doom and gloom is just a bit of pollution that'll soon blow over.
The topic of interaction with the wider TF2 community was something that I was very curious about. It soon transpired that most of their players are aware of the NA/EU scenes, and pay particular attention to the ESEA seasons whenever they come around - they even occasionally get some NA invite players pugging with them. They frequently visit TeamFortressTV and read up on competitive TF2, but prefer to lurk in the shadows, and with no real casting organisations or coverage to speak of their exposure is often minimal. I was aware that AsiaFortress had previously received some attention from Australian mix teams trying to prove their superiority, but ever since they repelled the high-ping invaders in the AFC6 Grand Final, the interest has dwindled. Of course it's difficult to integrate the scenes nicely when we have anywhere from 150 to 300 ping on their servers and don't speak any eastern language beyond "nǐ hǎo".
The top teams in Asia typically play hyper-aggressively. They can be often found non-uber pushing, bullying their way through choke-points and generally giving their opponents little respect. It's a high-risk, high-reward style of playing the game which is definitely fun to watch. Their rules mirror the EU ruleset, with timelimit 30 and windifference 5 (Golden Caps to decide map winners with winlimit 1 and timelimit 0) and a fairly limited whitelist that is almost identical to ETF2L's. The top four teams all play around their scouts, using them to pocket and get frags, apart from the new Singaporean superteam who have more of a fluid dynamic and a more rounded team. A lot of inspiration seems to have been taken from Froyotech and Mixup/XTS, so if you're an NA fanboy and you want to see some familiar action make sure to catch the Grand Finals this Saturday!
Asia Fortress Cup 8
As I previously said, before AFC8 there were two superteams dominating the scene. Perhaps they were bored of facing the same opponents? Perhaps they were uninterested in playing with the same teammates? Whatever the reason, the AsiaFortress scene underwent a serious shakeup before this Cup. The two dominant superteams spread themselves out across three other rosters, whilst a new superteam from Singapore emerged from the smog of Division 2. The core of the Korean roster was split, to form the new team KIN Gaming, while the Japanese roster managed to form two new teams - deadly momentum (led by natto) and Good Luck Matsukaze (led by gappo3). They had to face up against the new Singaporeans on the block, MVP, who already had a few local LAN victories and better team synergy. It was set to be an enthralling Cup.
All of these teams had an equal chance of winning, and so all eyes were trained on the early results in order to get any kind of indication. GLM and MVP came out strong at the beginning of the round robin, beating down both of the other playoff contenders with ease. This did not put off KIN Gaming or deadly momentum; they were only motivated more by their losses. They managed to make it through to the playoffs in 3rd and 4th place respectively, while MVP and Good Luck Matsukaze pulled off almost perfect seasons (drawing with each other). The dedication from dmm and KIN was rewarded though when an opportunity was gifted to them in the Semi-Finals. Both GLM and MVP lost some crucial players: for GLM their pocket, oldest player, and root of their team horihori had left a few games previously and they were unable to field their demoman noki for the match either; MVP were also not quite able to field their main lineup and had to juggle some classes around. KIN Gaming took full advantage of the situation and smashed GLM in the semi-finals, securing their spot in the Grand Final. deadly momentum took on a wounded but ferocious MVP side, eventually besting the beast in a very close two maps.
Good Luck Matsukaze
And thus the AsiaFortress Grand Final stage was set, with both the 1st seed and 2nd seed team being nowhere to be seen. Once again it was the battle of the nationalities, Korea vs. Japan. But is this finally revenge for the Japanese? My navigators are doubtful, but I remain ever optimistic. One thing is for certain, it will be exceedingly close, lightning-fast and tense.
This team values their scouts above all else. It is the main advantage they hold over KIN Gaming, although it is a slim one. While key calls and leadership do come from their combo, their soldiers have been identified as weak points in an otherwise very strong team. firidd can definitely match the demoman from KIN Gaming and if natto can give his team some room to work with, firidd and the scouts could well pair up to become an unstoppable machine of death. The pressure is on ozr and toki to deliver on the day and bring home the glory for Japan.
This team may well have the practice advantage coming into this Grand Final. While both of these teams are keen and constantly scrim, it's KIN who manage to keep their full roster intact for all of their practice games. This undoubtedly gives them a boost of teamwork going into these games, and their lineup is arguably more rounded than dmm's. Their scouts are the best in Korea and the playstyle of both of these teams puts a lot of pressure on hsk and flower to out-compete their rivals. That could well be a hard task for them to manage, but thankfully they're backed up by some very solid soldier play from babel and creep. Whether or not the slightly new-school player genos will throw a spanner in the works when it comes to this high-pressure match remains to be seen.
This Grand Final will be covered on TeamFortressTV by an, as yet, unknown trio. I hear rumours of a potato king and an Australian pocket though...
Catch them on TeamFortressTV at 14:30 CET!