Rainbow Six Siege is seven. It’s probably the only live service game I’ll never truly quit, as is true for many other players who have been drawn in by the 5v5 shooter.
From the start, Rainbow Six Siege’s biggest hurdle was balancing the needs of being a multiplayer shooter while also staying true to its legacy as a Rainbow Six title. The concept: an attacking team of five unique operators (think Overwatch’s Heroes, even though Siege was released three months prior) tries to assault a fortified objective or objectives held by the defending team of five unique operators, both teams picking from an ever-increasing roster of attacking and defending units.
Not many games get new content for eight solid years, a feat which Siege will have achieved after its current roadmap is cleared. Over the last 10 years the industry has seen a push towards live service that has meant games are hanging around for longer, with a constant drum beat of content that encourages fans to remain engaged. Because of this, we’re living in a world where popular titles have a much longer half-life than before. Rainbow Six Siege wasn’t designed as a live service game, but it’s certainly ended up that way.
The launch of Rainbow Six Siege was a muted one. The game launched less than a month after a string of terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris, killing over a hundred people. Ubisoft, a French company, immediately pulled all advertising for the game and released it with no fanfare. A buggy launch and a lukewarm review reception meant that the game was slow to pick up speed, too. Bizarre bugs with the game’s industry-leading destruction system and an infamous pawn rotation bug – which showed players facing different ways to their actual heading – meant that while the concept was strong, Siege had a long way to go.
However, after a series of patches and some dedicated work by the team that included 2017’s Operation Health, which delayed a season’s content in the name of fixing many of the game’s more persistent bugs, it found its audience.
At a press briefing during the Six Invitational – the esports world championships for the game – in 2018, game director Alexandre Remy cheerfully said that 28m people had bought Siege, while 2m users were logging in each day to do battle. Remy seemed ecstatic, and he had every right to be: it was his concept that had brought the game to life.
Siege came into existence after a 2011 showing of Rainbow Six Patriots, a single-player game, drew negative reactions and subsequently caused it to be very publicly, binned off. Remy talked in 2017 of how a small team of 25 developers was given the mandate to build a new game in the Rainbow Six universe. The idea grew.
“Year one, for us, went much better than we expected.” said Remy to RockPaperShotgun. “I think when you ship a game that you want to have a long life, you’re expecting a longer tail. We never expected the game to actually grow after the first few months. Now, a year down the road, we have more players on Rainbow Six than we had at the beginning.”
It was a baptism by fire for Ubisoft, as the company had never before designed a live game from the ground up. As mentioned above, they hadn’t exactly done that here either. Rainbow Six Siege was a multiplayer shooter that suddenly had to exist as a live service game, meaning it was frequently retrofitted throughout the first couple of years. Elements like an attachment unlock system using renown were removed from the game and new maps and operators were added instead. The UI was reshuffled several times, while thornier parts of the Siege experience were buffed out completely.
This period of constant renovation was, unsurprisingly,not without its issues. Everyone that has ever played Siege has their own stories when it comes to eras of the game, when certain parts of the meta were so dominant the entire experience of playing was frustrating to say the least. I’ve lived through several terrifying ages of Blitz, an attacker packing a shield that emits a blinding flash, who frequently charges onto the site and demands your attention. He’s an operator that invoked so much terror in the earlier games that when I mention Blitz to the game’s currently creative director Alex Karpazis as he talks about an upcoming rework to shield operators planned last this year, he lets out a dark chuckle and gives a knowing nod. Then there’s fellow attacker Lion, who turned the game on its head at launch; or even the team-slaying abilities of defender Caviera, who good players could use to wipe out an entire team just because her skillset was so alien to the game when she was added, that she was nearly impossible to counter.
These eras played out on the esports scene too, with pro players bending the game in interesting ways to get the win. As someone who has attended every Six Invitational that’s been open to the public, I’ve seen some of the dizzying highs and harrowing lows of Siege esports, the most obvious examples of both taking place at the Six Invitational in 2020. The highs included when Troy “Canadian” Jaroslawski took off his ugg slippers on stage to signify it was time for him to take care of business in the grand final, and then when his team Spacestation Gaming won over Ninjas In Pyjamas. The lows that year involved the shock defeat of G2 Esports, who had never before lost an SI match, which led to the all-star roster breaking up.
Now, Siege is at an interesting time. Eight years in, many of the game’s biggest esports names from those early days have retired, and a lasting community has formed. With the return of an in-person Six Invitational in Montreal in February 2023, it was a good chance to see that community grow again, talk to some of the many members that make up the game’s warm community, and watch some esports players clicking heads surrounded by thousands of players eagerly screaming. It’s also the first time since 2020 that the event has been able to take place in an arena.
There’s a strong feeling that we’re entering a new era of Siege, too. G2 are again dominant, having aced the finals of 2023’s Six Invitational after exploding out of the loser’s brackets. G2 weren’t on anyone’s radars three months before the tournament, but the addition of Benjamin “Benjamaster” Dereli, a Danish player that was just 19 at the time of the tournament turned the team into a competitive behemoth, almost overnight.
Throughout that time, I’ve been writing about and playing Rainbow Six Siege. It’s rare to write about a game for eight years, but I’ve been there plugging along since the game’s first beta, reviewing the game at launch and then writing about it with each successive update. I’ve chronicled everything from the temporarily overpowered operators and weird meta shifts, to the esports upsets and jubilant victories. I’ve made friends playing the game, sadly lost friends playing the game, and been both a joy and an asshole while playing Siege. I’ve been to every public Six Invitational, covering the game has taken me to Japan, Italy, France and more. So, it occupies a special place for me, head and shoulders above the 100s of other live service games that have tried to grab my attention in the meantime.
During the pandemic, obviously, there weren’t many in-person events for Rainbow Six Siege or any game and I wasn’t certain in what form they would come back. It’s not a position I thought I’d be in, really. Playing Siege, for me, has been a little complicated for the last few years. In 2019, my friend Oliver, long-time member of our group’s five-man team and all-around Siege genius, took his own life. Playing the game after that felt weird. Watching old Siege videos featuring him felt weird. I missed him telling me where to put rotations while chomping away on some Soreen Malt Loaf. Siege just didn’t feel like Siege anymore.
Going to the Six Invitational then, had me a little apprehensive. Still while it was emotionally a little weird after years of Covid-enforced hermitry and with all that baggage, I quickly found myself getting back into the game again, reminded of 2020 when I was leaning over a railing screaming for SpaceStation Gaming to get the win.
Throw a Rainbow Six Siege challenge coin (available from the pop-up shop within the Six Invitational) inside Montreal’s Place Bell arena and you’ll hit several people with the same stories. One of these is Grace V, a Siege fan and esports commentator that is one of a number of people that headed to Montreal for the Six Invitational. Grace got pushed into playing Siege by friends, and was originally grinding out wins in several different battle royale games, admitting: “I wasn’t really sure that Siege was my vibe.”
“I was immediately won over by the depth of strategy in it” – GRACE V
It turns out, Siege was very much her vibe. “I was immediately won over by the depth of strategy in it, to be honest,” said Grace. “In a normal FPS you’ll just run around and shoot each other. In Siege there are so many gadgets, I have to really think about what you’re doing with them, where you’re placing them, the timing behind it, there’s so much more depth from that aspect. That’s something that I really love about it that kind of tickles my brain a little bit, going big brain mode against the other team in every round.”
At university, Grace was picked up for a university team, and started competing in the University Siege League (USL), becoming the first (and currently only) woman to win a university tournament in the UK. “I started casting in 2020 and enjoyed it,” Grace says. “It was way better than competitive for me, because comp burned me out because of the way I am, and now I can just really do what I really am passionate about, which is just talking about the game for hours on end.”
Grace has just been announced as the English language commentator for the Brazil Pro League, marking her entry into tier 1 esports, and meaning she’ll be appearing at even more events. For Grace, the change from player to caster didn’t just fit her desire to talk about Siege more, but also made her feel more comfortable as a person, too.
“I don’t know if it’s gonna be maybe oversharing a bit,” adds Grace. “ I had really bad experiences with body dysmorphia. But because of casting and like going to events I became more comfortable with, well, first of all going outside.”
“Then with casting, because I’m always on camera and I have to talk and just kind of be seen, that really got me out of my comfort zone while I was going through treatment for that.”
Now, Grace says that she feels like she’s perceived as more confident, but she’s also much more confident in herself. “It’s the kind of thing where you’re not like entirely healed forever, but you’re better. That’s a really good thing for me and so Siege has actually changed me massively.”
“I’ve also had so many amazing people come into my life because of it as well, loads of friends, especially the women’s circuit, so I’ve really opened up my life and given me more of a social life, more experiences.”
She’s far from the only one who has felt the impact that Siege has had on the gaming community. One cosplayer, Alfie ‘HawxGamer’ Banks is now a familiar sight at many Siege events, but you likely wouldn’t notice because he’s always dressed up as characters from the game, stopping regularly for photos with the legions of fans that are excited to see a character they play in the game stood right in front of them.
As we talk, Banks is dressed as defender Mozzie, and it would be hard to tell him apart from the on-screen version. There are many cosplayers that attend the Siege events, and because Ubisoft supports this by providing cosplaying guides, many Siege cosplays are absolutely top-notch. It’s a highlight of attending these events.
I call this one the Pride and the Fall. I’m the Pride, She is the Fall. pic.twitter.com/mo0ElPwLMZ
— HAWX is probably building Gundams (@AlfieBanks14) March 3, 2023
Banks got the Siege bug during the game’s Black Ice season, originally playing because it was a tactical shooter at a time when there weren’t many tactical shooters available on the PlayStation 4. He quickly bought in.
A keen airsofter, Banks started thinking about cosplaying almost immediately. “As soon as I saw Jager in game, I was like ‘I like his gun, I like his helmet, why is here wearing that helmet? It’s stupid but I love it.” so I bought myself an airsoft 416-C rifle and a flight helmet for airsoft and then realised I was already cosplaying but with airsoft BBs flying around, so I might as well just take myself to an event.”
Banks laughs. “I figured Canada wasn’t that far away and it wasn’t that expensive to get to. I was wrong, and it’s been downhill for my bank account ever since.”
At the time, Banks didn’t know the game had a growing cosplaying community, something that he himself is now helping to grow. He was immediately embraced by them and describes a flurry of activity, being added to discords and group chats, and invited out to other events.
“When I started playing Siege I was like ‘this is so slow’ but I put in a few more hours and I really fell in love with it” – TOM SHERLOCK
For Banks, who described himself before this event as “a proper loner” it was a chance to belong somewhere, and he took it with both hands.
“It was like night and day, I went from playing Siege solo-queue to now, if I want to play or chat I can just hop in a discord and have a chat or get into a stack. It sucks that most of my friends are halfway around the world and scattered around Georgia or Germany, but I’d be a totally different person without it.”
I also spoke to Tom Sherlock, a Twitch Streamer that has been playing Siege since the game’s beta sessions, where he admits he came across from playing Call of Duty, and wasn’t ready for the change to slow tactical gameplay and the added emphasis on teamplay that that can bring.
“When I started playing Siege I was like ‘this is so slow’ but I put in a few more hours and I really fell in love with it.” says Sherlock. “I was on console for the first couple of years, but then during COVID I switched to PC and started streaming on Twitch.
Back in those early days, Sherlock played Mute as a main, with that operator’s particular reign of terror being when his SMG-11 was too powerful, letting defenders pull off across-the-map headshots with an ACOG bolted onto the top of a tiny secondary weapon. The SMG-11 has since had the attachment removed and been nerfed across the board, but several Siege old-timers still have a special place for the weapon.
Sherlock is now finding his audience on Twitch, where he’s regularly found playing with his community and also organising the T.I.T – the TomJSherlock Invitation Tournament – where players sign up and are randomly assigned into teams so that players with different levels of skill and experience can play together.
Sherlock streams several matches of the tournament on his own Siege session and later packages up the highlights from other games by getting people to submit clips. It’s a fun community event that the UK scene really rallies around.
“I usually just get a suit on and have a few beers. There’s nothing too professional but we have fun with it, I think offers a bridge for that gap between competitive Siege and your casual player.”
Sherlock talks about one player who was clearly struggling with the basics of the game, and was a Bronze level player. “You know when you see someone moving around like, sometimes you see game demos, and they’re moving around all weird, they’re looking up and down in the sky? You could see this guy doing that, but then we were like ‘how is he doing this’ as he’s pulling off clutches, taking out diamond and champion players.’”
He’s a pretty chill presence on these streams. I played in a stack with him on his stream and he reacted only in good humour when my amateurish attempts at playing saw me fluffing simple shots or simply standing in the wrong place as the site was being attacked, something most Rainbow Six Siege defenders will tell you is a Bad Idea.
The jump to streaming led Sherlock to events and to becoming a large part of the UK community. Streaming itself came about as Sherlock admits that he was in a bad place mentally, trying to work out what he wanted from his life, and the therapist he was seeing asked what he wanted to try, what he thought might break him out of the funk. When Sherlock admitted he’d always wanted to give it a go, they asked why he didn’t just try it.
What's @tomjsherlock up to? Well, pic.twitter.com/KHknsaD1MV
— Matt, Dad Hat Enthusiast (@TheChowderhead) February 19, 2023
It’s brought him into a place where he feels more comfortable in himself, both with the tournaments he’s organising and the fact he drank a shoey live on camera in front of thousands of watching esports fans, it’s clear he’s trying to bring something back to that community.
The final person I talked to was Derry ‘Dezachu’ Holt. Known best merely as Dez, and for the now enduring chant of “Love Siege, Hate Dez”, he’s a Tier 1 caster that has become one of the most identifiable faces in a crowd of popular talent. During our chat he was stopped several times by fans.
Holt’s entry to Siege was an interesting one, as while many people involved fell for the game and then ended up within the community, Holt had a chat with Ubisoft after hearing they were looking for casters in 2018. He’d been working on Overwatch Contenders, but found himself drawn in by Siege and in particular, the UK scene.
“The UK scene is wild to put it in one word. It’s very passionate, I think because we built grassroots from events like Epic LAN and Insomnia and the ESL Prem back in the day. These were all start-ups that were getting the UK scene moving and getting it some support. There’s a very passionate player base and it’s a very passionate scene, a very old scene and we produce some fantastic players, too.”
— Jack ‘Fresh’ Allen (@FreshOnDesk) August 27, 2022
Holt was part of the on-screen talent for the 2021 Six Invitational, which was located in the closed Paris Stock Exchange with no crowd allowed, and the 2022 Six Invitational in Sweden, with similar restrictions as Montreal was still putting restrictions on events.
“Both of these were nice, but it’s not really Six Invitational without that crowd.” says Holt. “It sounds like a real classic buzz line but it really isn’t SI unless there’s a crowd there cheering, otherwise, it just feels like you’re casting online or in a studio as you normally would but with the players sat next to us. When there’s actually a crowd and it’s actually the arena that you’re playing inside of. That’s when it’s SI. It’s so much better, especially when you can feel that energy and you’re inside what I always think of as the hallowed halls of Rainbow Six Siege.”
Holt himself should have been casting during the final day of the Six Invitational but due to illness from his long-term casting partner, Tim ‘AceofPyrite’ Leaver, came down with an illness.
Leaver and Holt are an enduring partnership, and Holt’s two favourite memories are both from casting alongside Leaver.
“My favourite memory of Siege is casting DAMWOM versus FaZe at the Sweden 2021 Major, it was a semi-final. It came down to the last map, round 15, Tim and I have been screaming for hours at the series. And it was a one versus one between Souls from FaZe won against RIN and went on to go with the whole finals, and FaZe Clan won the whole event. In a way, many saw that semi-final as the Grand Final because the final wasn’t as exciting and thrilling as the Grand Final. It was so cool to be a part of.”
Holt is clearly hyped to be a part of the Siege esports story and says that before he was involved with the game it gave him the chance to, ultimately, travel the world.
“I’ve never been to America before until I did the Charlotte major. I’ve never been to Canada before. Never been to Sweden before.” He also highlights his friendship with his fellow EU Pro League talent of Leaver, Jack ‘Fresh’ Allen, and Emi ‘Fluke’ Donaldson. “Tim and I are of the opinion that if this all ends tomorrow we’ve had a hell of a run. I work with those three, who I absolutely adore, and I’ve made so many really good friends and managed to, as my partner calls it, the experience of being a Z-list celebrity. I’m incredibly appreciative of everything Siege has given me the chance to do, and I’ve loved every second of it.”
Getting to chat to members of the community, and being at the Six Invitational, has left me feeling eager to get back to Siege. In the hallways, developers, content creators and everyone else that’s mashed in together in the Siege community are embracing each other, and chatting in large groups and there’s a sense that there’s a bit of a family here.
This happens in several games, so it’s not particularly special or unique to just this game, but I’d wager it feels special for those people who have been on a journey with Rainbow Six Siege over these past few years. I originally went to the Six Invitational hoping to close the book on my time with Siege, a game that has seen declining player numbers over the last couple of years and has certainly felt like it was a smaller part of my life than it used to be.
Instead, I’ve come away convinced that this is just the end of a chapter. Siege’s last content drop saw a bump in players for the first time in a while, although the developer didn’t offer specifics. With the return of the bigger in-person events, it feels like the community is reinvigorated too, with even content creators who spend a lot of their time playing other titles like Escape From Tarkov now excited by new additions to the game. The excitement from being here and the clear fondness that comes from the community offers a sort of warm fuzzy feeling that, if I’m honest, just doesn’t come from grinding out ranked matches while in a solo queue.
Despite huge changes to the meta, Siege really has aged well. It offers a game quite unlike anything else on the market. There are still challenges – currently, there’s a hacking problem that the Siege devs are fighting hard to combat, and a recent change in the way the esports leagues are structured has left some with questions about the game’s commitment to both grassroots esports and the progression for new players looking to get into the game – but overall the future is still looking bright for Rainbow Six Siege. After all, the game is in good hands. Those hands happen to be the game’s community, made up of everyone that’s taken part in this journey so far.
Weirdly, however much I try to keep a little journalistic distance, it’s a community that I now feel like i’m wrapped up in. As Siege thunders towards the promised tenth year, the Ubisoft team and current game director Alexander Karpazis have set out their intention to keep working on the game for another ten years. With this community behind it, it seems likely. After all, the game is in good hands. Those hands happen to be the game’s community, made up of everyone that’s taken part in this journey so far. I’m happy to be part of it.
Rainbow Six Siege was actually seven back in December. Sorry I didn’t get you anything, Siege. The game can be played on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series and on PC.