This year, the eastern half of the Wildcard Qualifiers for Worlds was swept up by the Australian hype train, and Redditors were all too eager to raise their koalas up ( like so: ヽʕ •ᴥ•ʔﾉ Raise your koalas ヽʕ •ᴥ•ʔﾉ ) to the number one team of the Oceanic region: The Chiefs eSports Club.
The reason for all the hype was that while SK Telecom and Fnatic were busy amassing their 14-series and 21-game win streaks, The Chiefs had unprecedented regional dominance of their own, and arguably even more so than those big name teams. 28 wins was the record before their rivals, Legacy, were able to squeeze one game off them in the OCE finals.
Such a run of form solidified The Chiefs as the most dominant OCE team in the history of the game, and one of the strongest Wildcard teams on paper heading into the qualifiers. In Turkey, they dominated the group stage against the likes of Japan’s Detonation FocusMe and home team, Dark Passage.
However, they faltered in the finals against Bangkok Titans. So it was that the Aussie hype train slid off the tracks at Turkey. But that wouldn’t be the end of The Chiefs’ story. In fact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank “Sangy” Li, the owner of the organization, for an inside look at the team.
TigerPoet: If you were to describe the team in 1-2 sentences (to eSports fans who have never heard of you before), what would you say?
Sangy: We are an Australian League of Legends team, boasting the top players from the Oceanic region. Reigning OPL champions, we have dominated the local scene for over four years.
TigerPoet: What level of competition did you expect in Istanbul, given that were the most dominant attending team in terms of your own region? How were those expectations proven right or wrong over the event?
Sangy: We definitely expected the competition to the difficult but not impossible. We had encountered all of the teams present in one form or another in the past; BKT and DFM having both attended the MSI International Wildcard Invitational in April and Dark Passage having attended the 2013 and 2014 Wildcard tournaments.
We’d always thought we had a strong macro and strategy advantage over other teams, just based off of our review of their play during their respective seasons. However, especially in the grand finals, we were caught off guard by just how much of a mismatch there was in raw mechanics and experience between our team and the others who are full time, professional gamers in a much more developed scene. The Bangkok team are all seasoned full time gaming veterans and it definitely showed on the big stage, with their fearless team-fight based playstyle and polished mechanics ultimately carrying them through the competition.
TigerPoet: How would you guys rate your performance at the Wildcard Qualifiers against the massive win streak this year? Did you feel pressured going into the tournament?
Sangy: We didn’t feel as pressured as people might’ve thought. Despite the fact that we had a very impressive domestic season, ultimately playing against Oceanic competition is very far from playing against international opponents. If anything, we had a lot of pressure on ourselves given that since all of our players are not full time gamers, there is a lot more riding on the line during this once a year and, perhaps, once in a lifetime opportunity to qualify for Worlds, which would mean the world (no pun intended) for the players and the scene itself.
TigerPoet: Most of your roster has been together for a very long time, but what has the introduction of EGym brought to the team?
Sangy: EGym brought a level of aggression that we were previously lacking. Not only during laning phase but in the middle to latter parts of the game. His ability to make players was often the game-changer in many of our matches, during team fights or ensuring Raydere would come out ahead in lane.
Previously Rosey was a much more facilitating support, whereas EGym will put it on his own shoulders to carry a fight. It can be a double edged sword sometimes but it was something we were lacking.
TigerPoet: At the last Wildcard event in Turkey, you guys narrowly missed out on advancing to the bracket stage. This time, you made the finals. What changed in your preparation or boot camp for the event?
Sangy: At the MSI IWCI, we definitely were not prepared for the bo1 group stage format. This time, our game plans and drafts focused much more on taking it “one game at a time”. Aside from that, we were just a lot more prepared given we had much more time to bootcamp beforehand, as our awesome partners Logitech G, G2A.COM and Nvidia gave us the opportunity to bootcamp in Berlin.
Understanding that we should be playing our own game rather than dictating what we play and how we draft solely based on the opponents perceived strengths and weaknesses definitely helped us. Aside from that, being able to bring our coach Ottoke along meant much of the drafting preparation and adjustments made between games were handled by time, which was a huge weight off of our shoulders.
TigerPoet: What was the mindset of the team going into the finals? It must have felt good to make #1 in the round robin.
Sangy: Taking 1st in the round robin was definitely more of a curse than a blessing. I feel like the guys put a lot of undue pressure on themselves. I don’t think anyone outside of Oceania expected us to have such a strong group stage. Given that this was such a huge opportunity that the team doesn’t see often, I can’t imagine how hard it would have been for them to focus solely on the game. However, we went into the finals intending to play as we’d play in groups and just take everything one game at a time.
TigerPoet: That’s an interesting perspective. But what does your performance at this event mean for OCE as a whole? You’ve certainly already made a great impression on Reddit, what with the raise your koalas meme.
Sangy: We hope that people give a lot more respect to Oceania now. Despite our record in the OPL, there are a lot of strong teams in the scene which only needs more support from the fans and community to grow. We couldn’t have gotten to the finals at IWCQ without the experience and practice we got practicing against the OPL teams. We hope this means that the scene itself steps up at a whole which in turn can serve to boost the overall level of competition and improve whoever represents Oceanic in the future (hopefully us).
We really appreciate the amazing outpouring of support both back home and globally. The koalas meme was great and embraced by many of the team!
TigerPoet: Yeah, even the casters legitimized in on stream! So what’s next for The Chiefs now that the season is technically over for you guys? What will you guys do to get the OCE hype train back on track?
Sangy: We will focus a lot more on content creation and giving back to the community, whilst also looking toward the International Wildcard Allstars for hopefully two of our players. We will try to do our best to promote the scene and hopefully we will have an opportunity again to showcase OCE’s strength.
No doubt the players and support staff of The Chiefs learned a lot from the Wildcard Qualifier, and as you just heard, they’re going to be putting all their energies into coming back stronger than ever before, while also helping out the Oceanic region as a whole.