Just two weeks ago, PIXL Esports were taking a break after failing to qualify for Overwatch Contenders Season 2.
The team stopped their scrims to focus on school, university and real life. They set their sights on a new goal – Open Division Season 3.
However, that all changed on June 29. Just three days before Contenders was supposed to start, Blizzard Esports ANZ sent out a press release after an investigation into INTerstella found ‘ineligible players’ playing for the team during Trials. The members of PIXL had to drop everything, because they had now qualified for Contenders, and their first game was less than 72 hours away.
After losing valiantly to Avant Gaming 4-0 in Week 1 of Contenders, I sat down with ex-Main Support Will “Wheel” Baitup and Projectile DPS Corey “DewBoy” Voda to talk about the becomings of PIXL Esports.
So, the preparation into Contenders was short for you guys. The announcement was on the Friday before which meant you had less than 72 hours to get organised. How did you get everyone back together so quick?
Wheel: We were essentially disbanded right after Trials, no scrims, no prep.
DewBoy: And then on the Friday afternoon before our match against Avant, we were like “Alright boys, we’re a team again, we aren’t disbanding.”
Wheel: And because of the short notice, we had to play with 2 subs.
How was it playing with 30k people watching you guys on stream? You don’t really get that kind of viewership with other esports in Australia.
Wheel: I mean, I was only there for 1 map before I got subbed out. Got to AFK in front of 30k viewers because I couldn’t move on 1300 ping. [laughing] It sucked because it was fine for my 4 hours of warm-up, then straight into game, bam, massive server lag.
DewBoy: We had our coach Choco subbing in, who had just hit Diamond, subbing in and playing Mercy, and “Nathan”, our old off tank turned flex sub play Zenyatta, which was really rough.
Anyways, enough with the rough start, let’s go back to where it all began. How was Open Division?
Wheel: Open Div? We went extremely well during the regular season.
DewBoy: Yes we did.
Wheel: We only really lost one game against Bin Chickens.
DewBoy: Well, we lost 2, but that game was against MAWF, and it was Mother’s Day lunch and we couldn’t reschedule.
Wheel: We had to use a sub for our first 2 maps, and then he left, so we had to forfeit.
Bin Chickens went 10-0 though, so I think you guys ended up 2nd overall heading into playoffs, and then knocked down into the Losers Bracket in the first game of playoffs.
DewBoy: Yeah we went into playoffs thinking “Oh yeah, these guys [Cascade] will be easy”, and then we are like “Okay none of us are warmed up for this, none of us are prepared for this.” Numbani was literally 8-7 point score (double overtime), that’s how close it was.
Wheel: And the tournament admins were coming to us saying “Are you guys nearly done?” and we were like “We’re trying!”
DewBoy: We still had one map to play, I think we held the bracket up for 20 minutes.
But you smashed them later on in the bracket, and that’s what counts.
DewBoy: Yeah, we had a mindset that we didn’t need to worry, that we will smash them. Then after losing the first time around, we really needed to worry because otherwise we’d miss out on Trials.
Wheel: And we had to work really hard in the Losers Bracket just to play Cascade again.
DewBoy: I also feel bad for Cascade. They were a really good team, and if INTerstella didn’t do the dodgy stuff, they would have made it to Trials.
Wheel: There were a lot of good teams in Open Division who just missed out, like Reflex as well.
Would you call the competition in Open Division tight then?
DewBoy: Between the top teams yes, but there was a very big gap between the top teams and the rest.
Wheel: There were teams in playoffs made up of Plat and Diamond players who were a lot weaker, but there were some great teams.
DewBoy: Peep’s Angels, Bella Epoque, us, Cascade, Reflex and Bin Chickens – that was the big 6. Each team were really close to beating each other in every series.
Wheel: Even to make Trials, we had to beat Bella Epoque 3-2, so it was really close.
DewBoy: Players like Smiley, who was on Peep’s Angels, did so much work. Smiley’s Hanzo was insane through all of Open Division. He’s very talented.
Wheel: And their Widow, Yui, as well. They forced a really weird double sniper comp because Smiley and Yui were insane on those picks.
DewBoy: Their comp was like: Solo tank Orisa, triple support with Brigitte, Mercy, Zen and then Hanzo Widow.
Wheel: It was ridiculously strong, and we didn’t know how to play against that, especially when we run a lot of Pharah.
You guys went through Open Division as…
What a team name. You guys got picked up by PIXL for Trials. How supportive has the organisation been through Trials, then post-Trials and now back into Contenders?
DewBoy: Without Choco (the coach and owner of PIXL), we would have been stomped in Trials. He’s coached JAM Gaming and Alter Ego, and his coaching is insane. He’s a very underrated coach in Oceania.
Wheel: He’s made this team what it is. He’s been such a good coach and such a good guy.
DewBoy: He took what we had in Teengrazpers and made it into something that can do very well in Contenders. Our team had very little experience. Virginya was on JAM as their sub, but the rest of us were unknown. Exirst, Me, Amber, Wheel were new to this.
Wheel: Nathan was on Arkus with Amber, but that was over a year ago, and no one remembers them.
DewBoy: Choco is responsible for getting us here.
Wheel: He’s responsible for our success.
After just missing out on Trials, basically just off map differential because it was that tight between 3rd and 6th, how was the team morale?
DewBoy: We had to just beat INTerstella and we would have made it in over Surge, but after the loss we just broke down. There was no point in trying anymore.
Wheel: People were getting offers from other teams, and we were pretty much disbanded and going on with our normal lives at high school and university.
DewBoy: Everyone was devastated. We were so shocked to lose. We were so hyped to win and then we lost. We had no idea what to do. I actually cried after we lost map 3.
Wheel: We worked so hard to get there, and it felt like a waste. It was rough.
On the flip side, after INTerstella got banned, how did that feel? I remember seeing Wheel in a few discord servers just going nuts.
DewBoy: I was in class at the time, it was my last class of the day and it was a chill class so I was on my phone. I got a message to check discord and I opened it up and started crying my eyes out in front of the class. They looked over at me bawling my eyes out over the fact that we made Contenders. I was over the moon. I was LFT after Trials and hadn’t gotten any offers so I was stoked that we made it. It feels bad for Surge, getting cut at the last minute, but I was so happy.
Wheel: I’d just woken up and I had over 90 notifications on discord. It was stuff like “wake up, idiot.” So I got up and checked my discord, scrolling down through all these discords to see the news while reading the DMs from the important people. I opened Choco’s message which said “we did it”, then I went to our team discord and everyone was crying. I was so happy, because we worked so hard to get there and it hurt so much to have it taken away at the last hurdle.
What were your thoughts on the whole process of INTerstella getting banned?
DewBoy: Teams were disbanding because all of a sudden they went from stomping INTerstella to just getting spawn camped. I think they did lots of dodgy stuff the whole of Open Division, and it sucks that it only got investigated on the last day of Trials.
Wheel: And even then, it was only because players took the initiative to escalate the issue.
And it has that knock on effect too.
DewBoy: If Blizzard had investigated INTerstella earlier, we would have seen teams like Bella Epoque or Cascade who deserved to be in Trials but just missed out. You look at Trials, and it was a bit silly. Alter Ego and Peep’s Angels had disbanded, so there were 2 free wins off byes, and then INTerstella made it 3.
Wheel: It was a very weird Trials.
You guys lost in Trials and thought about disbanding. Even if the team stuck around, there’s not much you can play outside of AAOL or waiting for Open Division Season 3. What kind of support does amateur Overwatch in Australia need to breed better players and stronger teams?
Wheel: It’s more tournaments. It’s more visibility. It’s bringing back the Bi-Monthly Brawls. When I joined my first amateur team a long time ago and we were a bunch of diamonds having a bunch of fun, there was CyberGamer. There was a lack of teams because it was a 1 map series, if you lost you were knocked out, and it felt like a waste of time because you could just scrim instead. However, back when that ran, it was a really good way to get attention because it was streamed, it was casted, it was good teams versus average teams, but players could still get exposure by playing well against the better teams.
You look at Winter, who has just joined Avant. He’s improved a lot, but he’s always been a great player. What it took for him was for him to play for an average team, but make that team look insane simply by being a great player. It took him so long to get noticed, but I’m so glad he’s finally broken through.
DewBoy: That, as well as money. The thing that really confuses me is that the last placed team in NA Contenders, Bye Week, still earned more money than the winners of Australian Contenders, the Sydney Drop Bears. There is such a big divide between OWL, Contenders and even inside the Contenders regions. I understand Australian Contenders is nowhere near as good as NA Contenders, but there needs to be a little more equality. Unless you are in OWL, or in a really good organisation, you cannot play Overwatch as your job.
That kind of wraps up the Trials and Open Division side of things. I want to know what you guys want to see out of the Contenders landscape in Australia in the next few years. What do you hope for the Contenders scene?
DewBoy: It’s great as it is right now, because it’s small and the community is great. But it’ll be so cool to have small LANs in random places around Australia.
Like a touring LAN across Australia?
DewBoy: Yeah, like that. I know it’s pretty much impossible except for the top orgs. Players on teams are split across Australia and New Zealand, so coordinating that will be super difficult and too expensive.
Wheel: The scene just needs more investment. A lot of the teams are still independent orgs. The top tier teams are bootcamping, they have gaming houses, the region just needs more exposure. We aren’t the US or Korea, but you look at Australia’s Overwatch World Cup team, and some of those players are NA Contenders or OWL quality. The players are good, we just need a place to shine.
DewBoy: A person like HooWoo, people think he is OWL level. He plays in Pacific Contenders for Blank Esports, but back in Australia he is at least two times better than anyone else.
So it’s just having that support, stability and development of the scene.
Wheel: Yeah. You look at Blank Esports, they are the only Australian org to send a team to another region to where the real competition is. They were the first Australian team to scrim Korean teams on 180 ping because it was better practice than scrimming any Australian teams. Now, more and more teams are reaching that level. Dark Sided and Sydney Drop Bears are on that level where they can compete against the Korean teams. It’s also really good that Avant and Dave Harris are getting involved in the scene.
DewBoy: Dark Sided are so dedicated, they deserve more than what they get. They scrim 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, against Korean and other Australian teams. That’s a lot of dedication away from real life.
Wheel: Especially for so little reward, Contenders in Australia is not a lot of money.
Back to you guys, you’ve made some changes for the rest of the season. Poor Wheel isn’t starting anymore and has transitioned to an Analyst role now…
Wheel: Not a problem for me, especially when you get replaced by someone who is better than you.
…and you’ve had some more time to practice as a team. What is the team outlook for the rest of the season?
Wheel: We really just want to get our name out there, it’s really important. A lot of the players on this team have never competed at this level before. Visibility is super important for guys like Dew.
DewBoy: I mean, this is my first proper team. I joined Teengrazpers in Open Division for Season 2, and while I played in Season 1, the team we had was a meme team with mates.
Wheel: I was a sub for that team too, and that was my first time playing with Corey and I thought “yeah this kid is pretty nutty, let’s get him somewhere good.” I basically got on my knees to get DewBoy to join Teengrazpers, because I knew with him we could make it to Contenders. I knew he had the drive.
However, with the roster changes now, we’ve picked up Prowlore and Ackyyy. We’ve had our eye on Ackyyy for a while. We scrimmed a team he was on with quite good players, but he really stood out for me. It felt like we were playing a man down with him on the team because he was so good at hunting down our flanks. He’s been really impressive in scrims and he’s a good guy. Prowlore was obviously a part of JAM before getting dropped and he took a break from the game. But, me and Exirst are good friends with him, so we managed to pull him back, and he’s better than me so that’s not a problem.
Just to wrap it all up, any final words for anyone out there?
DewBoy: We are underdogs. We are one of the biggest underdogs in Contenders, and we are going to try hard to prove everyone wrong.
Wheel: Don’t underestimate us. We will mess you up.
[All of us laugh]
Wheel: Oh and don’t forget to watch our game against Masterminds at 12pm AEST Tuesday this week.
DewBoy: We are good, and we are new. All of our team has a future in Contenders Australia, and we want to make an impact on the OCE scene.
Thanks so much for taking the time out to have a chat, and good luck!
Indeed, you shouldn’t forget to watch PIXL’s game against Masterminds this Tuesday at 12pm. They are here to show Australia that they deserve to be in Contenders, and that they can surprise everyone. Massive thanks to Wheel and DewBoy for taking the time to sit down and have a chat with us.