It has been confirmed the Dire Wolves will welcome the Chiefs Esports Club to the OPL Grand Final at the Melbourne Esports Open next weekend, but it was a long and interesting road through the 2018 post-season.
The weekend began with the playoff seed match, as surprise gauntlet entrants Legacy Esports – who had scraped into the finals by the skin of their teeth just a week before – faced off against the Bombers.
While many expected the Bombers to move on to Saturday’s fixture, a hat-trick of 15 kill games saw Legacy claim the clean sweep, guided by Claire as he faced down Looch’s rampaging mid lane Aatrox pick in the opening game.
After a 7/3/7 performance on Syndra for Claire, it was Raid’s turn to show off the goods, with a combined 12/1/9 scoreline across the final two games on bot lane Swain and a late-game triple kill to close out the series.
While Claire and Raid both shone in the opening three bouts of the gauntlet, it was “total team performance” that got them across the line to match up ORDER, MAMMOTH jungler and OPL guest analyst Brandon “Juves” Defina explained.
“Coming into the series there were a lot of thoughts that Bombers were going to go through, but after that lengthy first game [42:34 in total] Legacy kind of took control,” Juves said. “Legacy didn’t really have any expectation of their performances, so they were able to play without fear.”
Watch: Claire lands a huge stun on Syndra against Bombers in the OPL Split 2 Gauntlet.
It was that fearless run that may have contributed the next evening as the old-guard organisation came up against Mebourne’s best hopes for a home side playing at Rod Laver arena – ORDER.
If Legacy had entered their second gauntlet match with no fear, a solo kill for Mimic (Gnar) against Tally (Gangplank), followed quickly by a successful top lane gank from Only on Olaf just minutes later may have brought back painful memories for the ORDER lineup, and put them immediately on the back foot.
Legacy snowballed their opening efforts into a one game lead in the best of five series, and from there ORDER were playing from behind, even after a paced and controlled game 2 saw them level the standings.
A shining outing for Claire on Cassiopeia – 10/1/7 in 38 minutes – was the focal point of Legacy’s second game win in the match, before a bloody fourth game closed the door on ORDER’s hopes for a Melbourne final for good.
For Juves, watching over all, Legacy’s repeat upset over ORDER for the second gauntlet in a row was “shocking”, especially when many pundits had ruled the match-up to go against Legacy “nine times out of ten”.
“I think a lot of it had to do with ORDER having one eye on the game against Chiefs the next day, although I may be a bit far from the mark there,” Defina said.
“As soon as Legacy got that first game – and even when Mimic solo killed Tally and then just denied him after the teleport as well – it felt like ORDER were up against it.”
After falling short of their objectives in their first split in the OPL, denied a shot at the final in an upset defeat to Legacy in a five game slug-fest back in March, doubt may have crept into the Melbourne squad’s minds as they fell behind.
“As soon as Legacy started to get a lead in that opening game, I’d say ORDER were caught trying to make a mindset swap mid-series, and they just couldn’t find it in time to make an impact,” Juves said.
“Not to take anything away from how Legacy were playing throughout the gauntlet, but I feel like there was an element of them having nothing to lose to beat out ORDER, who had everything to lose with an upset.”
From the four-game upset, and total disappointment for Melbourne fans looking to see a home-side organisation representing their city at the MEO, there was only one clash left on offer – the oldest and most well-storied Oceanic rivalry between Legacy and the Chiefs.
While the Bombers and ORDER, and even MAMMOTH in the final round of the regular season, may have slipped up against the finals underdogs, the Chiefs were never going to take their arch-rivals lightly, especially not with a major decider in front of a live audience on the line.
Even so, it was Legacy that burst out of the gates in game one with style and purpose, a 38 minute game overshadowed by Raid’s dominant bot lane Swain and a 10/4/7 performance from Claire on Akali.
Decoy’s Rakan also shone bright in the opening game, as he stamped his authority across the map with involvement in 23 of Legacy’s 24 kills.
Game two appeared to be sliding towards Legacy’s favour once more until a double kill in the top lane for Babip on Sejuani turned the tides of the early game, and gave ry0ma the platform to begin an Irelia snowball performance.
Watch: The Chiefs turnaround a catch on Destiny, winning the fight and then picking up baron as well.
With the scores all locked up at one apiece, Chiefs turned up the heat, with a non-meta Kog’maw draft boosting Raes to a 9/2/9 scoreline and their second game win in the series secured.
Although Chiefs rounded out the 3-1 victory in the fourth clash, Legacy weren’t going down without a fight, as the 58-kill game came down to a massive fight in the top side river Raes put the finishing touches on his 15/5/14 scoreline with four kills and a Baron Nashor secure.
The bloody, messy final game went the way of the Chiefs however, and the old champions of Oceania now look towards a clash in the Rod Laver Arena against the new titans of the OPL.
After a reverse sweep in Split 1 saw the Dire Wolves punch their tickets to MSI mid-year, Juves believes an upset is brewing that could see the undefeated champions tumble from their throne.
“I have a funny feeling that there’s going to be a big upset in Melbourne, if I was a gambling man of course I’d be putting money on the Dire Wolves, but there’s more to it than that,” he said.
“I’m a firm believer that you have to lose a few matches to understand your limitations and problems, and Dire Wolves haven’t really had that learning experience so far this split.
“They also dropped a few games to teams like the Bombers and ORDER, and while they weren’t series losses I think there was a lot of shakiness there.”
Juves also pointed to a number of players moving into the final match of the OPL for 2018 as “key figures” that could decide the match.
Chief among them was Dire Wolves’ breakout rookie BioPanther, who stunned Oceanic audiences with his dominant performances in the top lane.
For Juves however, question marks remain around the young star.
“We haven’t seen him be tested in playoffs yet, and the regular season is very different to the finals,” MAMMOTH’s captain explained.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how Bio goes when he’s got that added pressure on his shoulders, especially when he’s coming up against Swip3rR.”
The other two key players are, of course, ry0ma and Shernfire on either side, and Juves knows that both could be the key to sending the Melbourne decider either way.
“Last time these two played in the grand final ry0ma was key in the first two games for the Chiefs, and he was just single-handedly winning games,” he said. “Once the Wolves shut him down they were able to bring it back and sweep.
“For the Dire Wolves, Shernfire is going to be massive. If he has a strong early game it often just means they win, and if he struggles out of the gates there’s a good chance it’s just ‘GG’ for them.”.
The Chiefs now prepare for their final match of the season against the Dire Wolves, with both teams ready to take to the stage come 2pm Sunday at the Melbourne Esports Open.