If you had told Oceanic fans that Mammoth would force a three-way tiebreaker in a stacked Play-In group at the League of Legends World Championship, they would have celebrated.
For years, the championship representatives from the Oceanic Pro League have struggled to make their mark on the world stage. Twice, a star-studded Dire Wolves roster travelled overseas — China in 2017, and Korea in 2018 — and came back emptyhanded.
Now, after a campaign in Berlin against the LCS third-seed Clutch Gaming, and Russian champions Unicorns of Love, Mammoth returned to Australia with the same result: dropped out of the group stage in third. But this time, something about the loss feels different.
It wasn’t exactly a success, Mitchell ‘Destiny’ Shaw said, considering the team had set itself the target of making it to the main group stage with superstar teams like SK Telecom T1, G2 Esports, Cloud9, and more. But there was something else Oceania had learned.
“We said before we were going into the tournament that anything less than groups would be a failure, so by those metrics the team failed in Europe,” Destiny said. “That felt really bad, and honestly that was all I could think about right after. It sucked.”
According to the Mammoth captain, it wasn’t just that the Oceanic team arrived at Worlds full of hope, and were slapped around on Summoner’s Rift for four games.
While stars like Heo ‘Huni’ Seung-hoon and Lev ‘NoManz’ Yakshin felt like they were on another level when stacked up to a lot of the OPL players that Destiny was used to playing against, he believed it was more just “one or two mistakes” and one bad day that stopped them short.
And as for what they had learned during their heartbreaking run of five games in Berlin?
Well, for one, there’s no reason to rank Oceania behind any of the other wildcard regions. Mammoth may have struggled to find their feet against Clutch Gaming in their two meetings, but they finished with a 2-1 record over the Unicorns. Only one game went against them.
It just so happened to be the only game that really mattered at that stage.
“A lot of things went wrong for us, and then that one game, that one disappointing game, had too many errors,” Destiny explained. “It wasn’t anything like we cracked under the pressure, or we weren’t good enough. It was just an off game at just the wrong time.”
But for the OPL, it was a learning experience. After multiple years of being slapped around the Rift due to compounding problems, strong wildcard teams, and just falling behind in the meta and practice due to the tiny size of Australia and New Zealand, a corner may have been turned.
According to the team’s mid laner, Stephen ‘Triple’ Li, it was only an 18-day practice period that left Mammoth struggling behind the bigger teams on the world stage this time around. Problems behind the scenes, and illness, halved the Australian team’s chances.
“Ideally I’d like to have left to boot camp the days after we won [the Pro League title in Melbourne] but unfortunately due to ‘logistical issues’ we were left in Australia, not knowing when we’d leave for around 18 days,” the mid laner explained on social media.
“I ended up stressing really hard over this, because this meant other teams were moving forward in the race while we’re in a geographically isolated region, with 10-20 minute queues, no scrims, and occasional win traders.
“Having experience at international events, I knew that the rate of progress for teams is extremely fast because of that exposure to so many different styles and drafts. After the tournament, I thought to myself that maybe we would have made best-of-fives if I made better use of my time, or if we had those 18 plus days to work on our pools, gameplay, and draft.”
They may have missed nearly three weeks of experience, but the Mammoth roster still did get to play against the best in Berlin, and Europe. They scrimmed against Play-In teams, and set about climbing the solo queue ladder. Nearly all of them hit Challenger.
It was there that Destiny and the rest of the team realised something about the way they had been approaching the game – the teams on the other side of the Rift to them weren’t necessarily amazing compared to the Australian and New Zealand players.
There may be differences in macro-play, and how styles are applied across the map, but at a mechanical level, and talent-wise, there wasn’t much to split ANZ from the rest of the world.
“OCE isn’t that far behind players in EUW. We all got Challenger, and that was a bit of surprise to me at first because we used to go to Korea and get Grandmaster-level at best, and then we’re playing against other Western players and getting to the top,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s as much of a gap from Oceania to NA and EU, maybe with the way they’re supported, how they learn, and then just literally how many players there are in the overall talent pool for the region too.”
And that realisation was the real victory that Destiny feels the team took away from their time in Paris, and Berlin. Oceania is still right at the beginning of flourishing as a region, and there’s no reason to think they can go anywhere but up in coming years.
“The OPL can only get stronger from here. There’s a lot up in the air in regards to what is going on at the moment, but I think that players are only going to get better as we continue to learn League of Legends, and improve the scene,” Shaw said.
“Every year we learn something new, and we realise new stuff, and it means that we can go better at Worlds. We were just one game away from playing best-of-five series, and I think that in a different year we maybe don’t even need the tiebreaker either.”
“Just look at players like Fudge [Ibrahim ‘Fudge’ Allami]. There are so many talented players that are coming through at the moment that have that hunger to just keep going even better. We’re growing as a region with exports, and with new styles. I have a lot of hope for OCE.”