Three weeks into the Oceanic Pro League, two top dogs have emerged — Legacy Esports, and the Chiefs. Behind them sit a host of teams, all of whom face an early question: can they catch the pacesetters, or fall into the mid-table scrap?
Or, as Order’s Bill “Eyla” Nguyen and Avant Gaming’s Jesse “Chazz” Mahoney both suggested after 1–1 weekends, is there something else to aim for in 2020’s first split?
Mixed results have marked the start of the 2020 campaign for a number of teams, not least of all teams like Order and Avant. Both teams made major, sweeping moves in the offseason, and have now found themselves within a win of each other.
While some may have expected the Melbourne squad to be fighting right up at the top of the ladder, defeats to the undefeated 6–0 pacesetters bumped them down the rankings, and a loss to Pentanet.GG has not done much to inspire confidence either.
Conversely, Avant was tipped to potentially be fighting for the last spot in the playoffs, even receiving a mixed grade in Snowball Esports’ Winners & Losers in the preseason. Their record may be close to that, but their performances on the Rift propound the potential for more.
— Snowball Esports (@snowballesports) February 17, 2020
According to Chazz, who made the league’s Team of the Week for his performances against the Dire Wolves and Mammoth in Round 3, Avant is a “work in progress,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t contenders.
“I think the season is going well for us right now, a lot of our losses ended up being really close, and I think we had serious potential to win most of them, especially the game against Legacy,” he told Snowball after Avant’s 1–1 weekend.
Their most recent matches—a 15–9 defeat against fellow mid-table rivals the Dire Wolves, followed by a 28-minute demolition of the defending champions—both showed improvements the boys in blue had been searching for.
That doesn’t mean Chazz, and the rest of Avant, think they’re going to catch Legacy and the Chiefs right off the bat. While those two leaders have proven to be the top dogs, the rest of the OPL is in a “building phase” early on.
“I think right now we aren’t focused on catching up to the top two teams, with the gauntlet format anyone can win the league as long as you place top five,” he explained.
“Our goal is to pick up as many games as possible, all while working on improving to a level where we can run the gauntlet and look to overtake the higher-seeded teams that way. We obviously don’t want to be fifth seed, but we do want realistic goals too.”
Chazz did admit the team may “not be at a level where [they] can consistently beat the Top 2,” but the young mid laner believes that has to be the final goal for any team in the Pro League if they want to lift the trophy this year.
While Avant is happy learning in the opening months of the league, Order has had a different perspective on a similar record: it’s not exactly disappointing starting 3–3, but considering the preseason hype around the team, it’s been hard to swallow.
“From a solely outside results point of view, our start is definitely a disappointment considering how strong our lineup is on paper,” Order support Bill “Eyla” Nguyen said. “Bringing over three Chiefs players, I would expect fans to see Order as a contesting top team, however, we are currently sitting middle of the pack.”
That same disappointment hasn’t seeped into the team’s training and scrim environment away from Sydney though, Eyla said, and he admitted he “doesn’t mind” where Order has found themselves three weeks into this year’s Pro League.
“From past experiences, a good season doesn’t guarantee a good playoff performance,” he explained. “Instead, my focus is on whether our team is actually improving. With the new gauntlet changes, being first place is less meaningful as they will have to play at least once before the decider. Top three is more the minimum you want to hit now.”
That mindset, Eyla explained to Snowball, was what helped lift a load off his shoulders. Last year all he chased was “victory after victory, week after week,” and when the team slipped he would feel like it was “wasted week.” This time, he—as with many of the OPL teams that have swapped rosters—are more focused on the bigger picture.
“I’m not worried at all if there’s a gap between the top two teams and the rest of the league. The old mindset I had made me undervalue scrims, and I thought as long as we were winning on stage that was all that mattered,” he said.
“Now I think differently — winning regular-season games is important, yes, but what far outweighs that is whether the team and its individuals are improving or not.”
So, one team sits 3–3, with expectation aplenty, and the other sits 2–4 with the ‘new roster’ brand allowing them time to prepare. Both, however, have the same goal: the OPL’s top spot just doesn’t seem to be as valuable this time around.
What is valuable is practice, taking regular-season lessons onboard, and being prepared for the postseason gauntlet where everything is decided.
That’s the focus now for both OPL stars, as they look to the coming weeks. Both have plans in mind for how to improve, and they want to make sure they get there. Eyla explained he wants to become a “strategic commander” for the Melbourne roster, while Chazz wants to “let the whole team play with confidence.”
Basically, something has changed behind the scenes. Players are now feeling the top spot isn’t necessarily where you want to be sitting in the first weeks of the league. Gauntlet runs like Sin Gaming, and Order, has proven the top seed isn’t always the most valuable.
Defending champions Mammoth did the same too, at the Melbourne Esports Open, as they swept past the first-placed Chiefs 3–0 despite being the lower seed.
Eyla and Chazz both know it and have revealed it’s something many of the players now hold as a key sentiment across the league. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how well the mid-table teams can improve, and if they can reach Legacy and the Chiefs’ levels.
For now, though, the mid-table scrap may be a reality for the two teams too, but they each have a much more short-term goal they think they can hit when Round 4 rolls around too: both young stars believe their team will score a 2–0 weekend.
Order face the Dire Wolves and Gravitas in dual matches on Friday evening, while Avant contest double Saturday matches against Legacy and Gravitas. The round’s fixtures will begin with Gravitas vs Order at 4pm AEDT on Friday, February 21.
The OPL returns on Friday, February 21 from 4pm AEDT.