The League of Legends World Championship is a celebration of League talent from all over the world. Admittedly, most eyes tend to be on the LCK, LPL, LEC and LCS. But during the Play-In stage the minor regions get to flex their muscles and, as was this year the case again, even upset some of the favorites. For OPL caster Bryce "EGym" Paule, this meant seeing 'his' MAMMOTH beat Unicorns of Love twice.
At the Play-In stage in Berlin, we talked to the man from a land down under. He told us how he evaluates the OPL's strength, shared his thoughts on his community and how minor regions could increase their chances on international stages going forward.
You're a proud representative of the Oceanic region. With Worlds being a big gathering of all the regions, what were your expectations?
I was pretty hopeful for OCE. MAMMOTH is not a storied organization but I think they've put together a pretty storied team, with Babip and Fudge being the only two that haven't gone to Worls before. Obviously the result was disappointing, but I think a lot of OCE fans, many people behind the scenes are genuinely hopeful.
How would you compare the hope OCE had for MAMMOTH this year to the hope for other teams previously?
I think that's a difficult question, especially for me since I'm involved. I've been to international events as well. Maybe in recent times though, yes. MAMMOTH were a well-balanced roster. There's always a risk factor in having new players like Fudge, or Topoon who we didn't see on stage. The questions of "Are they going to be able to compete?" is always going to be there when domestic teams travel to international events. Players are going to be compared, let alone the teams-wide game.
As someone who, in your current role, isn't directly involved in the gameplay, how do you measure whether or not those players are of the same caliber?
Based on my experience, this is something I've always thought, it's never really been about the players individually. If you take the top talent from Turkey, or other emerging regions like CIS, Japan or OCE, wherever you want to take it: they maybe can't stack up to the Nuguri's of the worlds, but if you put them in one of the major region leagues, they're fine. There have been OCE imports before. The biggest hurdle for emerging regions is isolation. We don't have a big server we can play on, so the team game is lagging behind a bit. For individual players though, it's always been there.
What about comparing OCE teams to international ones then, how do you do that? Do you look at the amount of mistakes they make, broad game plans or....
I think it's very difficult, obviously. Coming from a pro background to an analyst postition, I'm not really a numbers guy. I still play the game by feel, and the eyeball test is the most important thing. I'll just watch a team and just gauge them to assess how good I think they are. Of course on game days one team can just play like garbage and all of the preparation goes out of the window. It's kind of difficult, but that's the nature of things.
I want to talk to you a bit about the OCE community, which we know fairly little about. Since it's so far from other regions, particularly the big ones, is the OCE community a close one?
Yeah, I would describe the OCE fanbase as small but passionate. Especially at Oceanic events you'll meet the fans and then afterwards you'll see them out in the town. I recognize a lot of the faces; the same people will come up to meet and we'll chat about how things are. You actually get to build a relationship, which I think is really cool.
There have been tropes that have grown in the community as well, of course. Like, day 1 OCE is good, and day 2 ends up being a rough one at the end of the day, but I think for the teams there is a lot of support. It's in a good spot.
What would be a way for the Oceanic League community to grow in the future? Again, it's pretty secluded.
I think this is a really interesting question, personally. A lot of people throw around the "choke" word when it comes to OCE, but I think traditionally OCE has actually overperformed. Given some of the performances OCE has had overseas before, I think it's admirable. I've talked to other emerging regions' players. People have said to me: "I watch your region and it doesn't look the strongest, but I think you guys are actually really good.”
So, I think that as time goes on a region like ours will grow. The most important thing is to get access to things like bootcamps. We've sent Legacy overseas, Dire Wolves, Bombers and now MAMMOTH—it's not just the same team every year. The growth really spreads out over the league, which is very helpful.
What about community growth?
I think that comes from good performances internationally. A lot of people back home do prefer watching the big names like DoubleLift perform in the LCS. Attracting them to the OPL is difficult. But the OPL is super different. A lot of people look at the Oceanic games, the Oceanic broadcasts where we were literally cooking and painting on a Riot Games stream. That sort of stuff is attracting people; I think making it authentic is a big draw card I think. Over time I think perceptions will change. The audience is really growing.
Should more events be hosted then where minor regions battle it out against each other?
I think that would be really cool. Being involved in stuff like Rift Rivals, when regions like South East Asia, Japan and OCE play against each other, is fun and good for the competition. International play is where every emerging region's player wants to be. For Worlds these teams just get one chance, and that's it. So, more international events? 100%. Who wouldn't be for that?
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.