The landscape of the Oceanic Pro League (OPL) is very different this year. There is a new team in the OPL (Exile 5), a new point-scoring system for the competition ladder, every team has their own gaming house in Sydney, and games are played on Saturdays and Sundays offline at Riot’s Sydney studio as opposed to online mid-week. What’s more, every team (except the Chiefs) has a new starting roster.

[You can read all about the changes to the OPL format, here]

Since successfully qualifying for the OPL in 2015, current OPL league of legends team Sin Gaming have experienced a series of highs and lows. 2016 saw the development of their successful junior team (Sin Academy) in the Oceanic Challenger Series, and a semi-final birth in OPL Split 1, but also a near-relegation in OPL Split 2. Now with a new gaming house, a new team roster, and a first round win against Abyss eSports to start their season, Sin Gaming look ready to challenge for top spot on the OPL ladder. I sat down with Sin Gaming’s owner and team-handler, Christian “Starjun” Dirk, at the new gaming house to chat about all things Sin.

 

The new OPL structure


 

“This year, Riot Games have really amped up their production, and they started promoting the league a lot earlier than they have in previous years,” notes Christian. He goes on to say that this, in conjunction with the shift from Monday-Wednesday night games to doubleheaders every Saturday and Sunday afternoon-evening, will have a positive impact on the OPL viewership. “I think viewers of the OPL are much more casual than viewers of other leagues, so the fact that they can come home on a Sunday and just chuck it on, relax, and watch the game is a good thing.”

While these factors are great for the viewers, it was the decision to move from an online to an offline format, that had the biggest impact on the players. “Riot spoke to us just prior to relegation/ promotion about moving away from having online tournaments,” explains Christian.”This was definitely in line with what we wanted. We’ve always felt that having to play online only was the biggest limiting factor for the OPL. We didn’t have control over networks, players were playing from their bedrooms, etc., etc… it limited so many things. When they conveyed to us that they wanted teams to play on stage each week, it was under the condition that they would either reimburse a percentage of housing costs or fly teams up to Sydney each weekend.”

 

The new house


 

A gaming house in Sydney was the natural choice. And the decision to move the team in together has had benefits outside of having a unified internet connection.

Positives

Christian identifies three positives for the Sin gaming players-

“The biggest positive is that we have a better ability to work through problems! When you have an online format, like when everyone was playing from home, it is difficult to work through any issues that players are having in the game because you can’t really grasp their attention! They could just fade out, and you can’t really tell if they’re listening. Now, you can speak with them directly and really re-enforce what is important.

And then there’s the bonding side of it. Whenever we have made trips together in the past, we’ve always come back so much stronger as a team because we were all on the same page- you can understand each other’s through processes on another level. So being around each other all the time is really helpful.

Other than that, obviously, there is the fact that we get in so much more practice. The players play so much more! Most of them are playing 3-4 times more than they were playing in the past.”
 

 
Practical challenges they face

However, with eight people living under the same roof, there will inevitably be challenges.

“I’ve lived in big share houses before, and I’ve found that it’s best to just keep it chill and let everyone play to their strengths, so we don’t keep a strict schedule. We operate mainly around what scrims we can get. And anyway, we (Christian, Coach Benjamin “Bencel” Encel, and Manager Marco “ShoTzz” Mantarro) are not their parents. We treat the players like adults. We just try to make sure that the players have healthy routines- try to encourage them to eat well by preparing lots of dinners and encouraging them not to sleep in overly late. But we’re also realistic.”

While Christian may have lived in share houses, for all the players, this is their first time living away from home- two of them had to move interstate to join the team in Sydney, while another relocated from the United States. Homesickness and feelings of isolation are issues that Christian is keen to address.

“I’ve encouraged players to bring their family to the house. Brandon “Juves” Defina’s girlfriend came up from Melbourne, and Jake “Rogue” Sharwood’s mum came for a day visit. It creates a home-life feel, and it just makes it feel like the players are not super separated from their real life.”
 

 
“You also have to think- now the players live where they work and they can’t really switch that off. So it’s really important for us to find things to do outside of the game. As the season progresses, and stress increases, I’ll definitely be encouraging them to go to the beach or do whatever else they need to do to relax.”
 

The new team


 

In January last year, I caught up with the Sin Gaming team at their pre-OPL boot camp in Sydney. One year on, only Juves and Rogue remain on the starting roster. This year, they are joined by:

“Joshua “Wzrd” Russell- At the end of last split, our mid-laner Rymeister, who had been with us since inception, was burnt out from League of Legends- he wasn’t really interested in the game anymore. While he was still playing well, and we really liked him, he didn’t have the passion anymore. That really affected his mentality, and that was frustrating a lot of other players. We had to find a new mid-laner for our relegation series, and we spent a long time looking! We had a list of players that we were looking at- this list had Wzrd on it, and it also had Mabiosa (which turned out to be one of Wzrd’s side accounts). We talked to him and recruited him just for relegations. But when he came to our boot camp in Brisbane, everyone loved him, and he fit in really well. He has a really great attitude, and he’s a great player. And he’s only 18!

Victor “FBI” Huang- The players that did come with us from the original Sin roster, had no problems moving interstate- they were really excited! But our previous AD Carry- Aaron “Raps” Tran- wasn’t keen on moving. So we had to look for a replacement. This is now a big consideration when scouting players. Can they move to Sydney? Will they function well in Sydney? And will they function well in a gaming house? The star players from last split might not be star players anymore because it’s such a big change- moving to a gaming house and also playing on that stage in front of bright lights every week- some qualities will become more important, and some will become less important.

To replace Raps, we recruited FBI. He has been known in the scene for a long time (ShoTzz adds- “I was dominated in a match by this kid three years ago when he was only 14!”). It’s always interesting bringing in a rookie because we have no idea how well he will perform under the pressure that he faces in the OPL. But FBI has been really great. We all really like him, and importantly, Rogue (his duo lane) really likes him- they have good synergy.

We were a bit nervous looking for ADC’s- we looked overseas, and we tried to find people, but they wanted too much money, or they had visa issues. Then someone was like, what about FBI? And he only lived half an hour away from our Sydney house! It was perfect. I think he’s number 7 on the ladder at the moment, and he has everything you look for in a new player.

Cuong “Flaresz” Ta- Flaresz played in the LCS for 2.5 splits- he’s played on Team Enemy and Team Dragon Knights, and he was a team WinterFox sub. Flaresz was pretty nonchalant about the way he came over to Australia, but we want to make sure he doesn’t miss home too much. At 19, it was obviously a bit of a culture shock for him, moving across the world, but he seems to be doing really well! We’re really hoping that he can pull out some big performances because he’s a really star player.

The great thing is that the other players are really responsive to him- they’re like ‘Oh wow, THIS GUY is on our team, this makes me want to player better.’ They know top lane is going to be great, so it gives everyone more confidence. He has the talent and the experience to dominate a lot of the other Oceanic players. We have a lot of confidence in him but are trying not to put too much pressure on him. Watching his plays so far, he’s been excellent.”

So with all this new talent joining veteran (and no less skilled) players, Juves and Rogue, will Sin Gaming finally shake their underdog status? Christian doesn’t know, and frankly, he doesn’t really care if they don’t.

“I like having the underdog status. I think all the other organisations were grandfathered in from the original league, or they bought a spot in the OPL. We started in the Open ladder. We played against silvers. We remember that. So even if we get crushed in game, there is still that part of us that is like “we’ve come a long way”. I think other teams forget that- they forget their pasts. We were just an open ladder team that didn’t start with any investment- we just thought ‘we’ll make a team, and we’ll look after them.’”
 

 
“I think the underdog status applies to us outside of the game. We’re definitely one of the small… hmmm, small is not really the right word… authentic… organisations. We operate by doing what we love- basically we do what we want to, what we think is right, and we don’t do anything that conflicts with that. If we think something is cool or fun, we’ll do it. When our fans looks at us, they think “Oh, these are normal people. They are genuine.” We talk to our fans a lot, we don’t talk to them from a high and almighty place. We don’t act like we’re superstar gamers. We’re not. We’re just decent at the game. We try our best when we play, we’ve got some talent, and we’ve had a lot of luck.”

 

Final Thoughts


 
Christian’s assessment of the team and the organisation as “genuine” does not go far enough- the boys at Sin Gaming seem like an affable group, void of any conceit. When I asked Christian if there was anybody he wanted me to mention in the article, I expected him to reel off a list of sponsors. Instead, he replied with, “just our friends and families- all our families have put in so much effort into allowing us to follow our dreams. All our players played at home for so long, and I know their families did so much to make it possible for them to play- cooking them dinner and putting up with them draining the internet all the time. If anyone needs thanks, it’s those people.” It’s no surprise that Sin Gaming have such a dedicated fanbase.

Make sure you get those hashtags out for a #SINWIN as the boys take on Legacy eSports this Saturday at 3pm. You can watch the game live here on Twitch.

For a full list of the OPL schedule, click here 
 

Ellis Longhurst

Ellis Longhurst

Staff Writer at GameCloud
When not patting cats, eating excessive amounts of fruit, and failing the Battlefield 4 tutorial, Ellis spends most of her time cycling around the inner west of Sydney and blatantly disregarding Professor Oak’s words of advice. Oh, and writing... Ellis is GC's eastern states correspondent!
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