They may not have been crowned champions at IEM Sydney, but local outfit Chiefs emerged as the surprise package of Australia's biggest eports event. After picking up map wins against North and Renegades, as well as displaying some great potential against Astralis and OpTic, Chiefs turned heads in the professional scene and put the Australian side, currently ranked #20 in the world on HLTV, on the international map.
ESPN sat down with Chiefs' Liam "malta" Schembri to talk about their recent regional dominance, their experience at IEM Sydney and the development Australian scene.
Your team recently made the decision to remove Lightstep in favour of pecks. What do you think he brings to the team?
Pete [pecks] was the perfect player to slot into our team. He listens, he wants to learn and he plays his role intelligently. We were looking for a player we could teach our playstyle, and, along with his insane aim, he has the same mentality as the rest of us.
What do you think made you guys the best team in the region over the past two months since this roster move?
Tyler's [tucks'] in-game-leading has us playing a lot more methodical and calculated; a style we've found works really well against the other top teams in the region. As well as that, I think we have the most talented lineup Australia has seen for a long time. It also helps that we're all fairly young, so I don't think anyone is close to their potential yet.
Did playing with emagine during the Minor qualifiers affect your preparation for IEM at all?
For the Minor qualifier, we really didn't want to use any of our strats as, if one of the IEM teams was going to research us, they would get to see how we play. I was calling on the fly and we just played a bit more puggy, trying to use individual skill to close out matches. We used the day time to practice with Tyler and then used the nights to play the qualifier, just for fun if nothing more. Would have been a bonus to win, but in the end it's probably better a full lineup qualified for it to best represent the region.
In your first match against Astralis, one of the major factors that netted you guys rounds was aliStair finding openings with the AWP. How come he was using it over tucks, who was AWPing for the team previously?
Tyler stepped down from AWPing because he felt he wasn't hitting his previous level of skill with the weapon, which is a choice I respect, as many people would just hold onto it in the hope they can get better. Ali has always been a really good AWPer, and, with a few pointers from us and watching how device plays, he learnt how to play a safer game. He never misses with the awp when he's scoped on a line, and, when coupled with no silly aggressive peaks like he used to make previously, he's become an AWPer who can challenge even the best.
The 15-0 half against Renegades on Train is one of the most memorable parts of the event. What do you think was the main factor that allowed you guys to shut your countrymen out?
I think confidence was a big factor. We went into the event expecting to beat Renegades, albeit maybe not in that fashion. We really just played our game, on one of our favourite maps, and they seemed to run out of things to try and break our holds.
Probably the biggest highlight of you and your team's careers, though, was the win against North on Nuke. What went wrong on the CT side and how were you able to claw your way back in the second half?
On CT, we gave them a lot of respect at the outside portion of the map, something we identified a bit too late into the half, which resulted in us winning a couple of rounds right at the end. Disappointing for us that we were unable to counter their T-side earlier, but they really broke down our defence methodically, which is something we haven't experienced here in the local scene. It was a different experience for us. That said Nuke is one of our best maps and we're very confident on both the CT-side and T-side, so we never go into a half thinking it's already over. That's something about this team that's really impressive, no matter what the score is or whether it's a 1v2 or 3, we're always calm and we always know we can win.
You guys lost to OpTic twice on Train. Were there any major differences in how your team was playing in those games to how you played in the Renegades match?
The first game of the day, it felt like we were just not all there. We played very sloppy on CT-side and gave them a little too much respect, which is something we identified for the next match. We were super confident going into the match after the win over North, but OpTic had a lot more on the T-side than Renegades did, and we let them get away with fast strats. Starting the game 5-0 and finishing the half 6-9 really hurt us. We let the T-side get away from us which is disappointing to look back on.
Overall, what do you think is the most important thing you've learned from this event?
I think the most important thing would be not to sell ourselves, or the Australian scene, short. The scene has matured a lot without the rest of the world noticing, and I think there are multiple teams that could compete with the overseas competitors. Really excited to see Dark Sided over at the ESEA finals. Hope they can show off what I'm saying and do some damage.
Was it hard to prepare for IEM Sydney in such an isolated region?
Yeah, absolutely. It's really hard for us to find good consistent prac here. Most teams, especially after the most recent shuffle, seem to play more to practice individually rather than team dynamics, something that will change as teams develop with their new players but unfortunately the timing of the shuffle was poor for us. We have certain strats we want to run/practice in the session, and a lot of the time this gets ruined by individual aggression around the map, pushes and peaks which really don't need to be practiced. We also wanted to initiate a practice config which allows for more gun round practice, removing the throwaway rounds which aren't necessary to practice too often, but received a negative response, which limits each scrim's potential in our eyes.
What do you think this event means for the region?
Hopefully, this event shows that the Australian scene doesn't just stop at the Renegades, and that there is massive support for events down under. The crowd at the event was massive, with all the players and talent claiming it was the best event they'd attended. Whether this was authentic can be questioned, but I really do think we impressed. Also, I think showing there is a market for this in Australia might help bring some funding into esports in general for the region, so hopefully we start seeing some more, very deserving, teams start getting paid for all the time they commit.
Finally, what events are coming up in the future for the team and what will it take for you guys to maintain your dominance in the Oceanic scene?
The events coming up are the standard OCE comps, with Cybergamer and ESL both hosting 1 a piece. I believe ESEA is being streamlined into the ZEN League comp so that's one less tournament we have to worry about each week, making it easier to have a consistent practice schedule. Apart from that, we're hoping there's a chance we get invited to some overseas events in the future due to our result at IEM Sydney, and possibly get a bootcamp or 2 against some European teams, which we think would be incredibly beneficial to us. I think we can maintain our dominance in the region comfortably. We've already learnt a lot from our matches this past week and there is so much more we can learn from watching how the top teams played against us, which is something we will be looking to apply back into our game for these future comps.