Australian League of Legends team Pentanet.GG made history in the early hours of Monday morning, becoming the first ever Aussie team to make it past the groups stage of an international tournament.
The Perth-based organisation is competing in its first ever international tournament at the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, better known as MSI, held in Reykjavík, Iceland.
PGG caused a huge upset, defeating Commonwealth of Independent States champions Unicorns of Love to qualify in second place of Group A, advancing out of the groups stage.
They are further the only wildcard side to advance to the Rumble stage, every other team that qualified hailing from either major or minor regions.
The team will play two best of three series on May 14 at midnight (AEST) against MAD Lions, and 3am on May 15 against Royal Never Give Up.
They will play a further seven best of threes from Sunday to Wednesday, including against reigning world champions DAMWON KIA and international powerhouse esports organisation Cloud9.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, PGG general manager and Perth radio personality Pete Curulli detailed just how much advancing to the next stages means not just to the team and Pentanet, but to the Australian esports and League of Legends scene as a whole.
“To say that I’m proud of how quickly they [the team] are adapting and moving is an understatement,” he said.
“From a local view, domestically… this is incredibly important. One of the things that I’ve likened it too is back in 2006… the Socceroos had a really great run in the FIFA World Cup and got knocked out in the [round of 16] against Italy, who went on to win the World Cup.
“What that does is that it has an incredible trickle down effect into the rest of the region.
“People who’d never heard of the sport before sit up and take notice. People who had no interest before were talking about it. It means commercial entities take a closer look at the particular sport, they consider investment in the sport, it opens doors around commercial opportunities.
“That is exactly the way that I feel about this moment for Australian esports.”
The win comes in light of the dissolution of the Oceanic Pro League, founded in 2015, in October of last year. This saw a huge amount of both playing and coaching talent poached by European and North American teams, leaving Oceanic players to believe ‘all the good players were gone’.
Curulli sees this as a sliding doors moment for Australian League globally.
“When the OPL broke up it was essentially the rest of the world signalling something that was being said for a long time: ‘why does OCE matter in the context of international competition?’,” he said.
“It was nice, and a huge moment on the international level, to announce ourselves and go ‘no we do matter,’ we’re a region that’s continuing to build. This is our breakout moment to say we deserve to be here, playing at an international level.”
After playing all eight of their group stage matches, both PGG and UOL sat on two wins and six losses, having to play an all-or-nothing tiebreaker to decide who would advance through and who would board the next flight out of Reykjavík.
PGG slowly built momentum throughout the group stage, putting on a strong performance in the tiebreaker and winning convincingly.
Curulli will never forget the final moments of the game, watching from home in Perth.
“One particular highlight… that will forever stand out in my mind is that final moment, [is] that final play,” he said.
American caller Clayton Raines (CaptainFlowers) provided the vocal soundtrack for the final moments, immortalising PGG’s achievement with his incredible commentary.
“That audio, that call and that cast, that moment is going to stay with me for the rest of my life,” Curulli said.
“The hardest part about that [was] trying to keep a lid on my excitement given that it was three o’clock in the morning. My wife is 39 weeks pregnant and trying to get rest, we’ve got two young daughters under five who have school… there’s still everyday life that we have to take into consideration.
“When something you’re working so hard for, when you get a moment like this, the natural inclination is you just want to explode! Because I had to keep a lid on it, I went to the gym after the boys had their win, because I just needed something to let the energy out.
“I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live.”
Looking ahead to the Rumble
The Rumble stage will be a best of three round robin series between the six teams that qualified out of groups, each playing each other twice.
The top four teams will then advance into the knockout stage, playing a pair of best of five series of matches to crown the MSI 2021 champions.
Curulli is wary of every other team in the Rumble, every one a threat.
“RNG’s a threat, and we know that because they pantsed us in the group stages,” he said.
“Looking outside of the team, take your pick. You could put them all up on a dartboard and throw a dart, and you’d hit one who’s going to be a threat.
“I’m looking forward to our matches against RNG in particular, because I feel like the boys, over the course of their games against RNG, every time they came up against RNG again they got a little bit better at them. They got their measure just a little more.
“That’s the thing that we’ve seen with these guys, this particular team, time and time again through the LCS split season. They’re very good at getting the measure of the other team and adapting their plan to suit the next game.
“I want to see how they go against RNG again, because I feel like they have that trajectory in the right direction that they’re going to do a little bit better. I do feel like they’ve got the opportunity to pinch a couple of games that people don’t think they’re going to be able to pinch.”
Made up of five players and a substitute, League teams require each player to carry their weight and perform their specific role.
PGG is comprised of a top laner (Brandon Alexander, aka BioPanther), mid laner (Jesse Mahoney aka Chazz), bottom laner (Mark Lewis aka Praedyth), jungler (Jackson Pavone aka Pabu) and support (Daniel Ealam aka Decoy).
Substitute Diana Nguyen (DSN) is the first female League player named in an international tournament.
Curulli believes that the unique traits of each of the players has kept them in good stead so far, and will see them go far in the Rumble.
“Incredibly proud of the entire team, DSN and [stage coach] Udysof [are] over there,” he said.
“I think BioPanther is incredibly grounded, he’s the one who throws himself in there.
“He really, really plays for the team.
“Pabu presents us that spark, that little bit of you just don’t know what’s going to come out of him next.
“Praedyth and Decoy are, without a doubt, Oceania’s best bottom lane duo, and they’re doing an incredible job. Decoy is such an amazing support. Once Praedyth gets unleashed and unchained, he’s absolutely unstoppable. If he has strong early games, then we set ourselves up for an incredible opportunity to win.
“And then Chazz, as far as mid-laners go, he’s my favourite one to watch.
“The thing that I really love about Chazz, and you’ll see this in comms videos, is that… Chazz is sitting in the middle of all the boys. He’s there in the middle position. They’ve come off the back of a loss, Decoy is really down on himself, and Chazz is talking past Praedyth to Decoy, and he’s revving him up, he’s getting behind him, giving him energy, giving him a boost.
“Chazz really presents as a great mid-laner and a great talent, but as a person he really presents this energy and gets the boys going. He makes sure that he keeps them on track, and doesn’t allow them to go into a dark place and get tilted.
“Each one of them has their own strengths, and if they can pull those together and individually be great together, we’re going to see some real surprises come out of the Rumble stage.”
DSN, Udysof and head of operations Scott Farmer (Westonway, former head coach of Essendon’s esports venture the Bombers) were specifically added to the team for MSI.
Aussie at heart
Getting Australians on the world stage again, Pentanet wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to show off what makes Australia unique, in multiple ways.
Designed by Wardandi Noongar man Tyrown Waigana, each player is wearing a personalised Indigenous jersey to represent the indigenous culture of Perth.
Curulli says it was an important statement that needed to be made.
“We don’t get our opportunities to show off our Indigenous history and culture and where Australia has come from very often on the world stage,” he said.
“We felt as an organisation that this was really a moment where we were able to announce ourselves to a brand new audience, it’s a young, digital audience that’s consuming this content, the history of Australia and the things that we should as a nation be proud of.
“It was a way to make ourselves stand out, but more importantly, show the rest of the world whilst Australia might be quite young in terms of who we are today, we’ve got this incredible culture that precedes us and is something we should be proud of showing off.”
The other part of that, Curulli laughs, is showing off the team’s “larrikinism”.
Defeating UOL in the final game, Pabu and stage coach Toby Horne (Udysof) couldn’t help but poke fun at their defeated opponents, all in good fun of course.
“That was pretty special,” Curulli laughed.
“The thing is, we’re Aussies, and I want the guys to be over there representing not just Pentanet.GG, but Australian culture on the world stage.
“When it comes down to the heart of it, Australians as a people, we’re a bunch of larrikins. The boys are over there, and they’re having a great time. There’s a little bit of larrikinism in it, they’re serious, they’re mature, they know what it is that they want out of it.
“At the same time, I love to see that undercurrent of larrikinism in there. It’s our opportunity to show our unique place on the world stage.”
Catch all of PGG’s games live on twitch.tv. You can find PGG’s full Rumble stage fixture here:
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