A long way from home, Oceania players find opportunity in the LCS

by Xander Torres

In October, Riot Games officially dissolved the Oceanic Premier League (OPL), ceasing direct support of the Oceanic region, comprising Australia and New Zealand, and granting North American residency to all Oceanic residents.

The change is a bittersweet one -- Oceania’s status as a competitive region is in flux -- but the best of the best from that region now have a better chance of making it to the ranks of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). As Oceanic players make the difficult transition to North American life and competition, they continue to thrive in a league that has embraced them with open arms.

The news

It’s not every day that a region’s future gets thrown into the blender, but Oceanic players both domestic and abroad felt the rippling effects of the move. Oceanic players abroad recognized that their stock had just risen, while Oceanic players at home questioned their job security and career in general. When Immortals AD carry Quin “Raes” Korebrits heard about the news, he was stunned, but quickly realized that it wasn’t all bad.

“The first time I found out that OPL was dissolving, I was like ‘uh, that’s kind of sad that I just lost my job,’” Raes said. “The second thing I found out like forty minutes later was that I was becoming an NA resident … so there was a 95 percent chance that I could get into Academy and maybe even LCS if I was lucky.”

Read more: From Oceania to NA to Worlds, Cloud9’s Fudge continues his push toward top

Raes was initially sad that he lost his job in Oceania, but quickly realized he could play League in North America. Photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

Immortals support Mitchell “Destiny” Shaw shared a similar sentiment to his teammate Raes as he heard the news, being concerned over the future of the league and its players. Despite that, though, he saw the value for future OCE prospects like himself and Raes.

“I feel like there’s more of a pipeline or goal. Going to Worlds and losing in 2017 and 2019 … it’s really demotivating to go back to OCE,” Destiny said. “I feel like having something to look forward to, to compete in NA, is really nice for an OCE player.”

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Raes and Destiny form the Oceanic duo for Immortals and this type of move to North America was already on the horizon far before the announcement. Raes always wanted to make the jump to a major region, and Destiny played the entirety of the 2020 season in the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) on Origen. The door to join the LCS was already open with players like Ian “FBI” Huang playing for 100 Thieves and Calvin “k1ng” Truong and Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami finding their home on Cloud9 Academy, but the OPL shutdown blew it wide open.

New opportunities

As it stands, the Oceanic region is thriving under the League of Legends Circuit Oceania (LCO) as its new operating league. Oceanic players' praise of the league’s production value and Pentanet.GG’s strong performance at the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational prove that the region isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. On that end, Oceanic players abroad have largely benefited from their newfound North American residential status. Oceania’s great, but the LCS has provided players like FlyQuest’s mid laner Stephen “Triple” Li the stability they need to improve.

“There’s a lot more funding here, so it’s a lot more viable as a career option,” Triple said. “In OCE’s infancy, you’d have a lot of players working part-time jobs just to sustain themselves. At one point, I was getting paid two to three times less than a minimum wage job just to play. When you have that on your mind, it’s a lot harder to focus on the game itself”

In smaller regions, it can be difficult to justify the time and effort put into a career that doesn’t have the same backing as the major regions. Raes echoes Triple’s sentiment as a fellow Oceanic player.

Read more: How FlyQuest’s radical promotion of entire Academy roster to LCS paid off

Triple thinks playing League in North America is a lot more of a viable career path than in Oceania. Photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

“As an OCE player, most teams don’t have houses, your salary isn’t that good, and your job security is really uncertain,” Raes explained. “It’s not a safe career path … it’s OK for a couple of years, but if you’re doing this as long as I have … and if I was a middle-tier player in OCE, I would not feel good about my future.”

More importantly for Raes, he recognizes his Oceanic background as a point of appeal for North American teams. Oceanic players often struggled to be noticed by major-region scouts, but following the residency change, they’ve earned a more fair shake. Now, they bring a work ethic to North America that matches the opportunity they’ve been afforded.

“When an OCE player comes to NA, I think they really appreciate the opportunity compared to an NA player who, as soon as they turn 17 years old, gets all this stuff paid for with a pretty decent salary,” Raes said. “That’s something I didn’t have. I’m definitely grateful for how I live in NA right now compared to what I had to worry about [in OCE].”

Adjusting and thriving

Amid newfound opportunity in North America, Oceanic players like Triple are still adjusting to their new environment. Triple first came to North America in 2020, and while he’s serving up mid lane performances in the LCS now, it took some time to adjust to a different level of competition.

“The outside perspective of NA is that, well, NA is really p---, right? NA is just really terrible, but I came here and I realized I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Y’know, I’m still an OCE dog,” Triple chuckled. “Coming eighth place and ninth place in Academy, I felt like I needed it. It was humbling in a way because I’m just used to winning all the time.”

Cloud9’s top laner Fudge had a similar experience when he made his move to North America, citing the infrastructural differences between OPL and the LCS.

“When I first came to NA, I thought ‘well, these players are probably not going to be that good,’ but I came and obviously they were a lot better than I had ever played against before,” Fudge said. “Playing in NA and talking to a lot of players and coaches here -- I think they have a lot of good knowledge about the game that they don’t necessarily implement.”

Fudge has become one of the best top laners in North America. Photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

Even so, both Fudge and Triple eventually adjusted to the LCS and have proven that they deserve to be here. Fudge is arguably the best top laner in North America, while Triple is a big reason why FlyQuest is 4-2 in their last six games. Triple, himself, still had to adjust to the culture shock of moving to America, but he has put in the work since realizing that he was a big fish in a small pond.

“During the offseason, I worked a lot on myself. Personalities are a lot different in America, so I had to take a lot of time adjusting to that,” he said. “Bettering myself as a person and as a teammate… Those things are the tangibles that no one really talks about, but they’re important, and I’ve grown a lot in that aspect.”

Moving to a new country is never easy, but the results can be life-changing on both a personal and professional level. More than providing a more stable career, the LCS has also given players like Triple, Fudge, Raes and Destiny the opportunity to challenge themselves both in and out of the game as they prove their value in North America.

Triple believes that Oceanic players might be “overvalued” in North America right now, but if the results thus far have anything to say about it, they’re clearly here to stay.

Lead photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

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