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I’ve already waxed poetic on the disaster that was IEM Oakland, but not everyone was miserable there. Some, in fact, were thrilled for the chance to compete internationally, no matter how many technical issues they had to slog through.
The Chiefs are not known as a successful team on the world stage, but in the Oceanic Pro League, they have been singularly dominant. When I caught up to Simon “Swiffer” Papamarkos, mid laner of the Chiefs, he had just woken up from a nap. We talked about going into the tournament as an underdog among underdogs, and how his team performed above expectation without winning a single match.
THE META: How did your games go yesterday, from your perspective?
SWIFFER: I think you can say that they went successfully. The problem is, I don’t want to be content with not losing hard, right? I feel happy that we didn’t get smashed, but I feel guilty for feeling happy that we didn’t get smashed.
THE META: You guys got pretty close. You took the lead once or twice.
SWIFFER: Yeah, that’s cool. It would have been really nice to be able to close it, as well. Obviously, that’s asking a lot, because we’re obviously not—well, they’re heralded as a super team, coming out of the LCK, and we’re just OPL. (The Chiefs, in their first and only match at IEM Oakland, played against Longzhu, who finished 8th coming out of the Korean Summer Split.)
THE META: Was it weird to go into the tournament with most analysts saying “If they don’t get totally destroyed, it will be a success for the Chiefs?”
SWIFFER: Not really. I think it’s just expected when you have a Wild Card team, to be honest. In any tournament. It’s an upset if you win, but if you don’t win and you still do well, then you’re successful. You don’t have a lot of expectation going in, because the stakes are low. It’s good for us, because we don’t really have that pressure to perform. That’s more on Longzhu, I suppose, because it’s more embarrassing for them if they lose to us.
THE META: If you could have done anything differently in that game, how would you have gone about it? Were there any moments you’re kicking yourself over?
SWIFFER: Yeah, there were a few moments where I tunneled on making a really good play, I think, rather than doing something standard. I think maybe that cost us. I wonder if I had played it straighter, if we would have won. If I could go back and do it again, I would do it a little bit differently, just to see if we would win. Not as flashy, maybe.
THE META: Were you excited to come to IEM Oakland, even after a bunch of teams dropped out?
SWIFFER: Oh, yeah. For the Chiefs, the gap is so large between us and good teams that it’s almost impossible to differentiate the extent to which we get dumpstered on. At that point, you’re playing against a name. The more prestigious the brand, the better we feel. At the end of the day, we’re the massive underdog, regardless of who we’re playing against.
THE META: How did you prepare for the tournament?
SWIFFER: We came to California early, and spent the majority of the time at Red Bull studios in LA. We played a little bit against TSM, and against the challenger teams here. I actually got tonsillitis, so I couldn’t really play that much. I eventually had to go and get antivirals two or three days later. That was horrible. But the rest of the team played a bunch of solo queue. I was only able to join them sporadically for scrims.
THE META: Is it a very different experience playing solo queue in North America?
SWIFFER: Well actually, it’s really funny that you mention that, because—you know how ranked was a little bit of a mess, coming out of Riot? I actually got placed in Bronze 5, after going 10-0 in my placements. That was really funny, actually. It was the only ten solo queue games I managed to play. Then it was like, congratulations, you’ve started your season in Bronze 5! Oh, well, I guess we’ll play against Longzhu now. (laughs)
THE META: You guys didn’t get to play a huge number of games here, but do you think you learned anything?
SWIFFER: It’s always a little bit surprising how human these unassailable teams feel—when I say unassailable, I mean unassailable to us, right? It’s like, a Korean team. That’s pretty unassailable. But it feels close, in the game. We’re always really impressed with what we can do, and that’s really gratifying. A lot of the time, we just get called massive chokers by our fans back home, and it’s really nice to put up a good showing that speaks for itself. We don’t have to do anything to defend ourselves.
THE META: You guys are regionally very dominant, even though you have trouble competing internationally. What would you put that gap down to?
SWIFFER: I think it’s a couple things. You can say geographically, we’re isolated, and everything like that. But I think we also become really complacent. We go overseas, and we scrim, and we learn so much more going overseas in two weeks than we do in four months of playing in our region. We elevate our level of play, even though we’re unsuccessful. We try a little bit to improve, and I think we do, marginally. What we need to do is maintain the level that we have when we go overseas, and then elevate it again. But then inevitably, what happens is that six weeks into the split, it becomes a chore, and then our performance will dip. We’ll recover, but it will be a little bit lower than what we had at the beginning.
Our mentality going overseas mean that we probably don’t learn as much as we could. If you’re used to winning most of your scrims, and then you go overseas and you start losing the majority of them, that’s very difficult as a player to mentally prepare yourself for. Scrim sessions become very detrimental, rather than a learning experience. I think those are the kind of challenges we face.
THE META: What do you want for the Chiefs, for 2017?
SWIFFER: I’m very grateful for the platform we use domestically to hoist ourselves to an international level, but at home, domination is expected for us. That’s not really a goal anymore. What I want for the Chiefs is, first of all, to win the IWC qualifiers at MSI or Worlds. Or both, that would be nice. Also, once we get there, to have a successful showing, and by successful I mean relative to what happened here. That’s the next step, I think.