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“Our whole goal this [stage] wasn’t necessarily to go to the Major”: Can Chiefs beat expectations again in Charlotte?

Like Elevate, Chiefs made two changes after their last international appearance. What can this half-new roster do?

Last we saw of the Chiefs, they were in Sweden -- not for the Six Invitational, like Elevate, but for the Major -- and had pulled off two wins over a crippled Oxygen Esports and had pushed eventual-semifinalists Rogue to maximum overtime. They could not make it to the playoffs, but the general atmosphere was positive. 

After all, this was the team’s international debut and Oceania’s first appearance since SI 2020. Many would have expected this team to try for a second successive appearance right there and then with SI 2022. But come December, Chiefs opted to give the qualifiers a miss and decided against trying to make it to SI 2022.

Nearly two months later, Morgan "Fishoguy" Ishizaka left the team and, a month after that, so did Jake "GodLegion" Harris and Chiefs coach Patrick "WarTurtle" Gleeson.

“There was discussion behind the scenes between me and the coaches,” explained Chiefs captain Ethan "Ethan" Picard. “Basically, me and another player that was removed had conflicting approaches towards the game and basically they wanted to stick with me … and we’d already settled on who we were gonna ask as a fifth.”

As a result, the Oceanic team saw little point in doing the SI 2022 qualifiers with a team that would splinter after the event. But their ideal fifth player fell through and multiple trials later, the Chiefs finalized the signings of Lachlan "Boydy" Boyd and Kelton "bouncinballz" Mclachlan two weeks before the start of the 2022 season.

Unsurprisingly, Stage 1 in 2022 did not go as smoothly as Stage 3 in 2021. Chiefs lost the first day against Dire Wolves and were put under significant pressure after back-to-back losses on the fifth and penultimate play days. Once again, they were in a battle against Invictus Gaming on the final day -- this time for an APAC Playoff spot, as opposed to automatic qualification to the Major last time out.

Now in a straight fight for the Playoff spot, Chiefs held resolutely and crushed iG 7-2.

“Nothing really changed,” reflected Ethan. “You don’t really wanna treat any game itself differently, you always wanna win them all. You don’t wanna put too much of importance on games that are obviously important because that puts pressure on people.”

A potential difference this time may have been the added experience that Chiefs boasted over iG this time around, having three players that had tasted international play over iG’s two, or the presence of a sports psychologist available to the team.

“Michelle, our sports psychologist, works individually with our players if we need it,” Ethan explained. “We use tools that she’s given us … she obviously helps a fair bit with, like, keeping our emotions under control and staying composed. … I think every team should have some kind of -- even if it’s not a sports psychologist -- some kind of figure there to keep everyone under control and emotionally stable.”

In the game itself, Ethan shoulders most of that responsibility, though he is quick to give credit to the rest of his team -- Raine "Dgtl" Wright in particular -- for keeping each other’s morale up. Key to that output from Dgtl is a willingness to personally sacrifice whatever is needed to get his team to win, even if it means his own stats will take a beating.

Dgtl may well have to be ready for more of that in Charlotte, particularly with a significant shift in meta from the last time Chiefs played internationally; two new operators have been inducted into pro play, and the new attacker repick mechanic has been used to great effect by many of the teams heading to Charlotte.

“Attacker repick has obviously changed a lot, teams are a lot more random … they try to be unpredictable and you can be with attacker repick,” said Ethan. “But how we stack up against international teams, I guess we gotta see how we go. Two of the guys on the team obviously very… sort of ‘fresh’.”

Some of the preparation has been focused on helping the rookies adjust to the physical aspect, such as playing with in-ear monitors instead of over-ear headphones. The other aspects of LANs, says Ethan, just have to be experienced firsthand. Meanwhile, tactical preparation has seen some roles shuffled, with Ethan shifted back onto a flex role from a support role and Dgtl moved onto that support role instead. Ethan is also now the primary shot-caller for the team.

“Our whole goal this [stage] wasn’t necessarily to go to the Major, [it] was just to build,” finished Ethan. But the Chiefs have surpassed their expectations and have now set their sights on the playoffs in Charlotte. Can they surpass expectations again?

Catch Chiefs at the Charlotte Major, which will run from May 16 to 22.