Last weekend, the Bombers made their debut in the Oceanic Pro League scene playing in their very first series against Avant Gaming. The Bombers is the latest organisation to be backed by an AFL team – Essendon FC who made a move into the esports scene acquiring the org formerly known as Abyss Esports. We caught up their General Manager, Nathan Mathews to talk to him about the acquisition and their plans for the new OPL 2018 season.

So after 2 years of managing Abyss Esports, how does it feel to have your team being brought under the wing of one of Australia’s most storied sports teams?

When I founded Abyss with Scott Farmer, we never thought in our wildest dreams that we would actually be working alongside one of the largest sporting clubs in Australia, it’s quite surreal to be completely honest. Everyone from Essendon has been extremely welcoming and have gone to great lengths to make sure the team feels comfortable within their new environment.

Were you fielding offers from other organisations during last year, and what about the way Essendon operate made you willing to effectively dissolve Abyss and come under their banner?

We had a few offers throughout 2017 to buy the OPL Slot and the Abyss brand, I was very reluctant at the start to give up something I put a lot of blood sweat and tears into but after multiple talks and discussions with ESE Esports, we finally made the decision to sell. Essendon were doing a lot of research into the Esports scene around this time and after months of discussion and negotiation, they decided to partner up with ESE Esports and form what we have now.

It was really a no-brainer to partner with Essendon, they have tremendous resources and world class facilities for the team to take full advantage of. We simply had to ask ourselves if partnering with Essendon would allow us the opportunity to become one of the biggest Esports organisation in Australia and the answer to that question was pretty clear.

Because The Hangar is located in Melbourne and the OPL studio is located in Sydney, do you think it will become a burden upon the players to take those weekly flights?

Good question. I definitely think it is one of the downsides of living outside of Sydney but we are extremely confident that it won’t be a big impact on the players performance. The Essendon Football club has a wealth of experience and knowledge on how to negate the effects of travel for their players and this is something we addressed early.

We believe that flying into Sydney will also add to the ‘Game Day’ experience and get the players into the right mindset earlier than they normally would.

The Bombers train at the Hangar in Melbourne where the AFL team is also situated – Source: Rosey Twitter

Also, what are the team’s goals heading into this split, and how are they trying to achieve them?

We have had a few obstacles to overcome this split with the banning of two of our players and our adc having VISA issues, so it’s hard to set a realistic goal with these limitation. Internally we are not worried about setting a specific placement goal and are just going to focus on becoming the best team we can be. Winning will be the natural product of being a good team and that is our main focus for Split 1.

So we saw the other day that the Bombers had a launch party, what has the reception been like from both players for the AFL side and fans?

Everyone involved at the Essendon Football Club have been extremely welcoming, the playing group were slightly worried about how they would be perceived by the AFL players but so far things have going very well on that front. We had a few Essendon players at the launch and they were extremely engaged and interested with what we were doing.

The fans on the other hand is a different story, the vast majority have welcomed us with open arms but there are still a few groups that need to learn more about what we do and what Esports actually is but we are confident this will be less of a problem as time goes by.

I believe that the Bombers are the first Oceanic team to pull talent from Europe, why did you look to Europe instead of pulling from Oceanic talent?

Oceania has an overall talent problem where there are only a handful of talented players capable of taking the title and while this has been improving each year, we wanted to change our recruitment strategy and test the waters in the international market. After speaking with players from NA, EU, China and Korea, we decided with the European players due to their fluency in the English language. No import has ever lasted more than 1 split in the Oceanic region, so we wanted to make sure they were able to integrate with our culture.

Essendon FC’s Orazio “Raz” Fantasia with Bombers Andrew “Rosey” Rose – Source: Bombers Twitter

So based on that, is the current plan for the Bombers to maintain your squad for multiple splits, with only minor changes in order to reach your “premiership window”?

This is one of the few times we have been extremely satisfied with our roster on an individual level. We still have a long way to go with the team and I believe it’s still too early to comment on anything after the 2018 season but as it stands now, we are extremely confident in our players and expect no roster changes in 2018.

In the OPL, you’ve traditionally had the heavy hitters, the title contenders with the Dire Wolves, Chiefs and Legacy, do you think the newer teams will have an immediate impact or it will take a split for the newer teams to rise up and pose a threat at the end of the year?

With all the changes throughout the off-season, it’s going to be a close final series. I don’t believe there is a single team that has the exact same roster from 2017, so it’s just going to be a case of which team can synergise faster. Everyone expects Dire Wolves, Chiefs, Legacy and Order to be in the Top 4 this split.

And also, how do the Bombers intend to deal with the challenge of these dominant teams?

We are not really worried about other teams. We are going to focus on ourselves and becoming the best team that we can be, getting too caught up in how other teams are performing will just impact this. It does not matter if the team we are playing is 1st or 8th, we are going to play the best we can.

We’ve seen over in North America with the boom of NBA teams buying into esports teams, that they hold fan meets and opportunities to interact with their favourite players, do the Bombers have plans to do that here.

Absolutely. We held our season launch on the 18th of January at the GG EZ bar in Melbourne, we invited all of our fans to come past and meet the players on our launch night. This is something we will be doing frequently throughout the year in various locations. I encourage anyone who is interested in meeting our players and staff to pay attention to our twitter or facebook page.

To follow up on that, Bundesliga team Schalke04 just displayed results of their League of Legends team at one of their football matches, can Bombers fans expect to see appearances at AFL matches?

No comment 😉

The last game for the Bombers of the regular season is a matchup against Legacy, which as we know is now owned by the Adelaide Crows. The week after is the first match of the AFL season against Adelaide, can we expect a clean sweep?

I think if you are an Adelaide/Legacy supporter then you are going to be in for a tough week. Legacy are a good side this year and I expect they will finish well so no doubt it will be a tough fight for our boys but I have full faith in our side to take home the win.

Last question, will the Essendon theme song play when the Bombers win a series?

At this stage, we have no plans to sing the song after our win. Even though we are owned by the Essendon Football Club, we want to ensure that we continue as an Esports team and not an AFL team. This is something we might look into in the future but for now we have no plans.

Thanks to Nathan Mathews from the Bombers for taking the time to conduct this interview. For the latest updates and news on the team, you can check them out on Twitter.