The Dire Wolves have been pillars of consistency in the OPL for the past year and a half, being Oceania’s first representatives at an international event with the team attending both the Mid-Season Invitational and the World Championship in 2017. Created in 2014 by Nathan “Rippii” Mott, the Dire Wolves have been a part of the OPL since its inception and is part of the old guard of teams alongside Avant Gaming, Chiefs Esports Club and Legacy Esports. This is how they became the most dominant team in the OPL.

As 2016 ended, it looked like the regional dominance of the Chiefs would continue into the following year, as the roster of Swip3rR, Spookz, Swiffer, Raes with Raydere before him as well as EGym had won all four OPL splits. The Dire Wolves, on the other hand, almost always middled around 3-4th, only once threatening the dominance of the Chiefs and Legacy when the Wolfpack made the Grand Final in the first ever OPL split.They did place top 2 in a few of the early OPL splits, but never made it further than the semis. And the start of the first split of 2017 threatened to continue that pattern as the Dire Wolves went two and two in the first four weeks, dropping games to the two best teams at the time in the Chiefs and Legacy Esports, while those two teams went 4-0 and 3-1 respectively.

But something clicked in this newly rebuilt squad. In early 2017, the team reassembled around veteran laners Ryan “Chippys” Short and Richard “Phantiks” Su, formerly known as Perfection, and had brought Curtis “Sharp” Morgan back to the organisation he once played for, now as a coach. Former Dire Wolves players Shern “Shernfire” Tai and Calvin “k1ng” Truong made their way back to the Wolfpack, Shernfire returning after a stint in North America’s Challenger series while k1ng was returning after most recently playing with Legacy Esports in 2016 and was coming off a blistering run through the ranked ladder, occupying first, second and third at one point. The last member of the Dire Wolves team that would uproot the OPL was former coach Mitchell “Destiny” Shaw who rejoined as a support.

The individually skilled players meshed, and after those first few weeks of finding their feet, the Wolfpack went on an absolute tear through the OPL, only dropping a single game to SIN Gaming before claiming 5 consecutive 2-0 victories, including one against the Chiefs to finish Split 1 2017 in first place. Yet this wasn’t just some flash-in-the-pan run, a team clicking with the meta at the right time. Those first few weeks were the Dire Wolves writing themselves the formula that would guide them to the top and hold them there for at least three splits and counting. For a team that had only challenged the greats once, and that was two years before, the blitz through the Oceanic Pro League heralded something far greater that had been seen before in Oceania.

Their approach was simple, revolving around Shernfire roaming the map on early game, feast-or-famine champions like Elise, Kha’Zix and Graves, relying on his cerebral approach to jungle pathing to build a lead against the enemy jungler. With that lead under his belt, Shernfire would always make his way to a lane and link up with a member of the team. Because the Dire Wolves comprised of very strong individual laners, names you’d always see in the top 10 of Challenger, they’d have eked out a small advantage themselves and Shernfire’s arrival would tip the scale and start the snowball. Especially with Chippys, famed for his Gangplank, the small appearance that the Wolfpack’s jungler made was enough to effectively give Shernfire’s teammates the victory in lane. When they lost, it was because Shernfire had been targeted either in draft or on the Rift and wasn’t able to have his traditional impact.

Another cornerstone of the Dire Wolves’ strategy comes in the draft phase. Almost always, the Wolfpack will draft themselves a few late-game champions, as what is effectively an insurance policy. The Wolfpack are a very clean team, and will often wait for their opponents to make a mistake before they pounce. So if a team plays really safe, and doesn’t give the Dire Wolves that early lead or cede lane dominance, as the game draws on and the Wolfpack is forced to fight without a mistake presenting itself, it’s automatically in their favour due to their backup late-game champions. The three-time OPL champions have very impressive macro, often building up leads solely via map rotation. As a team, they’ll draw their opponents across the map, slowly spreading them out and forcing their opposition to chase after them so that they don’t lose map pressure. However, the Wolfpack will run back and forward, and when the overlap appears, when their opposition is just too slow off the mark, they’ll strike and seize objectives.

Even as 2017 passed and their first year of domination came to its conclusion, 2018 arrived with roster shakeups. Phantiks and Destiny both moved to the Chiefs, taking away a veteran in the midlane as well as their captain and shotcaller in support. Stephen “Triple” Li, a phenomenal talent whose name has been thrown into the ring as the best player in Oceania joined the side to replace Phantiks while Destiny was replaced by Legacy support Andy “Cupcake” van der Vyver. With k1ng already entrenched in the botlane, it was no hassle for Cupcake to link up with the star AD Carry and get the ball rolling, while Triple’s lane prowess slotted in neatly to the Dire Wolves’ methodology. The start of 2018 results-wise was even more impressive than 2017, with the team going undefeated in series across the whole of Split 1, with a game record of 20-4. Being seeded directly into the final against the Chiefs Esports Club, the Dire Wolves reverse swept the OPL veterans in a best of 5 series, again with their late-game champions popping up every match.

The second split has been more of the same from the Dire Wolves, again undefeated so far in series, dropping only 3 matches. We’ll be taking a quick look at Game 2 of the Dire Wolves’ most recent series against Bombers, where the Bombers’ playstyle stopped the Wolfpack’s tried-and-true method in its tracks to hand the defending champs one of their three losses. In the draft phase Zoe and Swain served as their late-game backups, alongside Shen, Kindred and Alistar for initiation, peel, and survivability. However, the Bombers drafted a straight teamfight composition with multiple sources of engage, with all members of the squad having some form of ultimate that could swing a fight. Camille’s Hextech Ultimatum alongside Orianna’s Command: Shockwave and Nocturne’s Paranoia could blow up any priority target with the combo’s zoning potential, while Rosey’s Pyke could swoop in and out to pick off any collaterally damaged members from Jhin’s Curtain Call. The Dire Wolves had to win the early game, a rare occasion where they are on a clock, because come late game the Bombers’ composition would win.

The game started off on the wrong foot for the Dire Wolves, when k1ng and Cupcake attempted to initiate early onto Tiger and Rosey and were soundly punished as Tiger picked up First Blood. However, the Wolfpack can always take advantage of a bad situation and did so, as Shernfire appeared mid seconds later to take out Looch who was already pressured behind his turret. Their gameplan came into effect again, as with the small advantage Triple gained from the kill, he began pressuring Looch further before Shernfire arrived again to effectively win the lane for the Dire Wolves. Their skilled macro meant they were first to the next fights, and they were looking to close out this game before the Bombers’ powerspikes kicked in, being much more proactive in this game compared to the first of the series.

Being on the clock put them under pressure, and the Dire Wolves were constantly looking for teamfights. With Rift Herald pushing mid they thought they had the advantage, but powerspikes were starting to come in for the Bombers and they aced the Dire Wolves in a 4v5 situation as Camille pushed in the botlane. The Wolfpack kept up pressure, but they hadn’t created enough of it in their minor victory in the lane phase to stop the Bombers, even with three Elemental Drakes and a tower lead, the gold was still 2-3k in Bombers’ favour at 25 minutes. Bombers with their teamfight composition, stayed clustered together, unwilling to give the Dire Wolves an inch, and eventually they flew in as they took advantage of an overextension to rain down fire on the Wolfpack. Jhin’s Curtain Call into Camille’s Hextech Ultimatum into Paranoia allowed them to grab 4 kills. At this stage, the Dire Wolves’ chance of fulfilling their win-condition of win before their opponents outscale them was almost gone, and a desperation Baron proved their undoing once more as the Bombers picked up more kills.

The Dire Wolves are renowned for their calm approach to the game, and yet in this match they were uncharacteristically scrappy and desperate, trying to finish off the game early. By the time the game had reached 30 minutes, there was no way for them to win, the Bombers hadn’t given them the opportunity to create leads and it only took 5 more minutes before the Bombers steamrolled into the Dire Wolves’ base to pick up the game. From the draft phase, the Dire Wolves had a win condition that wasn’t their MO, and that pressure forced them into unnecessary mistakes that the Bombers took advantage of.

This does show that the Dire Wolves can be beaten, but it takes wholehearted investment into this sort of composition, and the communication and teamwork to pull it off. It’s nearly impossible to beat the Dire Wolves on their terms, with traditional compositions as they’ll beat you down throughout all stages of the game. A team has to either be certain in their ability to go toe-to-toe with the Wolfpack in the early game so they can win the late game, or in the Bombers’ case, have absolutely nothing to lose, as they languish at the bottom of the table. In the game the Dire Wolves lost against ORDER, it was FBI’s Kai’Sa that punished them in the late game, and in their loss to Avant it was the hyperscaling Lucian alongside Irelia that stopped them from the clean 2-0.

These losses are so rare and so unexpected that it does take something truly out there sometimes to throw the Dire Wolves off-balance. Every team has a weakness, but the Dire Wolves’ is so hard to exploit because of the perfection you have to play the early game lest they run you down before you even make it to the late game. A few splits may pass and the meta may not allow them to play the way they are accustomed to, but as the speed of a game League of Legends looks to remain stagnant, I’m sure the Wolfpack’s position on top will remain so as well. The Dire Wolves, three-time OPL champions are mortal, but it’s going to take a hell of a fight to force these wolves to retreat.