As the growth of esports in Australia skyrocketed and teams, organisations and groups started cropping up, it was quite often New Zealand that were peeking through the window watching the magic happen. That’s changed in more recent times, but New Zealand have always been behind the curve when it comes to esports in Oceania.

But that’s going to change. With New Zealand competing alongside Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland for the second year running in League of Origin, the Kiwis stand a shot of taking down the Australians in a sport that isn’t rugby and settle the debate of who is better.

This year, Jonny “Saiclone’ Weatherly makes a return to the side he coached last year, relinquishing those duties to Scott “Windowsmonkey” Farmer as he takes over management of the side. Under Saiclone, the team achieved a second-place finish in the group stage before being undone by eventual winners Victoria in the semi-finals, and this year they’ll be hungry for revenge.

The NZ has a plethora of strong players this year, with Mammoth toplaner Ryan “Chippys” Short leading the side. The rest of the squad comprises Daniel “Decoy” Ealam roleswapping to the jungle, Ari “Shok” Greene-Young in the midlane, Quin “Raes” Korebrits and Andrew “Cupcake” Van Der Vyver in the botlane.

Chippys has had a strong year, first winning OPL Split 1 with the Dire Wolves and the subsequent trip to MSI, again adding to his international experience. In the second half of the year, he surprised many people as he moved to the newly-renamed SIN Gaming, now Mammoth and BioPanther filled his shoes. He can easily go toe-to-toe with anyone and his carry-oriented playstyle gives another threat to the formidable NZ team.

Decoy has the hardest road in the competition as he fills the jungle role for the New Zealand side. Without any junglers in New Zealand, the Legacy support has to jump to a different role to attempt to bring New Zealand a title this year. On Legacy this year, Decoy has had strong showings as a rookie and there is plenty to look forward to. He’ll be targeted by the opposition so his teammates will need to play around him.

Shok was a shining light on Tectonic this year, forcing target bans due to his pocket Urgot amongst other things. Whilst still young, Shok has experience beyond his years and can match up well against Triple, Claire, Chazz and Swiffer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls out something special for the tournament so keep your eyes peeled when champion select rolls around in case Windowsmonkey lets him run wild.

The Pentakill King. That’s what they call Raes, the Chiefs ADC who’s had nothing short of a stellar year. Often regarded as one of the best ADCs in the region, his late-game prowess winning many a game for the Chiefs, especially with his penchant for pentakills. He’s an extremely strong player and another source of star power for this New Zealand. However, he can be truly unlocked with the help of his new support.

After the Dire Wolves failed to make it out of groups at Worlds 2018, Cupcake retired, but he’s returning to attempt to lift New Zealand to the title this time around. He’s had a wealth of experience, playing for Legacy in 2017 before filling in Destiny’s shoes at the Dire Wolves. Alongside Raes, the two can easily make a case for the best botlane at the tournament, so expect some explosive plays on the bottom side of the map.

The team has strong laners, and it’ll be hard for them to completely cover for Decoy, so there might not be as many ganks as other junglers would give. However, if Chippys or Shok can create a lead in one of the lanes and up the impact of their individual agency, they can easily draw in Decoy to press the advantage even further.

They’ll need to watch out for the powerful botlanes on the rest of the teams, however there is no matchup that they can lose, and they even have the best botlane based on rankings alone, as Raes placed second twice and Cupcake won the OPL twice with the Wolfpack. If Raes gets going, he could easily take over any game and the other teams know that, so they’ll be constantly pressuring him.

New Zealand are by no means the favourites, but can truly be the dark horse of this competition and take games of any team, but also lose to any team. If they show up, they can easily take the title. The thing is, NZ is the only team that has a whole country behind them and that support could carry them over the line.