Victoria has been the home of sports in Australia for the longest time, and now when it comes to esports Melbourne is quickly catching up with Sydney, with the OPL finals being held at Rod Laver Arena as part of the Melbourne Esports Open. The region is full of pride, and with League it is no different. And when it comes to League of Origin, Victoria have the glorious title of the first champions as they knocked off Team New South Wales in the 2017 final.

That means they come into the competition with expectation heaped upon them, as all of the fans will surely want them to repeat the previous year’s feat. Their roster was quite solid, as a wealth of experience pushed them past Team NZ in the semi-final as well as taking down group stage winners Team NSW in the finals.

This year Melbourne’s prodigal son Jake “Spawn” Tiberi returns as team manager as he teams up with championship coach Curtis “Sharp” Morgan to assemble a roster that can bring home the title for Victoria once more. Last year’s was strong enough, with Richard “Phantiks” Su in the toplane, Samuel “Spookz” Broadley and Tim “Carbon” Wendel sharing time in the jungle, Simon “Swiffer” Papamarkos in the midlane with Calvin “k1ng” Truong and Jayke “Jayke” Paulsen in the botlane.

But this year, the team is looking to go above and beyond last year’s roster and claim that second title in even more of a stomp. Jackson “Pabu” Pavone takes up duty in the toplane this year instead of Phantiks, but if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it and the rest of Victoria’s 2017 team will return to challenge for the title once more. Only k1ng and Sharp have tasted success this year on the OPL stage, so expect the rest of the team to come hungry.

So, Pabu. One of the most mechanically gifted toplaners in the OPL, he’s never made it to the heights that his counterparts have, and he’ll be using League of Origin as an opportunity to etch his name into history. He’s been with Trident, Tainted Minds and Abyss Esports before moving to Avant Gaming at the start of this year. He’s been an upside for a team facing relegation this year and he’s a welcome addition to the side.

I had a chat to him about the upcoming competition, and he agreed with everyone that NSW was the team to beat “The most threatening team by far is New South Wales, they have the strongest players and a botlane that can contest ours, unlike the other teams”. He’s looking for his team’s experience to keep them on the right track during Origin “Our team is filled with experienced strong players that know how to communicate, but we all need to be on the same page and understand each other a bit more, and then we’ll win”.

He’s also wary of the other toplaners in the competitions, but not too worried. “I think the toplaners at the tournament are actually pretty good, they’re not insurmountable and hopefully they won’t be too much of a problem”. The toplane has depth, but they all need the rest of their teams, and he’s expecting a NSW matchup in the final. He’s also not feeling too stressed about the title repeat, as he mentioned “Yeah, we’re not too worried about having to win again, not too stressed, we’re just having fun.

Onto a player that Pabu doesn’t play with regularly, he’ll be teaming up with Spookz as the latter takes up duty in the jungle once more. When he played in Origin last year, Spookz was still part of the mainstay Chiefs roster but moved on to work with Spawn this year at ORDER. He’s had a middling year, he definitely hasn’t played bad but he hasn’t returned to the levels he had in the days of old, so he’ll be looking to step up again in League of Origin.

Swiffer has been Spookz’ brother in arms for the longest time, and that won’t change as he also returns to the Victorian roster. His story is much the same as that of Spookz, back in the day he was a phenomenal player and hasn’t achieved the same heights this year. But he always has the ability to pop off in dire situations, which contributed many games to ORDER’s double third-placing in the regular seasons of this year’s two splits. On the Origin stage, he can definitely go toe-to-toe with any of the other midlaners.

K1ng is the firepower of this Victoria roster. He’s been the Dire Wolves ADC for all of their victories and has regularly come up clutch for his side. Victoria should be funnelling as many resources as possible into this guy and let him lay waste to Queensland, New Zealand and NSW. It’ll be interesting watching up play against his longtime support in Cupcake but with Jayke at his side hopefully he’s okay.

Jayke is the second member of Avant Gaming on the Victoria roster, and is the pinnacle of being a veteran in the OPL. A beloved member of the Oceanic community (along with his dog Kobe), some say he is past his prime but he definitely has the capability to show up on the big stage. With an expert team at his side, there is no reason to say that this man cannot absolutely pop off in support and carry his team to victory.

If Victoria want to take this out, they should really be focusing on cohesive teamfighting. Setting up a scenario that k1ng can unleash should be a prime focus and drafting teamfight compositions will be the way to go here. As Pabu said, if the team has their synergy down pat there is nothing stopping them from taking out any of the teams in the competition.

In champion select, it’ll be hard to negate all of the squad, so expect standard drafting. With Sharp at their back, this team can definitely cook up something special, whether it be a Pabu special in his Pyke top or an off-meta midlaner for Swiffer, so watch out. There’s no game that this team can’t win, and they should be thinking about NSW as their final boss.

Victoria, we get it. You have Spawn. You have #melbournebtw. You even have a League of Origin title. But if you want to win this one, you have to double down and focus on what matters. Of course there will be pressure and expectation, but if Pabu, Spookz, Swiffer, k1ng, Jayke, Sharp and Spawn have any chance to take out the tile this year, you better believe they’re going all in.