Mad Dog. Under Dog. Top Dog.

The Mad Dog roster went into the World of Warcraft Arena APAC Finals as the heavy underdogs and emerged victorious at the end of a gruelling loser’s bracket run. Now, they are representing ORDER at BlizzCon halfway across the world in a third-time-lucky kind of story.

Nic “Fresh” Berton and Mitchell “Oxygen” Pritchard have been going at it since 2014. Pritchard might be a familiar name to some outside of Arena, though. He is known as “mswag” in the Counter-Strike community, an ex-Alpha Sydney and Dark Sided player and sub for Chiefs – playing as recently as mid-September.

The competitive spirit was in Oxygen and that’s how he got into Arena. “I didn’t like playing against AI and have always enjoyed the competitive side of gaming. Knowing that you’ve outplayed someone and outsmarted them in a game added another level of enjoyment for me.”

In 2016 the duo fell painfully short of a berth at BlizzCon, losing to Gronks in the APAC Grand Final; while 2017 saw Fresh and Oxygen – under the Avant banner – fall to Korea’s #1 seed, Tukbaegi Breaker, in the semi-finals of the APAC Finals.

“Going into 2018, we were taking it serious and knew we needed to have the strongest roster possible to take into the Online cups and LAN,” said Fresh.

After being the bridesmaids for so long, they upped the ante. Pulling Jia Xing Kent “Yoske” Foong from North America was crucial. “[He] brought a level of experience and depth of knowledge which took our team to the next level.”

To round out the 4-man roster, Fresh and Oxygen pulled in Warlock main Jordan “Featherfeet” Thompsan for 2018 ANZ Cup #2 from Ricefury. “[His Warlock was] a necessity in us qualifying to the LAN itself. Furthermore, he added an extra set of eyes and ears to help us get through the land and keep us grounded – mainly myself though, I can get a bit hot-headed,” Fresh laughed.

This core of two had finally found their perfect matches and Mad Dog was ready to make a mark. With their Destruction Warlock, Retribution Paladin and Restorative Shaman comp, they started with a fourth-place finish in ANZ Cup #1, before finishing second twice and third once to qualify for the APAC Finals as Australia’s third seed.

For the first time on home soil, Fresh had the chance to qualify for the tournament which had eluded him for so long. “No one wanted to lose and we all were playing the best we have.” Lining up behind ANZ teams UnitasGG, APAC’s 2017 BlizzCon representatives, and Gronks, ANZ’s #1 seed, they wanted to make their presence known against Taiwanese and Korean hopefuls.

UnitasGG, then known as Blank, representing APAC at BlizzCon 2017.

It didn’t get off to a smooth start though, dropping the first series to Korean #1 seed Give It. “Getting knocked to the lower bracket [by Give It] was a massive wakeup call for us.” Now faced with the daunting proposition of running the gauntlet to even make it to Day 2 of competition, matters were made worse when they realised their first-round opponent was UnitasGG.

An opponent with plenty of experience – having been in their position just 12 months prior – they knocked them out without breaking stride in a 3-0 sweep. “After [that series] we were feeling confident and knew if we remained calm and played well we could potentially make it to the finals,” said Fresh.

Make it to the finals they did. They went past Taiwanese team ROC and the Koreans on Team Beast 3-1 in both games to have a second chance at giving it to Give It in the Losers’ Final after losing to Gronks in the Winners’ Final.

Having two more series under their belt, ORDER like a different team the second time around. Knocking off the LAN nerves, they came out swinging – even if the game pace was slower than previous metas.

“Our playstyle is aggressive but tactful. Battle For Azeroth kind of slowed the game pace of the game down, and this meant that we could not force wins as effectively as we used to. The state of the game brought it down to a battle of attrition rather than outplay. This led to us having to slow our games down.”

With ORDER backing Give It into the wall – forcing out a change of talents and then team composition – the Koreans ran out of options as they ran over Give It in record pace to place themselves in the final (68 seconds, to be exact).

Up against their final competition, ANZ rival Gronks, the odds were against them. Having lost to them in every encounter for the last two years – including throwing a 3-1 lead in their most recent encounter – they were coming in as the underdogs once more.

Not letting that record deter them, they once again burst out of the blocks and took the first game. Forcing a composition switch to Demon Hunter-Druid, Gronks were able to get one back, but ORDER stayed true to their tried-and-true composition backbone of Retribution Paladin and Restorative Shaman to bring it to championship point by Game 5.

While Gronks were showing off some flexibility – again winning after another composition switch – ORDER stuck to their game plan and wrapped up the series 4-2. It was a triumph for Fresh and Oxygen, who had fallen so close to the Gronks in the last two years – they finally got their taste of success.

This makes being able to go to Anaheim a win in itself. “Everyone is super excited. [Everyone back home] are all just happy that it has worked out and that we have made it to the next stage. I’ve just been getting the typical family support,” said Oxygen.

L-R: Oxygen, Yoske, Featherfeet and Fresh with their Arena World Championship scrolls after winning the APAC Finals.

That support extends into the growth of the Australian scene, which according to Featherfeet is packed with talent ready to go. “The Australian scene is quite small. However, it is filled with a decent talent pool which allows for competition to grow.

The system allowed for a wider range of teams to get involved and create a pool of teams which helped the scene grow individually and as a whole. Outside of the team setting though, my guild, Speed Dealers, has helped me grow emotionally and physically.

“A major difficulty we face as a region though is having reliable internet in a game which can come down to fractions of a second. Despite this, as the internet gets better, the region will have an increase in competitive players against other international teams.”

The ORDER lineup aren’t the only ANZ players showing up to play Arena at BlizzCon though. Australian Adam “Chanimal” Chan has been around since almost the beginning, even taking a World Championship home with him in 2013 with Skill Capped. In 2018, he finds himself on American team Super Frogs, who come in as the region’s third seed.

Method Orange, America’s second seed, is also home to Kiwi Richard “Mes” Simpson. Coming off a 3-4th place finish in last years World Championship, the team took out two Fall Cups on their way to BlizzCon and will face the winner of Making a Movie and Cohesion Dream in the Quarter Finals.

For ORDER though, they are up against their toughest competition yet – Tempo Storm. With Niki “Niksi” Hietala and Alex “Alec” Sheldrick from 2017 Arena World Championships victors ABC and two-time champion Simon “Boetar” Heinks, the fourth-seeded European team has one of the most experienced rosters in the world.

In true Australian spirit though, they are taking it in their stride. “We are faced with a titan straight out of the gates, but hopefully through the process of BlizzCon we can learn as a team and individuals to become even more competitive moving forward. Tempo Storm will prove to be our biggest competition and we’ll be practising hard to put up a good showing,” Fresh said.

“One of the biggest things though is meeting everyone and getting to know players which you’ve only really known online. BlizzCon will be great for this – the community from not just WoW but the other major Blizzard titles will all be in one place.

“It will be awesome to see some of the Overwatch games too if we get the chance.”

ORDER will be playing against Tempo Storm on Tuesday October 30 at 5am before BlizzCon, and at BlizzCon on Saturday November 3 from 6:15am. You can follow Fresh, Oxygen, Yoske and Featherfeet here.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment and ESL Australia