With it being a week since SK Gaming were crowned champions of the Smite World Championship, I had the opportunity to sit down with their Australian-born Coach, Joshua “ElChuckles” Bruce. We talked about his pathway to the top, and what lies in front of him now that SK Gaming have confirmed they will not return to Smite next season.
ElChuckles is a household name to those within the Oceanic Smite community, given his time as a player on the likes of Dire Wolves, Avant Gaming and Legacy Esports; with Legacy Esports being the organisation he achieved the most in. ElChuckles made it clear via social media that he was looking to join an SPL team as a coach for Season 6 in November of last year, following the heavy decrease in developer support for the Oceanic Smite competitive scene.
Although it took eleven months, ElChuckles officially announced that he had signed with a world renowned organisation, SK Gaming, on September 12th of this year. ElChuckles isn’t the first Australian to coach a team in the Smite Pro League, as Kurtis “Biggy” Davidson has been coaching the Dignitas team since February of 2017, although much like SK Gaming, Dignitas has announced they will not return next season. Like Biggy and ElChuckles, Daniel “Rowe” Rowe has been the coach of the Pittsburgh Knights since January of this year, but has since moved to a player role alongside his coaching responsibilities.
I kicked off our interview with ElChuckles by asking him what the process was like joining an organisation like SK Gaming. Much to my surprise, he had some intense answers to this question, detailing some drama that unfolded during the process. “It’s actually a funny story. The real fun part was getting the contract. I’d been talking to a lower level manager that was in charge of the Smite team about finalising a contract and visa. At the start he seemed like a good enough dude from the messages and calls we had. He was definitely slow to get things done though. He was always very adamant that things were progressing, but eventually his updates slowed down and he ended up ghosting me completely,” started ElChuckles.
“After speaking to some higher-ups in the organisation, I actually found out that he had been fired several months ago and hadn’t done anything with my contract or visa. Not to mention that the team has no idea that he was fired until I actually told them myself. SK Gaming themselves were completely out of the loop about the team not having a coach because of this guy, hence the late announcement.”
“Once higher-ups were aware of what was going on, the process of signing and getting my visa was very smooth, so all credit to them. None of what happened was SK Gaming’s fault of course, as they had no idea what was going on and were quick to help when they found out; especially the CGO, Martin, who went above and beyond for me. I’m very thankful to SK Gaming,” finished ElChuckles.
As for how joining SK Gaming actually came about, he went on to state “at the end of last year, I decided I’d like to follow in Rowe and Biggy’s footsteps and see if I could coach an SPL team. SK was actually my first choice of team, as I really loved their placement and worlds run last year under Trifecta, where they beat the previous world champions.”
“I’d heard they were looking for a coach at the start of the year, but the only reason I was able to get my foot in the door at all was because Biggy put in some good words about me to Neil. Without his help, there is essentially no chance that I would have had this opportunity at all, so understandably I am pretty grateful to him for that. After talking to Neil and the team, I tried out for about a week in late February. It went well and they asked me to stay on, coaching remotely until a visa could be sorted,” concluded ElChuckles.
ElChuckles finally arrived in North America a month prior to the Smite World Championship, ready to coach the team in-person for the first time. With that being said, I asked him what the preparation was like for the event. He went on to say “honestly, it was fairly standard. We didn’t change our approach too drastically. I think the biggest thing was just being more open with each other about what needed to be improved on, which allowed us to really focus on our biggest issues.”
“Me being there in person also made it a lot easier to do my job. I was able to have instant input and help shape conversations so that we’d have a better understanding of what we wanted to do, whereas before I was just a voice on a computer. Even just being able to turn to the desk next to me and talk to Neil about picks and bans, or ask how Sam though scrims went that day, was insanely helpful in understanding what the team needed,” concluded ElChuckles.
Given that ElChuckles is a veteran of the Oceania Smite community, I went on to ask him how the environment over in the SPL compares to that of Oceania. “In terms of the outlook and level of competition, it’s night and day. In Oceania, it was impossible for anyone to keep the drive to succeed going. Lack of incentive and time commitment kept the level of competition so low that there was no real chance on the international stage,” said ElChuckles.
“In terms of team environment though, it was very similar to the teams I’ve played on in the past. It’s the same sort of comfortable friendly environment here, just with a real drive to win and improve,” finished ElChuckes.
Back on the topic of the Smite World Championship, I asked ElChuckles how it felt to win on the big stage. “Well for one, it feels pretty good. It’s definitely validating for me after spending so much time striving to make it to worlds. But honestly though, the feeling I have about ‘me’ winning worlds are pretty muted in comparison to the pride I feel in the team for winning, especially in the manner we did,” said ElChuckles.
Finishing off by stating “to see my team keep their heads up and being proactive even when behind, then to have that dedication pay off with winning worlds, is a uniquely satisfying feeling. I’m glad I was able to help them achieve it.”
With the dust now settled from the Smite World Championship and the recent announcement of SK Gaming not returning to the Smite Premier League next year, I asked ElChuckles if the team was aware of this prior to worlds. “We didn’t officially know until a few weeks before worlds actually. There was some conjecture beforehand, so no one on the team was surprised when we heard; it definitely made sense. It was a decision made well in advance of us winning worlds, and based on our average performance during the regular season, it was a perfectly reasonable one to make,” ElChuckles summarised.
Given that answer, we then talked about what was next on the horizon for ElChuckes, with him stating “organisations are obviously important to any scene, but the players are what really matter. SK Gaming was one of the most accommodating organisations I’ve been a part of, but while it’s sad to see them go, ultimately them leaving doesn’t impact anyone’s ability to compete. Again, I’m thankful to SK for everything they did while they were with us.”
“Free agency and organisation hunting is still ongoing, so I’ll have to wait and see how things play out,” finished ElChuckles.
To finish our chat, I asked ElChuckles to summarise his experience overseas and how he plans on moving forward. He went on to summarise with “overall, my experience with the team has been fantastic and I can’t express how proud I am of all of them. Even though I was only physically there for a month, I love each of my boys very much. Leaving the house last week was a very bittersweet experience.”
“Even with the unfortunate business at the start of the year, I had a great time with this team and I’ll definitely be coaching next year; that roster is to be decided of course,” concluded ElChuckles.
ElChuckles has since returned to Australia, but is looking to continue coaching next year in the Smite Pro League. Given his first experience as a coach, winning the world championship, there is no doubt we will see more of him next year.
You can stay connected with ElChuckles by following him on Twitter.