The favorites have fallen, Hell has frozen over, history will be made very soon: the inaugural season of the Overwatch League is drawing to a close as every single series so far has been won by the lower-ranked team. Will this shocking run continue to the final, granting the Philadelphia Fusion a title nobody has expected – or can the London Spitfire cope with being the favorites on paper, returning to the heights they’ve hit in Stage 1? It’s not just the million-dollar prize that’s on the line here: the winner will forever be etched into the annals of the game’s history as the first-ever champion.
The story of unknown unknowns
None of this was supposed to go down the way it did, really – but if anything, the playoffs so far have highlighted how little we know so far about the way an Overwatch League season can potentially shake out. While avid fans of certain American sports were certainly aware that momentum trumps regular-season consistency once knockout games are on the line, but the way the two eventual finalists managed to re-invent themselves was definitely beyond even the fans’ wildest expectations.
For instance, the Spitfire’s flight seemed dead on arrival before pulling off an incredible comeback against the Los Angeles Gladiator in the quarterfinals, a feat which seemed nearly impossible after losing the first series and facing a very unfavorable set of maps in the second one. As it turned out, being able to adapt on the fly proved more crucial than anything else during the playoffs so far, and the Spitfires managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat by quickly countering the Gladiators’ different compositions.
Everything seemed possible after they won 2-0 on Oasis – widely considered to be a sign of the end times in Overwatch circles – and there was no turning back from there as the Stage 1 winners swept all remaining maps to book a spot in the semis where they continued their incredible upturn in form. On the other side of the bracket, it was the streakier team that met its demise in the quarter-finals as the Philadelphia Fusion pushed past the Boston Uprising despite an unexpected setback in the second series, setting up two serious David-versus-Goliath stories for the semi-finals, both of which eventually ended in upsets.
Rust and extinction
On paper, the bye received by the top teams is a guaranteed net positive – especially in a tournament where the playoffs only involve three rounds –, but it has historically led to a decent amount of upsets in esports over the years. In the case of the Overwatch League, the NYXL have gone on record about being “rusty” over the course of the first match, but it’s really been their inability to adapt to the playoff meta that got them in the end, the falloff of Zenyatta seemingly taking the wind out of JJoNak’s sails along with the rest of the team. Taking way too long to get up to speed against opponents who are already battle-hardened and roaring to go can be difficult if you had to sit out the first round – still, both top-seed teams will leave the event behind feeling they should have done better.
London Spitfire’s win in the semis felt like a real coming-of-age story in a sense, returning to the dizzying heights of their initial glories, but now battered and bruised, having tasted defeat, taking down their nemeses for a spot in the final, defying the odds in the second match of the series once again despite a very unfavorable map pool. If the story of the Philadelphia Fusion is a triumph of adaptation and resilience, the London Spitfire have freed themselves from the many mental weights plaguing them over their journey through the wilderness in the regular season past Stage 1, being confident and aggressive on the server. They no longer consider themselves the underdogs – that may not be a good idea in a tournament where the favorites have lost every single series and went 2-8 in matches played overall.
It’s tough to untie the Gordian knot of predicting the finals of such an upset-ridden event – then again, on the other hand so many people are stuck with egg on their faces at this point after all these unexpected outcomes that it’s impossible to get it overly wrong. It does seem fairly clear that the performances of Profit and Eqo will remain crucial for their respective teams, and specifically both players’ Brigitte play could potentially turn the tide.
Both teams have followed the road less travelled to the finals and are high on confidence – and with neither “home” team making it, it’s tough to tell which underdog will be underdog-er in the eyes of the audience. Clearly, London Spitfire and Philadelphia Fusion have mastered the chaos of the playoffs: however, with everything on the line, the challenge is going to be just as mental as technical.
The former faced their nadir in the quarters and never looked back while Fusion had to dig deep in the semis – technically, this should mean that the Stage 1 winners are less drained but if there’s anything we’ve learned during the last week and a half is that nothing is certain anymore. Form may be temporary, class may very well be permanent, but you’ll need something beyond both if you want to become the winner of the first Overwatch League.