The first final in the Overwatch League is upon us. The league is going revolutionary, as the Philadelphia Fusion and London Spitfire will make the trek across the country from the West Coast to Brooklyn, New York, to compete for the inaugural championship. In L.A., though, the Los Angeles Valiant will have to ruminate about losing in front of its hometown fans after having a chance of making the final despite a loss in the quarters.
On the other side of the bracket, the New York Excelsior, the undisputed No. 1 seed for nearly the whole season, will have it even worse after failing to make it to Brooklyn, where a contingent of fans was awaiting its arrival for months. Let's say goodbye to the Valiant and Excelsior.
Los Angeles Valiant
Finished: second (27-13, +36 map differential)
Eliminated by: No. 5 London Spitfire (semifinals, 2-0)
Team MVP: Koo "Fate" Pan-seung
What a year it was for Fate. Coming from South Korea even before the Overwatch League to join the Immortals organization in the North American scene, his stock was average at best, having competed with the low-rung Mighty AOD in the stacked domestic field back home. On Immortals, he found quick success, winning the first Overwatch Contenders with the team over Team Liquid before seeing things take a turn for the next season when the champion Immortals squad could muster only a disappointing sixth-place finish.
When the Overwatch League began, Fate started to make waves with his tank duo partner Lee "Envy" Kang-jae, which propelled the Valiant to a quick start out of the gates and had the Los Angeles team competing for the playoffs from the first week of the season. Over the course of the season, Fate would quietly rise up the ranks of main tanks in the league, eventually creating one of, if not the strongest tank partnership in the league by the end of the regular season with new teammate Indy "SPACE" Halpern.
Although Fate's stalwart play on Winston and Orisa wasn't enough to get his team to the finals in Brooklyn, he will be one of the busiest players in the offseason. Not only was he announced as an all-star in the Pacific Division, but he received the highest honor a South Korean player could receive as an individual, being named to the South Korean World Cup team, over such names as London's Hong "Gesture" Jae-hee and the Los Angeles Gladiators' Baek "Fissure" Chan-hyung.
Offseason mood: content
It was a successful first season for the Valiant. At the halfway point, when the team was starting to lose steam and trend downward, a semifinals exit would have been treated as a gigantic success. With the signings of SPACE and Scott "Custa" Kennedy from the Dallas Fuel, the Valiant turned its fortunes around near the end of the season and maneuvered itself from playoff cannon fodder to a first-round bye, even going far enough to decimate the top-seeded NYXL in the Stage 4 final. At that time, the team's cohesion had it rolling without any end in sight, and although the team wasn't the flashiest or the most talked about in the league, it didn't matter -- the team's skill was undeniable.
In the match with London, it was a battle of opposites. Where the Valiant had all the results in the world and never any of the credit, London was a team with almost no accomplishments of note since winning the Stage 1 final but still received the benefit of the doubt because of all the perceived talent on its roster. The storybook ending would have been the team that was overlooked all season overcoming the overhyped team filled with talent in front of its hometown fans to make a stunning road to the finals.
That didn't happen. London's firepower was too much even for a sturdy Valiant squad, and regardless of how inconsistent the Spitfire was, all it took was the team having fun again after getting swept in its first playoff match of the postseason versus the Gladiators to create a team with the highest skill ceiling in the league.
The Valiant should be content, but not overly happy. No team, even the NYXL, at its best can contend with the Spitfire roster when it is at its maximum potential. That doesn't mean the loss still doesn't sting, though.
New York Excelsior
Finished: first (34-6, +83 map differential)
Eliminated by: No. 6 Philadelphia Fusion (semifinals, 2-0)
Team MVP: Bang "JJoNak" Sung-hyeon
This wasn't where JJoNak's journey should have ended in his remarkable rookie season. JJoNak was supposed to be playing at Barclays in Brooklyn in front of a thunderous hometown crowd for the first-ever Overwatch League MVP. The best flex support in the world and the man who will always now be connected with Zenyatta was supposed to have his homecoming in Brooklyn, and now it will never be, as the NYXL got knocked out in the semifinals by a surging Philadelphia Fusion team with a better grasp on the current meta.
Aside from the gut-punch loss, you can't say enough good things about JJoNak in his first season as a pro. In one year, he became the face of a franchise and the best flex-support player in the world, revolutionized the position he plays and made his name synonymous with highlight-reel plays at the support role. Even with the loss to the Fusion, his MVP trophy will still shine as brightly as it did before the defeat, and no one can take away what JJoNak brought to the table in his first season.
Next year, with Ana possibly more in the meta, the scariest possibility might become reality: JJoNak can reach an even higher level.
Offseason mood: forlorn
There is no way to sugarcoat things -- the NYXL screwed up. It didn't sandbag. It didn't take things easy. New York just wasn't as good as Philadelphia, and it got beat, with the first match not even close and the Fusion having the extra push to put down the No. 1 seed in a back-and-forth second set.
NYXL had it all lined up. A top seed, the MVP and a final being held in the city it represents. The fans had already bought tickets in anticipation of the Excelsior swaggering into town ready to beat whoever was unlucky enough to face New York in the finals. Brooklyn was its city, and the XL let down its home fans by not even making it there. This team was strong enough on paper with a good enough coaching staff to get things done, and they all failed, letting Philadelphia deservedly go into the finals with a better chance of toppling an on-fire London squad.
Luxury Watch, the core of the NYXL squad, was probably the most mechanically gifted domestic team in South Korea for a few seasons, but the organization never made a final. Any time it got close to winning APEX, it would falter, slipping up at the wrong time and, for a lack of a better word, choke. Luxury Watch's greatest accomplishment was winning an Intel Extreme Masters event where some of its competitors were hamstrung with substitutes.
Here, the same story held true. Sure, NYXL made all four stage finals and won half of them, but none of those wins is going to make up for the failure in the semifinals. Now, even if New York can somehow replicate its astonishing regular-season performance in 2019, there will be doubts that this team has the mental fortitude to make it to a final. Philadelphia was better prepared for the semifinals, and it showed in full. At the end of the day, the playoff version of the New York XL wasn't good enough to play at Barclays.
The only silver lining to this whole story comes in the form of an 18-year-old who just so happened to be the best player at last year's Overwatch World Cup, where he led his team to the championship. That's right. After a year of playing in the minor leagues and missing the birthday cutoff to play in the 2018 season of Overwatch League, the former Flow3r, Hwang "Nanohana" Yeon-oh, will be eligible to start for the XL next season.
So, while watching the final might be difficult for New York fans, just remember, next season Nanohana and JJoNak could be in the same starting lineup, and maybe their combined powers will be enough to break the Luxury Watch (and now NYXL) choking curse.