The rumors began bubbling to the surface at the beginning of the week: The Seoul Dynasty were performing well in scrims.
Not just the starters, though. In a twist that seemed irrelevant at the time, the squad's backups were excelling against starters for other rosters, particularly on Control maps.
And then, the starting roster for Seoul's first map against the New York Excelsior was announced. Main tank Baek "Fissure" Chan-hyeong wasn't starting. Neither was the majority of what was considered Seoul's starting lineup.
The social media reaction was instant and relentless. It was last year's Los Angeles Gladiators in the season playoffs all over again -- Fissure overwhelming yet another team and being benched because of it. Surely this would be a 3-0 NYXL sweep. Star Zenyatta player Bang "JJoNak" Sung-hyeon's broadcast quip to legacy support player Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong would easily come to fruition.
"Jehong," JJoNak had said via a translator, "I will make sure you never win against me."
Four maps later, after a 3-1 Overwatch League win for the Dynasty on Thursday at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California, a grinning ryujehong tossed his head a bit with pride.
"Last night before I was going to sleep, I was actually thinking about this. 'What if I win? What if we, Seoul Dynasty, defeat NYXL?'" ryujehong said in Korean. "And I guess all I can say is this: Sung-hyeon-ah, we did it. We won."
The use of that name, "Sung-heyon-ah," was deliberate. It's a casual iteration of JJoNak's name, a subtle dig at the 2018 Overwatch League MVP. Ryujehong was quietly putting JJoNak in his place and reminding the world that he, too, was once considered the best player in the world.
"I think [the win] means a lot to ryujehong," said Seoul main tank Hwang "Marve1" Min-seo, a member of the roster that took over on Control maps and gave the Dynasty their early lead against NYXL, "but also it's just a really exciting thing for us."
The victory set up Seoul for a matchup against the Vancouver Titans in the semifinal following the No. 1 seed's 3-0 sweep of the eighth-seeded Boston Uprising. The Dynasty will be the underdogs in that matchup, too, but if the mass lineup swaps work out again, Seoul might take down another unbeaten squad.
The upset victory Thursday began with a surprisingly fast 2-0 on Illios, with Marve1 and Seoul's so-called "B" squad, which had lost 3-0 earlier that week in Seoul's tiebreaker match against San Francisco Shock, dominating a previously unbeaten New York. Fielding the Control specialist lineup first on Ilios was a purposeful strategy born of careful preparation and planning.
"About five days ago, we decided to go with this strategy of mixing up all the people," Marve1 said. His tank play and Kim "Zunba" Joon-hyeok's D.Va play were important factors in the quick 2-0 point cap. "The roster that played the Control map is the best at doing it, so that's why we picked this strategy.
"It was my honor to play on the starting roster against the NYXL today. I was very nervous, and I thought it would be way harder than how it went today, so I was happy."
After that first game, four members of Seoul's lineup swapped out for Fissure and the rest of the regular starters. The Dynasty, which were 0-6 against the NYXL going into this matchup, proceeded to break out to a 2-0 lead.
"People need to stop calling it the B squad. We call it the Control squad," Gen.G chief growth officer Arnold Hur said. "Each team composition was optimized for each map. Because we have such a deep team, we can show different looks based on what the coaches have planned. All the credit goes to the coaches and the players all focused on winning versus individual play.
"Feels good to show a great performance, but this is still Round 1 of Stage 1. We want to just keep getting better every stage."
Last year, Seoul entered the league as heavy favorites but were eventually ripped apart by viewers and analysts for their lack of flexibility. Small hero pools and conflicting views from multiple members of a large coaching staff ultimately did Seoul in. Not only did they fail to make a single stage playoff last year, but they also didn't make it to the season playoffs.
This win over one of last year's strongest lineups is the first step toward erasing last year's struggles from memory.
"We want to show [our fans] more, and we want to be better," Marve1 said. "Once we have our 12-player roster, it's going to give us a chance to do more internal scrims. That's going to help us have more strategies. Also, we will be able to study more.
"Our asset right now is our coaching staff. They're really smart, and they help us out a lot. The fact that we have more players, that's also to our advantage."
The scrim rumor gods don't smile on most teams. They are much more likely to curse than to be a harbinger of victory. Yet, if they were to smile on any team, it's fitting that it was the Seoul Dynasty, who have struggled to find their footing on stage for over a year. Now having defeated the NYXL so handily in the Stage 1 playoffs, the only question now is of how far they can go.
As for any friction with Fissure and the team, Marve1 said that their dynamic is actually quite the opposite of what preliminary social media reactions to Seoul's starting main tank being absent from the Game 1 lineup assumed.
"We have a good relationship in the way that we give feedback to each other," Marve1 said, "but on top of that we also share a lot of good tips on how to play well. Also in terms of good location or positioning, we share that together."
They shared a first on Thursday, too: a victory against a rival and reminder of just how good the Dynasty can be.