BURBANK, California -- On Saturday, the London Spitfire and the Seoul Dynasty passed the first round of playoff tests in the Overwatch League's play-in bracket. London and Seoul advanced to the main playoff stage where they'll take on the New York Excelsior and Vancouver Titans, respectively.
London is the defending Overwatch League champion. Seoul was the team with the highest expectations going into the league's inaugural season and still bears the weight of not meeting those expectations and being South Korea's home team.
It's easy to forget the pedigree of these squads due to both teams' inconsistent performances throughout the 2019 season. London entered this year riding high on a championship win -- a victory that seemed possible because of the talent on the Spitfire roster but unlikely given their 2018 regular season performances. Seoul entered the year focused on redemption for a disappointing inaugural season finish where the Dynasty failed to make a single stage playoff and were eliminated from season playoff contention as well.
Both now have a chance at fulfilling expectations of themselves and their fanbases.
For London, this means greater consistency.
London's preparation for Shanghai was primarily focused on having different gameplans depending on whether Bae "Diem" Min-seong or Yang "DDing" Jin-hyeok was starting alongside Jin "Youngjin" Young-jin in the DPS role. Despite the prep, DDing's Pharah was difficult for London to contain.
Spitfire flex tank Kim "Fury" Jun-ho says he thinks Shanghai is better than some of the teams in the main playoff field based on what he's seen from the Dragons. Even so, the defending champions all but gave their opponent the match but somehow stayed alive on Watchpoint: Gibraltar and King's Row.
The first-to-four series went to an Overwatch League record eight maps and ended on Ilios, where London was able to stave off Shanghai yet again. As the Spitfire began to fold, support Choi "Bdosin" Seung-tae rallied his team.
"I feel like on Ilios Ruins, enemy took it to 99% and we were just thinking, 'Oh, maybe we go to Korea, go home,'" Fury said, "but he said some things about hero changing, strategy and other good things. We heard his voice, and we changed heroes and position. I don't know how we won."
Fury said that in addition to Bdosin's words, he told his teammates to think of the memory of their previous championship, and it helped them focus.
"After we finished the match I just ..."
Fury held out his left arm and pointed to it with his right hand.
"Goosebumps all on my body. ... I never feel goosebumps or that happy at other matches, normal matches, but season one, vs. NYXL, it was the same feeling."
After a pause, Fury leaned back in his chair with a loud sigh.
"I said, 'Overwatch is very fun.'"
While Fury and London drew on their championship memories to beat Shanghai, the Seoul Dynasty are more focused on distancing their 2019 iteration from the memories of a disappointing 2018 season. Due to Seoul's inconsistency, roster swaps, and Stage 4 struggles to adjust to the new meta of a 2-2-2 role lock, Guangzhou was heavily favored as one of the teams to make it out of the play-in stage.
Seoul beat Guangzhou in a more convincing fashion than London beat Shanghai, with a 4-1 scoreline that included a draw on Horizon Lunar Colony. The Dynasty managed to contain the Charge and projectile DPS star from Stage 5, Charlie "nero" Zwarg.
"Guangzhou is good, but we're good enough to go against them," Seoul support Yang "Tobi" Jin-mo said. "Guangzhou has this strength where Nero plays Pharah, and he's really good at that. To counter that, we used McCree, and that worked."
Tobi admitted he didn't know why this current patch seemed to stabilize his team outside of the fact that it had many players who can play Sigma.
"With the meta change, we were trying to focus on each individual player," Tobi said, "and that worked really well. Outside of that, I'm not really sure."
Tobi is used to criticism and disappointment by now, and although the setbacks of Season 1 hurt, they allowed him to provide perspective to younger teammates and keep the Dynasty going in 2019.
"I can't say that we have the best mentality overall if you look at our Stage 2 and 3 matches; in our big matches, we lost because we didn't have good mental, and that could be our weakness," the veteran support player said. "My role is to take care of other players mentality, and as a big brother helping out other players, naturally my mentality also became better."
The truest test of that improvement will come against the Vancouver Titans in the main playoff stage. Although Seoul did upset the NYXL in Stage 1 playoffs this year, this will be the team's first appearance in the larger end-of-season playoff bracket that could potentially net them an Overwatch League title.
"I haven't really thought about it," Tobi said of his first season playoff victory. "Because we were in play-ins, it's not necessarily playoffs yet, so I think if we win the next match, I'll feel like it's a playoff win."