Photo: Robert Paul (Blizzard Esports)
The Dallas Fuel cannot, mathematically, make the playoffs of the Overwatch League's inaugural season. After three stages of disappointing placements, it just isn't in the cards. Despite that, a new coach and a newfound team confidence are putting them over top competitors. The Fuel can't make the playoffs, but they're kicking arse anyways.
We're two weeks into the final stage of the Overwatch League, and the Dallas Fuel have a 3-1 record. It's the best start the team has had to a stage yet, and the wins are quality; a sweep of stage 3 runner-up Boston Uprising and a 3-1 over the Philly Fusion, as well as a win over the Shanghai Dragons.
They're putting up impressive performances, showing this team is very different from the Fuel we're used to.
Dallas has been an interesting problem for most of the season. Despite having standout players, like Timo "Taimou" Kettunen, Brandon "Seagull" Larned, and Hyeon "Effect" Hwang, the team play was never quite there.
Add in some out-of-game issues and a number of transfers, and the Fuel seemed unable to find its groove.
But in stage 4, the Fuel have clicked together. The Brigitte meta has been especially good for Pongphop "Mickie" Rattanasangchod, who has cut his fair share of highlights on the shield-toting engineer.
The most significant changes between the first three stages - where Dallas placed 10th, 11th, and 11th, respectively — and this stage has been twofold: the addition of Benjamin "uNKOE" Chevasson, a support from the Los Angeles Valiant who seems to slot in with the Fuel quite well; and the hiring of some new coaching staff, led by Aaron "Aero" Atkins.
Atkins coached the Fusion University, Philadelphia's Contenders (think minor league) team, to a North American championship earlier this month. Days later, Atkins was picked up by Dallas, and the benefits are already showing.
The Fuel look more coordinated and have employed new tactics in their approach, like this take of point A on Hanamura that forced the Fusion to split their attention. (Also, this might be just me, but it really rubs some salt in the wound that the Fusion would lose this series to a team coached by its former Contenders coach.)
The Fuel kept this push alive, blitzing into point B and taking it in with over six minutes still on the clock. While the Fuel's games against Shanghai, Boston, and even their loss to the Los Angeles Gladiators had great moments, their match last night against the Philly Fusion really showed how far this team has come.
On King's Row, the Fuel synced up a beautiful combination, where Mickie's shield bash on Brigitte set up a massive hammer strike from Son "OGE" Min-seok's Reinhardt. The Dallas Fuel is playing its best Overwatch of the season right now.
The irony of all of this is that the Fuel mathematically cannot make the season playoffs. To make the cut, they would need more wins than possible to achieve in a single stage.
The top six teams qualify for the season playoffs based on their overall record. At a current season record of 9-25, they only have 6 games left to play, and the current 8th place team - the Houston Outlaws - has 18 wins. Dallas could win every game and still not surpass Houston, let alone break into the top six. In essence, even a potential stage 4 win wouldn't mean anything come season playoff time. So why rally now?
In an interview with Unikrn, Atkins said he wants to have "a good showing." The structure needs to be in place not now, but in the future.
It's a unique position that a franchised league system allows; a team may not be successful now, but they can be in the future. They're in the building process. Often times, competitive scenes can be focused on the now, where a tournament placing means the difference between making a profit or netting a loss.
The Fuel have had a tough season, and even a run for the top of the stage won't salvage their playoff chances. But they can at least end the inaugural season on a high, hopeful note, and for now, that might be enough.