This weekend, Overwatch League's first season — at times thrilling and at others absolutely gruelling — reaches its conclusion. The final showdown pits two inconsistent underdog teams, Philadelphia Fusion and London Spitfire, against each other in a match that just so happens to sum up the vibe of the whole season.
Sports are, first and foremost, about competitors throwing every last ounce of ability and guile they've got at each other in an effort to see who's best. But that's only part of what makes them interesting. Without sports storylines, we wouldn't have sports emotions — some of the most intense feelings it's possible for a human being to feel.
Like any big, season-capping match should be, the Overwatch League grand finals are rife with climactic narratives. Here are the biggies.
The London Spitfire started off the season as one of the best teams and also, more of a fusion than Fusion in that its roster was a combination of two top-tier pre-OWL Korean teams. London even managed to reverse-sweep New York Excelsior and win the stage one finals in an absolutely bonkers match.
Then inconsistency, injuries and questionable trades got the better of them and their season turned into a wacky (read: depressing) roller coaster ride. Few expected them to defeat the ever-stalwart but rarely great LA Valiant and make it into the grand finals, but here we are.
Philadelphia Fusion, meanwhile, has overachieved and underachieved in equal measure. The squad started out in the middle of the pack, but they made waves by being the first team to topple the consensus best team in the league, the New York Excelsior.
Philly also nearly won the stage two finals, only for NYXL to get their revenge in a heated rematch. In the season one semifinals, Philly faced NYXL once again and won, bringing everything full circle. However, Philly has shown a remarkable ability to fall to pieces in big moments throughout the season, both by tilting under pressure and failing to keep their trademark aggression in check while ahead on the scorecards.
No one expected either of these teams to make it here. They're two of the league's most hot-and-cold teams and they were both underdogs in their semifinal matches. This was most clear in Philly's case; NYXL seemed like a shoe-in as the grand finals poster child and Blizzard even chose a venue in Brooklyn, NY. But because the trickster gods whose fickle whims dictate sporting outcomes scoff at human trivialities like hopes and dreams, that plan crumbled.
The beginning of this season feels like eons ago, but back then, everybody was losing their damn minds over showdowns between the Dallas Fuel, which was a who's-who of popular players and Seoul Dynasty, a team that had the gall to declare themselves a dynasty before the league even kicked off.
Other teams, too, dealt with burnout and lineup overhauls as the season dragged on. London and Philly had their own ups and downs like every other team, but in the end, they were both just a little bit better at holding onto the handlebars during OWL's roller coaster of a first season.
London and Philadelphia played against each other five times over the course of the regular season. Early on, London made Philly look silly, sweeping them 4-o once during stage 1 and once during stage 2.
Philly, though, got the better of all their encounters after that, winning 3-2, 3-2 and 3-1 in the stage 2 playoffs, stage 3 and stage 4, respectively. Their matches of late have been close and competitive, in part because the teams are pretty similar stylistically, but Philly seems to have the edge. That said, this will be their first time facing off in the current meta, so anything is possible.
Both London and Philly looked fantastic during their semifinal matches, demonstrating a mastery of the current tank-and-sniper-heavy meta that their opponents — LA Valiant and NYXL, respectively — couldn't overcome. But can these two notoriously inconsistent teams keep that momentum rolling into the biggest stage of the entire OWL thus far?
On their best nights, London and Philly's players are some of the most individually talented in the league, but teamwork can be an issue for both teams. Philly is more prone to getting emotional, while London's communication can crumble in high pressure situations.
Of the two teams, London's turnaround from middling regular season matches to a triumphant set of playoff matches was the most stark, but that also means there's more cause for scepticism. Which London will show up? Which Philly will show up? Depending on the answer to that question, we might see a one-sided thrashing, a competitive thriller, or any number of things in between.
London's DPS duo, Ji-Hyeok "Birdring" Kim and Jun-Young "Profit" Park, used to be considered the best in the league. But when London declined in the regular season, so did they. They seem to have found their old form again in the playoffs, racking up a string of wicked plays on heroes like Widowmaker, Tracer and Hanzo.
The question, though, is whether they can match the feverish pace of Philly's DPSes, Jae-Hyeok "Carpe" Lee and Josue "Eqo" Corona, who have stolen the reputation of the league's best DPS duo. Keep an eye out for flanking Widowmakers during the finals, as those players will set the tone for many teamfights before they've even begun.
The current double-sniper meta means that Hanzo will also be an instrumental pick, with his penchant for devastating barrages and tide-turning ults.
Philly is a flexible team and that flexibility proved to be NYXL's kryptonite, but most of the team's strategies revolve around Carpe and Eqo taking the lead while the rest of the team supports them or stays out of the way.
Philly might have the edge in offensive prowess, but a clear-headed London can adapt with smart comp changes, since they're more well-rounded, with superior tank and support lines.
Despite not getting the airtime they deserve, good supports are absolutely crucial in the Overwatch League. In this match, London and Philly's supports both find themselves in tricky spots. London's Seung-tae "Bdosin" Choi is actually a top-tier DPS player who just happens to wear the robot monk costume because he can do support just as well.
Given how often the current meta calls for supports to flex to other roles, Bdosin's backup DPS skills are a godsend for London.
On the Philly side of things, pay close attention to Mercy, played by Alberto "Neptuno" González. More so than perhaps any other Mercy in the league, Neptuno goes for it. Risky resurrections are his specialty and he has a knack for timing them such that Philly gets an improbable second lease on life during gnarly encounters.
He also likes to occasionally go on full-out offensives... as Mercy. When doing these things, though, he tends to leave himself exposed and London's DPS line will feast on that if they get the opportunity.
Both Philly and London are aggressive teams, but Philly is a bit more high-risk, high-reward. While that worked well against a creaky NYXL, a reinvigorated London theoretically has many more tools in its toolbelt to dismantle Philly's well-oiled offence.
DJ Khalled Out
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the most important OWL grand finals storyline of all: For some reason, DJ Khaled is playing the event. You might remember him as that guy who is famously bad at sex.
Interestingly, the co-main event of the grand finals has already happened. DJ Khaled and Overwatch League host Malik Forté went head-to-head. Malik won.
Hmmm, sooooo I just wanna go on record and say that pleasuring a woman through means of foreplay is paramount and in my humble opinion if you don't participate then you whack, wtf selfish ass, good luck incel.
That's all. Carry on.
— Malik Forté ???? (@Malik4Play) July 25, 2018