The guy just needed a nap.
It was after lunchtime, and Ji-Hyeok “Birdring” Kim was slouched in his seat in the press room, looking a bit zoned out. His London Spitfire squad had just narrowly lost a five-map game to the NYXL, cementing their fate: two more matches to be played later that day if they wanted to end Stage 1 as champions. The mere thought of that must have been exhausting.
“I think I lost a little bit of focus in the first game against New York because I was tired,” Birdring admitted. “Hopefully I can recharge and get back in shape.”
Nine hours later, the Spitfire returned to the press room as Stage 1 champions, after summoning a superhuman team effort to reverse-sweep that very same NYXL team. Birdring himself had awakened, literally and figuratively, to put forth a devastating performance across all five maps, but especially on Widowmaker (54 eliminations, 15 deaths).
His cold-blooded performance on the Hero was the zenith of the 11 dizzying hours of Overwatch that played out on Saturday at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, three regular-season matches followed by a Stage 1 Finals gauntlet that tested not only the mechanical prowess of the three teams involved, but also their mental fortitude.
London demonstrated the latter in spades, contesting a total of 14 maps, including nine in a row to end the day, and recovering from a two-map deficit against a (relatively) well-rested team that entered the title match feeling relaxed and confident, given their head-to-head victory earlier in the day.
“We were all very exhausted and tired, and that’s why we weren’t able to perform that well, and dropped the first two maps,” said London tank Jae-Hui “Gesture” Hong. “After losing the first two maps, we thought, ‘Hey, we can’t let it end like this.’ So we rallied back and won a game. After that, we were like, ‘Hey, it’s 2-1, might as well.’ So we made it 2-2. So then we said, ‘It’s too close to let go, so we have to win.’ And we ended up winning.”
Gesture said that facing off against the same team twice in a short period of time—as they did with both NYXL and their semifinal opponents, the Houston Outlaws—allowed the team to make the necessary adjustments while the matches were still fresh in their memory.
“Sometimes we drop maps to teams when we have trouble identifying their playstyle,” Gesture explained. “It can be difficult for us to adapt to within the game and the [match] sometimes. But when we have a couple of hours or days between the games to analyze the matches and try to adapt … then we should be able to win.”
London’s 3-1 win over Houston, their second match of the day, hinged on their airtight defense, which produced full holds on both Anubis and Eichenwalde to close out the match. The Spitfire also adapted exceptionally quickly to the NYXL’s strategies between the morning and evening tilts, shutting down their dive game repeatedly over the last three maps of the title match. (It also might have helped that they didn’t have to play two control maps, which were by far London’s weakest map type in Stage 1.)
Saturday’s jam-packed schedule was a unique challenge for all three teams involved in the Stage 1 Finals, who happened to have games scheduled for that day, but especially for the Spitfire. Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer confirmed on Twitter that the league is exploring the possibility of moving future stage finals to a separate day to mitigate the fatigue factor, meaning the Stage 1 Finals may have been the first and last of its kind.
The Spitfire emerged from the crucible $100,000 happier, and with very clear ideas about what they would do to celebrate.
“I want to sleep,” Seung-Tae “Bdosin” Choi whispered into the microphone. Then came a joke about immediately reviewing the game to pick out mistakes.
“Even if we do VOD reviews, it’ll be over Korean barbecue,” Dong-Jun “Rascal” Kim amended, saying they’d probably hit up K-town soon as a team for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
Sleep and leisure time—and probably some VOD reviews as well—are on tap for all 12 teams during the off week, before Stage 2 commences on Wednesday, Feb. 21, with new signings, eight new maps on deck, and a new patch in play. It’s a chance for teams to reset, and an opportunity for new narratives to take root. Questions from Stage 1 may find their answers, while certainties from Stage 1 may give rise to new questions.
Can Houston maintain their surging form and continue to play around a terrific tank duo? Will Boston, considered by many of their peers to be the best dive team in the league, continue to rise? Who will be the next breakout star? Who has their pulse on the shifting meta?
After Saturday’s loss, NYXL captain Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park talked matter-of-factly about the importance of not being complacent. For a 9-1 team, the sentiment is a reminder:
Buckle up—there’s still a long ride ahead.