Or at least it doesn’t have to be.
You may have heard that the new giants New York Excelsior, comprised of former Luxury Watch players, have won stage two of Overwatch League’s inaugural season. This comes after a playoff round upset where Philadelphia Fusion triumphed over London Spitfire. Or, perhaps you may have heard of the never-ending saga of Dallas Fuel’s public drama, this time starring coach KyKy and players aKm and Rascal. Or maybe you remember back in stage one, Seoul Dynasty captain ryujehong emphasizing the strength of Houston Outlaws and their player Jake. It sounded so outrageous that he had to clarify that he wasn’t trolling.
What do these things have in common? They’re part of a strange narrative that’s existed since before the preseason: that the League is West vs East. Western teams’ big goal has to be taking down the “eastern teams” which include London Spitfire and New York Excelsior but also the kings on the pedestal, Seoul Dynasty. Both fans and League officials (particularly talent) have bought into this narrative wholesale, and while I understand why they have–you need a story thread after all–it’s a flawed premise.
Koreans vs everyone else? Hold up…
Prior to the mid-stage swaps, Seoul Dynasty was mostly comprised of Lunatic Hai players, while London Spitfire snagged both Kongdoo Panthera and GC Busan rosters. Even though Spitfire have since traded some players to other teams, they still have a strong core. Back in APEX, Lunatic Hai were considered the best, but they earned it through a series of ups and downs. Being a fan of the team meant accepting that watching matches would be a rollercoaster, because teams like Kongdoo Panthera and GC Busan were very competitive while Lunatic Hai made mistakes.
While those teams were duking it out in APEX, EnVyUs–now primarily Dallas Fuel–were regularly considered the best of the west. This initially set up a story thread of Fuel vs Dynasty, the regional champs facing off, but this ignored the fact that EnVyUs reigned over a year ago, claiming victory in December 2016. The story of a western team moving to Korea to compete with the best and finding success is an interesting story for sure, but it’s just weird and uncomfortable to me. They didn’t find success because they’re western. They did it because they were good, and the Korean teams weren’t on their level at the time. It’s now been over a year since APEX season 1 and Seoul Dynasty has lost their shotcaller. Meanwhile, western teams have gotten increasingly more competitive.
Given that trades happen between stages, of which there are four in the whole season, this also means that “western” teams, including Dallas Fuel, are likely to have at least one Korean pro on the roster. Notably Spitfire have traded Fissure to LA Gladiators and Rascal to Dallas Fuel, the latter of which already had Korean talent EFFECT. With these rosters, people like to question how and why Koreans are representing New York and London. Nobody is wondering how Misfits/Movistar Riders are representing Florida.
Underestimating is bad for your health
Philadelphia Fusion upset the Spitfire in the stage playoffs. Maybe we should listen to Korean players when they compliment other teams and players. Dismissing their comments as trolling or false compliments does a huge disservice to both sides. The teams scrim with each other all the time and watch VODs in preparation. Who knows better than them? Competition is tightening as strategies are getting finely tuned, and if stage two showed anything, it’s that trades and acquisitions can turn a team around from mid-table to better. It also does a disservice to dark horse teams like New York Excelsior because LW Blue/Red weren’t as popular.
The old teams are dead. They’ve formed new teams with new players. This isn’t APEX. Expectations are understandable, but we should allow things to be shaken up, and we should encourage it. Ultimately, it makes for better, more interesting matches, regardless of a player’s country of origin. Teams will make mistakes or triumph and I hope as Overwatch League progresses, we start to develop more and more interesting, varied stories.