2021 is positioned to be the Fuel’s best season yet. The ball is in their court.
Three years running now the Dallas Fuel have amassed a litany of disappointing finishes, and after their latest disaster this season, it can’t get much worse. Frankly, they’ve constantly grazed success so often, and they’ve come just short of landing with a strong mix of players, but they eventually always fall apart. They can do better, we’ve seen them do better. However, that’s the end to the negative talk, Dallas is on the come up, and the 2021 season is positioned to be their best season yet.
Even with a brief franchise audit, you can see just how disappointing the Fuel has been, historically speaking. Their approach heading into the 2018 inaugural season was sound; take Team EnVyUs, one of the most dominant western teams in early Overwatch, as their core, build around them, and begin their assumed dynasty. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. With a rotating door of suspensions and new players coming and going, it was clear Dallas was having internal turmoil which resulted in stunted growth. That said, Stage 4 of 2018 saw them show some signs of success as they finished the stage in fourth and earning the franchise its first stage playoffs. However, that wouldn’t detract from their regular-season performance, and the Fuel ended the 2018 Overwatch League season 10th in the league with a 12-28 match record.
If you were to assess the Fuel’s 2019 based on their end of season standings, you’d assume it was another non-starter; however that was fairly far from the case. Yes, Dallas finished last in their division, but their division was easily the more dominant one holding multiple top seeds like the Vancouver Titans and the San Francisco Shock. The Fuel ended Stage 1 narrowly missing out on their stage playoffs, something that should be respected. However, it would be in Stage 2, where the potential would return. The Fuel would end the stage with a 6th seed and a berth into the stage playoffs—and that’s where the glowing review ends. The Dallas Fuel took a stark plummet, finishing Stage 3 with a match record of 1-6 and ending the fourth and final stage winless. They started off strong but gassed well before playoffs came around.
With echoes of the season previous, 2020 had the Fuel, again, with a lot of promise. With some explosive DPS and role players situated around them, the Fuel started the season going 2-4 while also taking the San Francisco Shock to a nail-biting fifth game. This roster had heaps of potential, but things slowly began to fall apart. May Melee was a decent enough showing, the Fuel defeated the Outlaws and advanced to lose to the Shock. No harm in losing to the Eternal in the first round of the Summer Showdown. The Countdown Cup had the Fuel show similar promise.
They defeated the Justice in a close game but would find the Shock, for a third time this season, and unfortunately lose. No harm no foul with that, but the problems began to catch up with them as the cloudy situation with DPS ace Jang "Decay" Gui-un’s unceremonious departure from the team that early in August. This left the team without their star player and with worrisome playoff expectations, ones that would prove true when they would find themselves starring down the barrel of the Justice, who also happened to be wielding their former star player against them. The Fuel would convincingly lose to the Justice, 0-3, ending their playoff dreams before they could even fall asleep.
Now that the doom and gloom is set aside, we can bring in some positive news; the Fuel are flipping the table and cleaning house, one way or another, for 2021 and that should bring some hope to Texas. Head coach Aaron "Aero" Atkins and assistant coaches Kang "Vol'Jin" Min-gyu and Louis "Tikatee" Lebel-Wong have all been released as the Fuel head into the Overwatch League’s fourth season. Along with that French support player, Benjamin "uNKOE" Chevasson, has retired from professional Overwatch. This already has opened up the possibilities of a new regime coming into Dallas and refining down some of the more promising things they’ve built and rest assured, there are good attributes about this team and this franchise.
This season shouldn’t be considered a complete wash due to some outstanding situations that might steal the headlines. Yes, they have a checkered past with players, we can’t ignore that, but year on year the Fuel have gotten better at building out their team, and the hope is that with such a big support staff rehaul those problems can finally be put behind them. That said, the Fuel do have some nest eggs that they’ve placed this season that can easily become franchise all-stars come next season. Take someone like Stefan "Onigod" Fiskerstrand, a player who is deceptively experienced and who had a standout rookie season with a team that was disappointing. This is a player who has quite literally been playing since the first few competitive Overwatch events start to take root. That kind of longevity is not something you can simply gloss over.
William "Crimzo" Hernandez is rightfully earning respect as a feared western flex support player with the performance he had this season. His Ana and Zenyatta, for the majority of the season, have been the bedrock to the Fuel’s success.
We all saw what Kim "Doha" Dong-ha could do in Overwatch Contenders, we all saw what Doha did in the Overwatch League, there isn’t much that needs to be said when evaluating his stock within this team. This is a player you should absolutely be aiming to keep, at least when looking at their performance, and someone that can become a vital tool in the Fuel’s revitalisation in 2021.
If there were ever stocks to double-down on, players to invest all the time and effort in the world in building up, these are the types of players you need. Now proven track record and experience only goes so far, we don’t need another 2018 roster again, but closely examine where these players have come from. The rookies of the future, the next generation of talent are quickly climbing the mountain and the Fuel, historically, have been quick to the Contenders show.
Now is the time to fill out the roster with young and promising players that will filter up in the next few seasons. If you want a bold move and want to cement yourselves as the new and improved Dallas Fuel; commit to a stellar rookie player whose currently ineligible due to their age. Scoop up the next Jay "sinatraa" Won, or Kim "SP9RK1E" Yeong-han and invest in building for the future. It is imperative to stop with the rose-tinted roster move and look ahead by looking below—and to the Fuel’s credit, they’ve done with successfully this season! We just have to see them continue on this course, and they will slowly and steadily improve.
This is the first time since 2018 Stage 4 that the Fuel have gone under the knife and seriously retooled and evaluate their performance. Along with the moves they made going into 2020, which would have positioned them to succeed, we should have some warranted cautious optimism. With 2021 be another season of missed potential? It’s difficult to say, but with how much that has and will assumedly change in the coming weeks, the odds are in favour of the Dallas Fuel having a solid return to form. For all intents and purposes, this will likely be a fresh start for one of the most beloved franchises in the league. With a new cabinet of coaches, some added flexibility and direction to their roster, and a needed fresh coat of paint, the Dallas Fuel could easily see a franchise turn around in the 2021 season.
All things considered, 2021 should be the Dallas Fuel’s season. The ball is in their court.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment