What can the first iteration of the London Spitfire teach us about teams?

19:30, 30 Jan 2021

Everyone asks what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, but no one considers when they work together—and maybe we shouldn’t. In that way, superteams like the 2018 London Spitfire are a gamble. We cannot argue the skill that London collected on their roster was impressive. Obviously, it earned them the inaugural Overwatch League title, but past that, we’re left wondering what happened to such a promising roster?

Through hindsight, we can look at and begin to speculate as to why thohis roster, as well as many others throughout the history of esports, tend to not live up to expectations.

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With their actions during the initial building process, their consistency issues over two seasons of play, on top of their strange roster decisions, the 2018-2019 London Spitfire did not exude the most balanced team dynamic. In that way, let’s strip away the Overwatch and the esports flair for a moment; how do you generally create a healthy team?

Ideally, teams are crafted to be a balance of both hard and soft team skills. To put it simply; you want good players but also good teammates. These attributes are necessary in order to have a successful group dynamic. Things like communication, work ethic, empathy, personal expertise, general confidence both in and out work, accountability, and leadership are just some of the attributes that teams not only look out for but have to keep in check. If you lean to far on either end of the spectrum, problems begin to occur, and cracks begin to show. 

Let’s put this into role-playing game (RPG) terms; think of this like dumping all your stat points into strength. Once you enter the dungeon, you’re going to have a bad time. You lack the dexterity to dodge or disarm the traps, and with no intellect, what should be a harmless curse turns into a nightmare. Sure you cleve those goblins in two, but the aim should be a balance.

However, no team is built perfectly. Everyone team that has ever and will ever exist will have its own problems, but that’s where the support staff comes in to play. And this is another avenue that London presumably had difficulties with, especially in season one.

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Shortly before the start to Stage 1 in 2018, coach Hong "Agape" Cheol-yong, announced that he’d be leaving the London Spitfire. That March, head coach Lee "Bishop" Beom-joon, steps away from the team. And that April, Agape was welcomed back to the active roster. If that gives you whiplash, think of what it must have been like as a player—and that’s not to blame the management either. 

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When the decision was made to sign both KongDoo Panthera and GC Busan, it was always going to be hard to facilitate all of the players, the systems, and the staff that came with that. And it is one exciting gambit to play knowing you have such a wealth of talent, but that is too much burden to realistically function the way your daydreams see it. There really is no one to blame; it’s a trap, a gamble that looks super enticing to play, but often doesn’t go to the moon.

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To return to the RPG for a moment, without a consist voice leading the dungeon group, you’re bound to indecision and will likely run into every trap the boss has laid out for you. All that gold you spent gearing your character doesn’t mean much when the dungeon isn’t cleared.

Now, to those that argue that London did proverbially clear the dungeon; are they together today? Is that same core of players still performing well on the Spitfire or has all their talent dispersed all across the world like the Dragon Balls after a wish?

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These are some of the biggest reasons as to why teams that, on paper, should be amazing, often crumble, and possibly why the London Spitfire had a difficult time in the consistency department and had as many questions orbit them throughout their first iteration.

  • Why were Stages 3 and 4 during the inaugural season such a far cry away from their playoff performance?
  • What happened during the 2019 playoffs? Throughout the play-in tournament, they looked impressive. Then they bottom out when it counts.
  • And it’s difficult to point towards mechanical skill when you house two of the best pre-Overwatch League teams and a slew of MVP calibre talent.  

So, how do you avoid nose-diving and set your team to cruise control? Let’s look at some of the present and future success stories and compare them to the 2018 Spitfire.

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Taking a step back, look at the APEX era of RunAway, for example. Yoon "Runner" Dae-hoon was far from the perfect Lucio, but he balanced out and was able to offset his gameplay woes with his impeccable leadership and more soft team skills. Combine that with the right star players with the right hard team skills, and you’ve got a dynamite team. 

While the San Francisco Shock are a tough example to argue, they didn’t start out as the presumed super team we know them as today. Let’s not forget that during season one, the Shock was not the same championship calibre team we know today. However, head coach Park "Crusty" Dae-hee careful retooling from the top down turned them around from a middle-pack team to two-time world champions. 

Another prime example of that same evolution through a measured approach comes by way of the Florida Mayhem. Take what Albert "yeHHH" Yeh and Kim "KuKi" Dae-kuk have done with a roster that didn’t really leap off the page when we look back at the 2020 preseason and look where they are now. Their rebuild from top to bottom balanced the team, put a strong coaching staff in place, and now they see the fruit of their labours.

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Even the 2021 London Spitfire rebuild takes a much more balanced and measured approach to this whole argument. General manager Ysabel "Noukky" Müller has been extremely transparent in what her goals are with the team and from those first principals, the open environment that she and her staff aim to foster will likely see them exceed expectations in the coming season.

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There is a common denominator in all of these team; either in or around the players, there is someone with strong leadership skills that can rally them together and keep everything in check. All these teams were, or are yet to be, relatively balanced and found ways to offset their problems with the creation of a supportive and healthy system. 

Could it have been the wrong coaches for the wrong team? Possibly. Could the initial roster-building been more thoughtful? Maybe. We can always chase “what-ifs” with the London Spitfire, but what we do know is whatever happened, it didn’t work. That early iteration of the Spitfire shows us that even with an apparent embarrassment of riches, teams can fumble when it comes to balancing out their dynamic. While we often want to take the pick of the litter when it comes to building out our hypothetical dream teams, in reality, it rarely works that way. Considerations need to be made regarding the social balance of the team. Taking two different teams with two different systems and expecting them to function under one roof is a fool’s errand.

The London Spitfire teach us that while good players can play for good teams, good teams beat a collection of good players. This balanced approach must always be in the driver’s seat if your team’s goal is long term success. 

 

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Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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