Consistency is Key - Grading London Spitfire’s 2020 Offseason
The London Spitfire ended its 2019 season with a heavy sigh. The inaugural season’s champions had quite the chaotic regular season which culminated with what looked like a possible return to form in the playoffs. Unfortunately, we never got to see that roster rubber band back out of their valley, but it was an eye-opening finish nonetheless, one that undoubtedly paved the road for the team’s reimagination in 2020.
What the Spitfire have established in the offseason is the textbook definition of taking a few steps backward, to move forward, and in my estimation, they’re leading candidates to be given the Fusion Award, the darkhorse team, for the third installment of the Overwatch League. This new vision, that is highly structure focused, has all the makings of a more consistent London Spitfire. And it starts with the roster.
Starting with the frontline we’ve got Choi "JMAC" Dae-Han, a rock-solid main tank who made his name playing in Overwatch Contenders China for the Chengdu Hunter’s academy team, LinGan Esports. Alongside him sits someone who should need no introduction, Shin "BERNAR". As a major focal point for the Philidelphia Fusion’s academy team, Fusion University’s dynastic run through North American Contenders, BERNAR will quickly sit among some of the best flex tanks in the league.
Next are the DPS stable and London has secured quite the gem in young prodigy Lim "Glister" Gil-seong. Pulling him from Seoul Dynasties academy team, Gen.G Esports, Glister has shown, on a number of occasions, that he’s as flexible as they come. Not only can he pull from his hero ocean, but he seems very malleable in his role and can play both hitscan and projectile heroes to a high level, something that is highly sought out after. Pair with him is Lee "Schwi" Dong-jae of RunAway fame. As someone how hasn’t had a chance to really show their skill due to how tank heavy the metagame has been this past year, I’m very interested to see how Schwi compares to the best in the world. If anything I’d wager he’ll fall somewhere towards the middle of the table, but that’s not a bad thing inherently.
And last but certainly not least is the support lineup, which has grown in size but also in ambiguity. Lim "SanGuiNar" Kyu-min joins the team as a true rookie player seemingly coming from the amateur scene in South Korea. Lee "Highly" Sung-hyeok and Kim "Fuze" Tae-hoon are both fairly known quantities with the former playing for O2 Blast and the Seoul Dynasty and the later most recently playing with Fusion University. However, the Spitfire have held onto Jung "Krillin" Yung-hoon who joined the team late into 2018 and we’ve really not got a good sense of who he is or what he’s proficient at, but I’d wager that they’ve held onto him for a reason and we might see that come February.
As for critiques, I would like to see a third DPS, primarily a hitscan specialist. Glister is good but if there happens to be a double-hitscan metagame or if he could fill either of the DPS requirements well enough, it’d be nice for London to have another person to call on. But for the most part, this team doesn’t consist of former champions nor does it have superstars fighting for starting time. It’s mostly just your above average team with its fair share of roleplayers and bright spots.
It feels much more balanced this time around.
I do have my questions around the rookies, but Cloud9 have always seemed to keep their ears to the ground when it came to talent, even looking at the original roster and how it formed, they’ve always done a good job.
Now, have they lost their edge when it comes to mechanical brute force? Yes, it’s hard not to replace two world-class players and not lose some punch, but it’s a question of severity. Glister is an underappreciated talent that can single handily be the cornerstone for this roster’s success and I do have high hopes for the rookie talent entering the roster, but the big picture here is the initiative around creating a healthy team structure, starting with something the Spitfire have needed for a long time; a coaching staff.
Coach Lee "Bishop" Beom-joon lasted until March of 2018. Hong "Agape" Cheolyong then returned to presumably fill in as head coach, a position which he now holds concretely. And legendary South Korean coach Kim "Coach815" Kwang-bok was a bust for one reason or another.
With that in mind, I’d argue that London has never really had a coaching staff. Multiple coaches were thrown at the personalities on the former roster and none of them could seemingly help them improve. Now was this due to a systematic issue from the start where personalities were left to run unchecked and there just wasn’t enough time given to each coach to fix these issues? Possibly, but I think we can agree that something foundationally was rotten about the 2018-2019 London Spitfire.
In Season 1, they had an average placing of approximately 5th.
In Season 2, they had an average placing of approximately 10th place, which with the inflation of the new franchises in 2019 still puts them around the same ranking.
For the talent and money spent, the 2018-2019 London Spitfire roster was not a mid-table roster. This team, on it’s face, was in need of leadership and it showed in their chaotic and seemingly unpredictable performances.
I think that changes this year.
Agape becoming head coach and Yu "Pavane" Hyeon-sang sat alongside him as an assistant coach is a fantastic start to the rebuilding phase and it seems like these acquisitions were done well in advance to rebuilding the roster. This brings some of Overwatch’s best minds to London. Lest we forget, both men worked to lead the LuxuryWatch brand and Pavane, on his own merit, lead NYXL to two fantastic seasons. I don’t think you can boast a resume like that and not have something to do with it, whether it be structure-based management skills or highly involved micro strategies, they must do something right.
Working with the talented duo are Lim "Twinkl" Young-bin and Kim "aWesomeGuy" Sung-hoon, who both bring former player experience and can help mitigate stress, which is going to be at an all-time high with the introduction of travel.
This more structured approach should correct the franchise’s historical lack of guidance and direction. The former roster was horrible at adapting to new patches and meta changes and would consistently lose to opponents they shouldn’t. This positioned the Spitfire perpetually behind the eight-ball.
Season 1 started off on the right foot but cracks began to show once Kim "birdring" Ji-hyeok “injured” his wrist, this forced the team to field a middling roster that was obviously under practiced and lacked synergy.
During Stage 4 we had a patch change and London lost a lot of punch due to having to put Profit on Brigitte to pocket Birdring in the very Widowmaker centric compositions. They also looked frail in their early assessment of GOATS. This only highlighted a general lack of team coordination that had been festering for some time.
Season 2 sang from the same hymn sheet with their shining light being how well Guard’s Sombra performed—but then they stopped utilizing it for some unknown reason. Again, to echo a point I made earlier, the rosters average placing in 2019 was approximately 10th place.
That doesn’t sound like a championship roster to me and I think Cloud9 understood that after season two’s strange finale.
This leaves us with the pièce de résistance; the final grading of the team.
At the start, I was highly skeptical of the team, but thinking through the moves and the problems they were faced with really brightened my view of the 2020 London Spitfire. The roster, as a whole, seems respectable with room to grow, BERNAR and Glister are obvious (and very bright) stars and I think the management has correctly reverse-engineered their 2018-2019 woes and remedied them with some very strong coaching moves.
You might be surprised, but I’m going to give the Spitfire a B+ on their offseason dealings, narrowly missing out on a higher mark due to the fact that I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that they aren’t done announcing players.
I think this is a team that is going to surprise a lot of people and be the new Atlanta Reign of 2019. The London Spitfire are going to be the darkhorse team in 2020, mark my words.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment