Could the London Spitfire steal the 2023 OWL Playoffs?
The 2023 London Spitfire have marched through the Play-In gauntlet and have booked their tickets to Toronto, Ontario, Canada. One question remains; can they waltz into the playoffs as a real threat?
Given the new patch in the balance and the new map pool, we think London could easily steal the show. The inaugural champions are saddled up for a subtly deep run in what is shaping up to be the final Overwatch League season.
Six Foot Narratives
The London Spitfire should not be here - especially if dated narratives are your bag.
For far too long, there was a prevailing idea that good players just made good teams, with more money spent on stars meaning that the wins were sure to emerge eventually.
After two years now of repeated and familiar success, London would like to have a word with the author of the tallest tale in esports.
Towards the fall of 2022, GGRecon published information regarding North American Overwatch League franchise budgets. Ranking them based on an alphabetical tier system, the London Spitfire was given a D and within arms reach of the lowest budget that year domestically.
And with little changing about their roster moving into 2023, it is a safe assumption that it wasn't their menagerie of resources keeping their head above water.
Their players alone have been solid individually, but together they're the definition of a sum far larger than their parts.
And past that, 2022's Coach of the Year, Christopher "ChrisTFer" Graham, keeps picking the same squad, reinforcing a playstyle that keeps winning plaudits.
The same starting five. The same coaches. ChrisTFer and the Spitfire staff have accomplished what Flamel could not. This Spitfire system is modern-day alchemy.
It's their movement and positioning that have left the league stupified.
How Did London Do It?
London's macro is both one-track but branching and deep all at the same time.
Everything offensively centres around Symettra's Teleporter.
The most common play for the Spitfire has been to send all five of their players through, using Baptiste's Amplification Matrix and pairing that with Bastion. This punishes any sort of hesitation or untimely rotations as shown by their match versus the San Francisco Shock.
At times they can be tricky with what seeing their Teleporter even means. Take this play from their series versus the Boston Uprising.
Keep an eye on Hadi "Hadi" Bleinagel as he walks through the Teleporter, stands there for a moment, teleports back and finds purchase on the Uprising backline.
Another way London shows how versatile Teleporter can be is by jabbing out with an individual flank.
If we keep our eyes on Jamie "Backbone" O'Neill during the x-ray here, we can see him solo teleport toward the high ground, giving him a crossfire of the choke the Shock are attempting to push through.
As the observers switch to free cam, we can see him spamming down the choke completely uncontested, leaving San Francisco slightly dazed and confused.
While this completely baiting Teleporter and sending no one through was rare, it paid dividends in their playoff-clinching head-to-head with the Toronto Defiant.
Here we see Backbone set up London's standard Teleporter toward the more enclosed area towards the left side of the first objective.
Toronto assumes that they will continue that game script and Isaiah "Hydron" Rodriguez takes an extra second to punish what seems like a slow rotations.
Turns out; the plan was to never send anyone and catch the Defiant looking.
The Spitfire live by their Teleporters and dies by them as well because, without them, their offence is hamstrung.
The upside is that no one is ever quite sure if Hadi is coming in for a lightning-fast Earthshatter or if the entire team is going to Speed Boost toward their support.
It's that type of chaos theory that will only continue to provide fruit as London flies into Toronto, Ontario.
There is something in sports where a losing team becomes fair-weather fans of the team that eliminated them. To say 'our team was knocked out by the champions' takes the sting out of the loss. That said, whether or not the Spitfire is walking into the lion's den or a welcoming Mattamy Athletic Centre remains to be seen.
What is becoming more clear is that the patch the Overwatch League playoffs will be playing on will be changing.
With the new meta that sits on the horizon, the new map pool awaiting the playoffs, and the new scrim bubbles that have emerged, the 2023 playoffs are a chance ball and anyone could make the save. And by anyone, we also mean the Reinhardt one-trick team that has blazed a trail through the play-ins.
Yes, the London Spitfire have a real shot at not just sending some folks home at Toronto, but perhaps even making it out of the, fairly confusing, GSL-style group stage.
Whether or not you understood the draft or the format is irrelevant, what is important is this; London found their way into the easier group, one that holds two keys.
The Boston Uprising and the Hangzhou Spark.
The former quickly dispatched the Spitfire to advance through the Play-Ins. However, that was on the previous metagame.
The latter has no experience playing against how explosive and tricky London's Teleporters are and has to travel to Canada, which cannot be ignored.
This presents a tangible hole for London to exploit.
Rumour mills aren't always the most trustworthy but let's work with what we've got. Word on the street is that with Overwatch's newest patch, Zarya and Genji are big winners. This gives us a good idea of where the playoff metagame could head at least initially.
And that's perfect for London.
If we think back to the 2022 Kickoff Clash there was a tank trifecta between Zarya, Doomfist, and Reinhardt. Furthermore, they tended to counter each other in sequential order, Zarya having a solid matchup with the Doomfist composition and so on.
While we admittedly are skimming details, Reinhardt historically has not been a bad matchup when looking down the barrel of a Zarya metagame. His tendency to align with very direct engage-heavy compositions makes it difficult for the Zarya team to get the ball rolling.
On top of that, what pressure does London face? They weren't supposed to make it this far anyway. They are the dogs in this fight, hungry pups with a chip on their shoulder and nothing to lose. Everyone knows what they're going to do and no one can prepare for it because no one quite does it like the Spitfire.
So if you're a hyper-stylistic team, with no pressure, in a chaotic game state placed in the far easier of the two groups, your chances of advancing are not just alive, they're subtly good.
Trade the superstars for style and this run echoes quite heavily their 2018 championship run. It is time to face the facts; the London Spitfire are a threat no one sees coming.
They're a threat that does not abide by the rules, is not afraid to gimmick, and will force you to adapt. And sometimes world titles ride in on a dark, dark horse.