Reign Rising: Sephy On Atlanta Rebuild And Offseason

Reign Rising: Sephy On Atlanta Rebuild And Offseason
Images via Blizzard

Written by 

Joseph "Volamel" Franco

Posted 

23rd Mar 2022 16:04

For three seasons, Brad "Sephy" Rajani has been the banner carrier for the Atlanta Reign. Since the franchise’s inception during the 2019 Overwatch League expansion, he has been at the helm helping the team achieve massive success. His efforts coalesced most recently with Atlanta’s astounding second-place finish during the 2021 Overwatch League Playoffs. Riding a season-high, the Reign has been a hot topic when gauging general potency as the league heads into Overwatch 2and not for their retention.

 

 

Sephy gives a peek behind the curtain of the Atlanta Reign’s spectacular 2021 season, how they approached the offseason and gave context to certain acquisitions and notable departures. 

Sephy On Atlanta Reign's Overwatch 2021 Season

"Culmination," Sephy said. When asked to find one word to summarize the 2021 Overwatch League season, Sephy settled on the greatest bookend you could give and supported his statement in kind—and not in the way you might think. "I think we saw the finale of what Overwatch 1 had to offer," he explained. "All the strategies were on display: dive, bunker, poke, rush, and all had their place. Combined with the highest level of individual play in the history of the game, it truly felt like the apex of the last five years."

Given the opportunity to think back on the Reign’s triumphs, Sephy saw the forest for the trees. Yes, Atlanta made three of the four monthly stage finals for the 2021 season and were a consistent domestic threat, but it was the narrative arc that seemed to end with the coming year that caught his attention. When forced to zoom in on their overall successes throughout the last season, a twinge of difficulty and stress pushed through. 

"We absolutely hated not being able to take a break all season having made those Hawai’i qualifications," Sephy said. "During the regular season, our longest continuous break was three days, and that happened only once. We’re still glad we went obviously, but the burnout was real. And because we didn’t get automatic points for the trip the stress levels remained quite high for us as we didn’t lock our top three spot until the very end of the season."

These frustrations were present throughout the season as well. In an interview with Dot Esports, Sephy extrapolated on their demanding workweek within the season. "We scrim, we practice six days a week, and even on that seventh day we’re still kind of playing Overwatch or thinking about Overwatch," he said. Success, in this instance, only brought more opportunity, as the Atlanta Reign would qualify to compete in the stage finals. However, this removed any natural breathing room for the team to schedule a break.  

Working nearly seven days a week, countless hours of practice and review, travelling during a global pandemic, the pressure to perform—it was safe to say Sephy was right. The burnout was not only real but something to be concerned about. That said, that didn’t mean Atlanta was removed from having some incredibly poignant memories of their storybook season. 

Beating the Gladiators

"100% our strong loser’s bracket run to make the grand finals, but specifically the day three victory over the Los Angeles Gladiators," Sephy pointed towards as a season-high. "We strongly felt coming into the playoffs that our biggest competition was Shanghai and Gladiators, so beating them in the playoffs felt like a major validation of our efforts." 

The team booked their tickets to Hawai’i three separate times, the team that narrowly lost to the Chengdu Hunters in the quarterfinals, they battled back through the losers’ bracket of the 2021 playoffs to topple the Washington Justice, the aforementioned Los Angeles Gladiators, the defending world champions in the San Francisco Shock and their domestic leaders in the Dallas Fuel. Four straight wins over highly competitive teams. That feeling of validation came from sturdy ground as well. Sephy mentioned that the team was very confident and practice was going well. They were prepared and "[...] had answers for what most of our opponents liked to play."

Atlanta reign sephy
Click to enlarge

And when you come to think of how the Atlanta Reign started their season—you would swear this all was an impossible daydream of a delusional fan. 

Opening their 2021 season debut, to say the Reign struggled was an understatement. With a 1-3 record by the end of the May Melee with losses to the Florida Mayhem and the Toronto Defiant, season projections were low to start the year. Sephy commented that this was a massive regret of his in the review of the year, specifically strategically. He cited Atlanta’s attempt to match their opponent's Winston and Zarya based dive as the culprit.

"It put four of our players on heroes they were just not amazing at," Sephy explained. "The regret was instant and we quickly changed course."

Past their false start, past the gruelling workweek, they also managed an emergency hospitalisation to the Rookie of the Year winner and offensive ace, Oh "Pelican" Se-hyun.

"The nature of his condition is that after surgery he shouldn’t fly more than needed within the first year, and especially not within six weeks after the operation," Sephy said. "The playoffs were very close to that six-week mark, so we left the final decision to Pelican as to whether he wished to fly to Hawaii or drive to LA and play from the FaZe offices. In the end, we drove him to LA, and it worked out just fine."

They were not the San Francisco Shock of 2019, dominating all season. They were not the London Spitfire, reclaiming their ground during 2018. For the Reign, it was a slow and steady grind into the position they finished in. For all they battled through, the hurdles they jumped, silver looked wonderful on them.

Simply poetic.

Atlanta grew into the team they ended up as. 

This success also would heighten expectations for the coming year. Not only is 2022 going to be a breath of a fresh air with Overwatch 2 being introduced, but for the Atlanta Reign, this will be a change in course for the roster as well.

After such a successful debut, Pelican would not be returning to Atlanta. 

"[Pelican] had hinted during the tail end of the season that he was considering asking for a trade once the season was over, so the request didn’t come as a major surprise," Sephy explained. "He gave us 100% effort all season, despite the health struggles and homesickness, so we did our best to act in kind and wish him all the best in Houston.”

Atlanta reign pelican
Click to enlarge

“He’s still friendly with everyone on the team, lots of joking around on Discord still and banter in scrims just earlier this week. There was no drama in any of this, I think he just wanted to experience something new for 2022.”

With such a pivotal piece missing, Sephy shared what his north star was approaching the murky waters of the 2022 offseason after riding such a high.

"I think we went into the off-season humble in the sense that we didn’t try to predict what 5v5 would look like from a meta-perspective, especially in the context that Team 4 might be quite aggressive with early patches," Sephy said. "So we’ve tried to maintain a balanced roster that covers all the bases. We also made sure to have players who enjoy Overwatch and remain hungry to win, because change isn’t always easy and there will be a lot of grinding needed to replicate our success from last season once again."

Balanced is a humble assessment, especially when looking at Atlanta’s newest support duo hitting the stage come May 5. Christian "Ojee" Han and Benjamin "UltraViolet" David have been stars of the western amateur Overwatch scene since joining American Tornado during the back-end of 2020. Prospects like these surely didn’t come easy and Sephy revealed as much, saying the duo was "[...] hotly contested for sure, I think they had at least four competitive offers from some of the best teams in the North American region."

"The negotiations were not easy as they had a higher offer from a very well respected team.”

"I think in the end they really believed in our vision for 2022 and I’m grateful to have them with us,” Sephy said. “It probably also helped that we built up a small relationship with them earlier in the year because ultimately being on a team together is a very personal thing and having chemistry does matter.” However, they would not be the only rookie the Reign would call upon for the upcoming season. 

After performing admirably on Odyssey, DPS player Lee "Venom" Dong-keun caught the eye of Sephy and his staff. And with his knack for scouting some of the biggest DPS stars, excitement for Venom’s debut has only increased as the offseason drags on. "Scouting wise he’s just been a well-known ladder player for years now, if you watch his POV then you know he has that rare combination of top tier mechanics and high IQ decision making," Sephy said. 

“Within the Reign right now we have two major initiatives going on with him,” he continued.

“The first is to expand his hero pool from just Tracer, to include other flanking DPS such as Reaper and Sombra. The second is to have him continue to improve his English. We’ve yet to provide a full-time translator for him—we’ve just thrown him into the deep end and I couldn’t be prouder of the dedication he’s been showing in learning to swim on his own—with the help of his English teachers of course." These rookie stars would be the new faces of the Atlanta Reign, but the staff also has seen its fair share of changes recently as well.

 

 

Newly promoted Assistant Coach Danny "Danny" Mychakov has been working in the background for the Reign since the team's debut. Now in a more public-facing role, Sephy commented on the young prodigy's new title and role within the team.

"The promotion doesn’t really change anything, the entire team operates in a collaborative environment and Danny has been a part of that since the team’s inception in season two," Sephy said. "The analyst role never really meant much, he’s basically always been a coach who can churn out a nice spreadsheet when we need it but that never really defined his job."

"In terms of improvement, he’s just matured and has gotten better at communicating his ideas to the group and connecting with people on a personal level. So I expect him to do even better this season with the direct feedback he gives to our players."

2022 and Overwatch 2 would demand all hands on deck. Danny, Venom, Ojee and UltraViolet as well as the returning members of the team would need to be in top form if the Reign hoped to improve on their second-place finish in 2021. And early results have looked promising.

When asked how well he expected the new look Reign to perform and if things were already going well, Sephy had some high praise to give. 

"We’re off to a great start," he said. "We had a similarly good start in the 2021 pre-season so I rate this as a very good sign."

Stubbornly determined to not be struck with the complacency of a silver medal or to be held down by the spectre of expectation, Sephy and the Atlanta organisation hold lofty but attainable goals, all things considered. 

Can the most overlooked team in the west earn gold?

Can the golden support duo from North America land true?

"We aim for the title every year, that’s simply an aspiration that starts at the top with our great management."

With some of the strongest narratives, with some massive shoes to fill, Sephy and the Atlanta Reign will host some must watch Overwatch as they battle the Florida Mayhem and the New York Excelsior during Overwatch League’s opening week.

May 5th begins the rise of the Reign.

 

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