The Dallas Fuel Have Finally Caught Fire
After three long years, Dallas, Texas, can finally call itself the heart of competitive Overwatch. The Dallas Fuel have finally captured gold for the first time in franchise history at the 2021 Overwatch League May Melee. Starting on top of the world with former champions and legends of the game, only to crash and burn in a disappointing tuft of grey sooty smoke, the Fuel has always been associated with greatness but have rarely ever caught a glimpse of it themselves.
That has all changed.
The 2021 Dallas Fuel are now the kings of spring and not only survived through—but thrived in—the May Melee. They walked through fire to become champions in more ways than one. Both the franchise and many of the players that now call the Dallas Fuel home, faced their fair share of adversity—but from the remains of a wildfire springs new life. The Fuel has used each opportunity to cultivate a championship calibre team. However, growth does not happen equally and consistently.
The Fuel’s win at the May Melee is impressive just on the merit of winning a tournament. However, when you look at their road to the title, it is littered with what we all thought were some of the best teams coming into this event. Just to qualify, the Dallas Fuel had to play against the Houston Outlaws, the Los Angeles Gladiators, and the Washington Justice. To make it to Hawai’i, they had to play the San Francisco Shock as well as the Houston Outlaws again. What makes it even more absurd is that they won both those matches without dropping a map. However, the opponents they fell along the way weren’t the only obstacles the Fuel faced on their road to the May Melee title.
Before the season had even started, the Dallas Fuel faced a drastic blow. Hitscan DPS Jung "Xzi" Ki-hyo was not healthy and decided to step away from the team. This left a gaping hole in the Dallas Fuel’s DPS rotation, one that from the outset looked like a death knell. Without someone to pilot McCree, the dominant style in the west would just run them over and smother them before things began to catch. However, the Fuel’s coaching staff found ways to not only protect their embers but to see them flourish as well.
Initially, Dallas tried to integrate Doomfist into the standard Rush skeleton. It presented a threat to their opponents, but it didn’t seem to have consistent legs. However, they did find success on maps where they could run Winston and D.Va exclusively. This allowed their DPS to find comfort in flanking heroes like Sombra, Genji, and at later stages, Tracer. This lessened the need for a dedicated hitscan DPS player and made Xzi’s absence slightly less pronounced.
One fine example of this style in action happened during the Dallas Fuel’s 2021 debut against the Houston Outlaws. The Fuel returned to a composition that they had played during the pre-season, one that featured Winston, D.Va, and Moira. This all-in style was fantastic at taking early engagements and setting the tempo of the match in their favour. This resurfaced and proved to be extremely useful for the Fuel all throughout their title run. The same concept was also used primarily in their control maps which featured a Symmetra and Mei DPS lineup.
That said, it wasn’t just these little growths that fueled Dallas. Both the growth of the franchise and the new players they’ve chosen to build around has been paramount.
The last time the Dallas Fuel were within reach of any kind of title, Pongphop "Mickie" Rattanasangchod was piloting the newest hero injected into Overwatch’s growing cast, Brigitte, and showing the world how strong she could be.
On June 17, 2018, the Dallas Fuel walked into the Stage 4 playoffs as the fourth seed. Standing across the aisle from them was a consistent and dominant force that called the empire state home. The New York Excelsior were the team to beat during the 2018 regular season, and while the Fuel was coming in with some steam, this was not expected to go their way.
And it didn’t, but no one was expecting the Fuel to take the Excelsior into such turbulent waters.
Contrasting that, former Dallas Fuel DPS player Timo "Taimou" Kettunen revealed on Overwatch League Rewind that the Fuel came in extremely confident to the match. “I think we felt like we were the ‘winning team’. Like this was our game to lose,” he said.
Taimou reflected further on the match and their preparation going into that match. “We felt like Brigitte was so insanely strong. Back in the day, we couldn’t play Tracer because [Hwang "EFFECT" Hyeon] wasn’t in the lineup, and we felt like Brigitte was the only counter to Tracer and to stop New York’s dive, we had to play Brigitte. And we realised it wasn’t enough to play two healers, so we had to play three, and Mickie was the one who—well—played Brigitte, and we did really well against New York.”
Now, look where they sit. They are the embodiment of growth. Taking what works and discarding whatever didn’t serve them. The Fuel floundered with small ignitions throughout the 2019 season, and in 2020 the team had all the ingredients for something special but failed to strike a flint. Sure, the Fuel made mistakes and underperformed, but each of those attempts left them with something. 2021 gave them a team that had previous synergy and success. This season was meant to be different, and for all intents and purposes, it has been.
Now they reign as the 2021 May Melee champions and look poised for a playoff run of epic proportions. However, you can’t mention growth and not look at the Fuel’s starters this season. These are players whose stories will rip out your heart, break it in two, then give you life advice on how to smile through the pain.
Overwatch has an affinity for always fostering rookie talent that challenges the status quo. At the heart of the 2021 Dallas Fuel sits a team that once was haunted by their potential, and their success was not guaranteed in the slightest.
After being a standout yet to break into the major competition, Element Mystic walked into Overwatch Contenders 2018 Season 1 with serious expectations. Initially, they delivered, advancing undefeated in their group. However, in one of the most humanising and emotional upsets in Overwatch history, Element Mystic was reversed swept by O2 Ardeont.
Their championship dreams would be deferred in their next two outings, however, during May of 2019 Element Mystic would finally capture gold and put their demons to rest. They would then find similar success at Overwatch Contenders: The Gauntlet. All the while, having the team picked apart and sent to the Overwatch League.
To think this is the same team who had the life drained out of them, upset both competitively and emotionally—it beggars belief. To think that same Element Mystic core would not only reunite but improve to the degree they have over the years and assist the Dallas Fuel of all teams to their first minor title? Take someone like Lee "Jecse" Seung-soo.
After a promising individual showing last year with the Houston Outlaws, Jecse’s career was not guaranteed. To think he would not only find another home but one that would rival any of his previous successes—and it was all done with some of the same names he started alongside? This is our proverbial white flag. Call it an anime, call it a sick, twisted episode of Punk’d. So much had to happen, so much needed to align perfectly to see this exact fairytale play out as it did.
And we’re all better because of it.
A franchise that stood as lambs among lions now can confidently say they’re the leader of the lion’s den itself. Players who put their hearts on the line and faced their fair amount of suffering now stand tall among their peers. Both the franchise and the players themselves kept their flames alive, cultivating the mistakes and experience together to craft a blaze that torched the May Melee. They both are the embodiment of growth. However, will this performance be a flash in the pan before being reduced to a smouldering hunk of debris, or does the Dallas bonfire have legs to stand on?
One of the major points on contention with the Dallas Fuel roster after losing Xzi was who or how the team was going to fair given that they lacked a hitscan DPS presence. As we all found our sealegs, that question only became more apparent with how important heroes like McCree and Ashe were becoming. However, the Fuel found a way to thrive and engineered their own style. And while their new title is a symbol of that perseverance, the question has to be asked again—what’s to come for the Dallas Fuel with their DPS rotation? Now, they’ve provided us with an answer.
Enter, Overwatch legend, Kim "Pine" Do-hyeon.
One of the most explosive DPS' to ever call the Overwatch League home has stepped out of retirement. Dusting off the keyboard and mouse for one more go-around, the big-boss himself has returned alongside Overwatch League’s spring kings. Yes, this does smooth over a gap the Fuel had, but stylistically does this move make sense? Sure he can play the heroes, but will the fan favourite be able to return to the same form he showcased during his 2018 highlight reel?
When we look at Dallas and their pieces, especially recently, you can see they thrive when they set the tempo. Take Kim "SP9RK1E" Yeong-han, and Lee "Fearless" Eui-Seok both are players that excel when engaging or forcing the play—and that’s exactly what Pine does best. This is the man who walked into duels most would scoff at and emerged unscathed. Pine can be exactly what the Fuel are looking for. However, there are reservations on whether or not some sense of ring rust has seen his form deteriorate over the years.
That said, if Pine can find a modicum of the same performance he showed during his time with the New York Excelsior and arrive with the team in a reasonable amount of time, the Dallas Fuel may walk away with the 2021 Overwatch League title. If this team can continue to perform as well as they are, if they can continue to find their own way when needed, if they can integrate a veteran into their midst, they should be in talks for the title.
That’s how far the Fuel has come. From an inconsistent disaster to possibly looking like a title-contending team.
Things sure have changed.
After buckling under the weight of expectations early in the Overwatch League’s life cycle, after walking through the fire, after facing adversity and turmoil, the Dallas Fuel now are something to behold. A team to be proud of and one that no long lurks in the shadows of its potential success.
While there is a lot of season left to play, the Fuel burns bright, creating their own light, their own path forward. They’ve grown an inferno from scratch, and now they rest proudly, kings of the spring.
But how hot will you burn, Dallas? Just how high will that flame reach?
From what we’ve seen, the sky is the limit.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment