The 2021 Justice look strong so far, but how will the roster settle out?
When thinking back on the 2020 Washington Justice, you constantly have to battle the urge of the massive asterisk that presumably is placed next to their playoff results. This was a team at the right place at the right time. A team that, for all its misgivings and crisis of identity, came out the other end with a basket full of hope and graduating rookie players. The 2020 Justice were not some fluke we can prescribe to them because of something we cannot control, the rule they utilised to sign a star player was created to combat the global pandemic, that isn’t any one person’s fault.
In that same vein, their performance in the playoffs had more to do with what happened and with whom, than it did with their most recent roster acquisition. And if we accept that, and then look at their signings moving forward into the 2021 season, we should be taking the Justice seriously. Disregard their logo for a moment and consider the merit of their staff, their players, their recent achievements—and you come to the conclusion that the Washington Justice are promising to say the least.
Starting with the roster as it stands today, Justice have made some serious offseason moves. In many pundits eyes, one of the biggest rookies coming into the Overwatch League for its 2021 season would be tank player Kim "Mag" Tae-sung. Think back to any handful of truly great Overwatch teams, none of them had poor tank lines, and the Justice have been hurting for help in this sector, as have many teams, for a long time. Mag not only is the number one pick from the rookie class coming into this season at his role, but could be argued more generally. With how shallow the pool is at main tank, investing in a young, world-class player like Mag is not only a massive success—but it speaks to the management and decision making this team is capable of.
Jang "Decay" Gui-un is in on the early ballot for 2021 MVP candidacy and would have been a shoo-in for the ballot in 2020 given that the Fuel camp didn’t shake out as it did. We’re looking at a generational talent here, someone who has flipped the DPS coin and consistently has it land on its side—Decay can truly do it all. He has an amazing Tracer, he can play picks like Genji, and performs near the top of the scales on mid-to-long hitscan picks. Take for instance the 2020 playoffs, he was the best fit for the Zarya on his team and looked to be one of, if not the, best Zarya in that metagame. Decay, alone, gives the 2021 Washington Justice the punch it needs to have a promising regular season. Now, this is not to directly stand opposed to what we mentioned earlier.
Viewing the lens of Justice’s playoff success through the narrow lens of Decay “saving” them is disingenuous. Undoubtedly he played a large role, but that discounts the metagame that the playoffs ended on, the Justice having the space and capital to make this move, and the rest of the players on this team that found success as well. Decay can be viewed in a vacuum for the 2021 season because he will be a member of the starting roster and not just for the important parts. However polarising Decay’s situation once was in 2020, the Justice continue to make moves undeterred, and with their most recent signings, the Justice coaching staff might be putting up some fence posts to better focus his talents.
When we look at his supporting cast, and I don’t believe that to be a slight to either of these players, but a frank assessment of just how skilled Decay is, both Lee "TTuba" Ho-sung and Min "Jerry” Tae-hee cover all the bases you need to field and pilot any metagame that a potential Hero Pool could throw at you. Both fine players, TTuba exceeded expectations on Genji, while his Pharah matched them. And for all the misgivings of the 2020 Boston Uprising, Jerry was an impressive part of the team, and if you’re able to shine on a team that is consistently poor, then there is further potential to unlock. While people eye the later move as something of a questionable take due to how impressive Lee "Stitch" Chung-hee was in the 2020 Overwatch League playoffs. And while we tend to agree and can find common ground with that, this can be mutually exclusive; Stitch did have an impressive performance, but that doesn’t mean that the Justice are missing out on a mid-to-long range hitscan DPS player—they have Decay.
That is where the fence posts begin to fall; I believe the 2021 Washington Justice aim to move Decay more into that dedicated hitscan role spanning both flanking heroes and heroes like Widowmaker and Ashe, allowing TTuba the spotlight at flex, and having Jerry come in during metagames like Ashe/Tracer and other double-hitscan compositions.
Last but certainly not least, we should look towards the coaching staff, not to measure them as the leaders of this promising roster, but as signposts that point us in a direction of things to come. Personal coach for the Washington Justice, Lee "Hocury" Ho-cheol, previously worked with teams like GC Busan during the APEX era and with Seoul Dynasty through as a coach and as a general manager. More interestingly, Han "Sup7eme" Seung-jun, is the new head coach of the Justice and if the name sounds familiar its because he worked with the Hangzhou Spark in seasons past.
Assistant coach Park "Chilhwa" Min-hyung has worked with WGS Armamament and O2 Blast during his stint in Overwatch Contenders. The coaching staff have more than a modicum of success; while not title contenting on their own merit, they have positive track records which has to stand for something. However, when it comes to finalising the roster and making some speculative projections, you start by looking at their history.
I often talk about the “duckling theory”, an idea I proposed around general roster building that says “if you follow the coaches, the players will come.” If you hold any stock within this theory and you understand the history of where Hocury and Sup7eme come from, the Washington Justice have leads on some impressive players that would round out this team very nicely. That said, this leads us nicely to one final, sobering fact; the Justice still are not finished with their roster-building process. There is still a ton of work to do for Washington to finally have a team they can be proud of, but if the offseason work the Justice brass have done so far is any metric to measure off of, proud won’t be an adequate descriptor of this team.
After a disappointing last few years, Washington D.C might just land a top team in the Overwatch League.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment