The Spark are quickly becoming the best-kept secret in the Overwatch League.
Subtly moving about the offseason, the Hangzhou Spark have quietly begun hoarding some of Asia’s top talent, and yet somehow they escape the praise and discussion of teams arriving in 2021 with potential to perform. Stocked with a shockingly talented bench, veteran experience mixed with a rookie flair, and a smattering of star players next to coaches with strong histories, this team deserves fanfare around them. We have got to start recognising that the Spark packs a punch, a haymaker on track to becoming a serious competitive threat in 2021.
And it all starts with the recent acquisition of a veteran who sets the tone for the team as a whole.
The 2019 season gave our first dose of clarity in terms of Overwatch’s potential. We expanded the league, we sampled the homestand model in packed venues across Los Angeles, Dallas, and Atlanta, but more importantly, it gifted us the chance to see a legendary team finally bask in the spotlight after chasing it for so long. These narratives alone lie at the heart of the engine of esports. Compelling stories told through the people who play the game eclipse all-formats and genres. In that same vein, could you name a more compelling story than that of RunAway?
After laying claim domestically, fan favourite DPS player Seo "SeoMinSoo" Min-soo and the remainder of RunAway would join and immediately continue their dominance throughout the Overwatch League regular season, ending with a stage title and a grand finals appearance. However, after the Vancouver Titans parted ways with the RunAway core in the midst of the 2020 season and paired with the continual advent of new and impressively talented rookies entering the league, SeoMinSoo’s future was unclear.
The Hangzhou Spark saw otherwise, announcing that after three weeks of trialling with the team, he found his way back into the league on his own merit. History remembers him as a fantastic Zarya specialist during the tank focused metagame of 2019. However, his resume speaks more towards being a DPS player—a role that the Spark have a considerable amount of depth in. That said, we’ve seen what more role fluid players can do in the past. So rest assured, there is a reason SeoMinSoo is on the roster even if we can’t properly see the direction from the surface-level blueprint. That layered mentality, this attribute of potential iteration and depth permeates throughout this 2021 Spark roster.
A veteran beyond his years, Shin "BERNAR" Se-won, gave us a taste of what he was capable of on the 2020 London Spitfire and while the team wasn’t as strong as many hoped, he was still a star. In a position that can command the battlefield, BERNAR is a fantastic addition to this team. However, he isn’t alone in his position. Jia "LiGe" Chengjie has been one of the best flex tanks to ever emerge out of Overwatch Contenders China and stands alongside BERNAR. Together, there is nothing this duo cannot play. Again this air of depth shines through, but that isn’t where it ends. World Class main tank, Xu "guxue" Qiulin, now has a young rookie playing behind him in Lee "Takoyaki" Young-hyun. While Takoyaki won’t be able to play until his birthday this coming April, the Spark already has their eyes fixated on the horizon.
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In nearly every position, the Spark have skilled players waiting for their time in the sun. Ideally, this harbours a sense of competitive cannibalism, the idea that no players starting position is safe. Combine that natural tendency with the fluctuation of the Hero Pool format from the 2020 season and you can start to see the picture in full; while expensive and difficult to manage, having a deep roster has its merits. Even if we disregard their additions this season, the Spark maintained some powerful weapons from seasons past.
Beginning with players we’ve already mentioned, guxue surprised people in 2018 and has not let off the gas. Next, you have former flex DPS from the San Francisco Shock, Park "Architect" Minho. While he and the Spark did not have a good 2020 outing, we know what Architect can do, and he will undoubtedly be a threat on this roster. Alongside him, the Spark also still have Park "iDK" Ho-jin, one of the most under-appreciated main supports in the league. Those three players alone form a solid base to build around, and then you add in the hitscan prowess of Kim "GodsB" Kyeong-bo, and that already should set a bias in your mind, one that is worth talking about; this team is competitive.
Let's welcome former BLG.OW player and OWWC 2018 runner-up YangJie 'Shy' Zheng as he's promoted to Hangzhou Spark!
Happy birthday @shyow1022, glad to have you onboard on your 18-year-old birthday! #sparkbang
Much of that power, that—for the lack of a better word—spark, comes from their rookies.
We’ve spoken about BERNAR looking strong on a frankly disappointing team and avoiding the need to prove himself with his lengthy resume. LiGe, while a bit of a niche name, has been applauded by pundits and experts in the region as a star flex tank. Takoyaki is not only a play for the Spark’s future success, but his presence also reduces the weight that guxue has to carry on his shoulders. However, their big weapon this year is set to be Chinese DPS ace, Zheng "Shy" Yangjie.
Depending on the metagame and format of the 2021 Overwatch League season, Shy could very well see the lion’s share of the stage time over his contemporaries. He is a talent that has dominated domestically but has also received early Rookie of the Year nominations. That is the kind of addition Shy is to the Spark.
Then you add to that South Korean rookie flex support Lee "MCD" Jeong-ho. As one of the undervalued bright spots on the 2019 Element Mystic roster that won Overwatch Contenders: The Gauntlet, MCD further adds depth to a pivotal position and is frankly an upgrade for the Spark. Not only that, but he’s coming in with a nod to becoming the Spark’s primary shot caller—what is not to love?
Throughout the 2020 offseason, one narrative has become clear, especially in the west; teams are getting smaller, and talent is dispersing across the league. While this doesn’t seem to be the case in Asia, that doesn’t remove them from the Overwatch League. They still should be judged against their peers and more harshly against those who they rival domestically. Off that alone, with this roster taking shape, the Hangzhou Spark look to be a competitive team heading into the 2021 season.
In nearly every metric, the Spark are projected to be in the green especially directly compared to their disappointing last season. The Spark have upgraded big time and are going to be a threat the community cannot simply overlook. They’ve scouted and found tangible rookie talent, they have the luxury of a bench, they’ve kept some of their best pieces, and in that sense, the Spark are quickly becoming dark horse candidates coming into the 2021 Overwatch League season.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment