It's not a stretch to say that the Overwatch League playoffs didn't go how anyone expected. The London Spitfire and Philadelphia Fusion—fifth and sixth seeds, respectively—steamrolled the Los Angeles Gladiators, Boston Uprising, Los Angeles Valiant, and New York Excelsior to earn their spots in the first Overwatch League grand finals at the Barclays Center in New York this weekend. London's performance was particularly unexpected, having underperformed for the last two stages of the regular season. For Philadelphia, a favorable meta shift and unstoppable DPS duo in Josue "Eqo" Coron and Jae-hyeok "Carpe" Lee helped carry the team to victory.
Here's what happened over the last two weeks.
Philadelphia Fusion vs. Boston Uprising (2-1)
Like London, Boston found their way into the playoffs thanks to their early season efforts. They lost steam after losing head coach Crusty to the San Francisco Shock earlier in the season, finishing stage four with a 4-6 record. Since playoff scenarios are always different, analysts were split on whether or not Boston would be able to turn things around in the postseason.
As it turns out, they wouldn't.
Philadelphia's performance against Boston showed exactly why their roster was built for success. The Fusion outshined Boston in every category of play, but were particularly impressive on tanking, DPS, and overall versatility.
Su-min "SADO" Kim's Reinhardt was particularly impressive. Rein hasn't seen a lot of time in Overwatch League, but SADO showed everyone why the crusader is a great pick in this meta. This play in the early going was a great example:
With both teams going for a double-sniper setup, Philadelphia's use of Reinhardt forced Boston to deal with heavy HP and mitigation on the payload. The narrow corridors of Dorado beg for massive Earthshatters, and SADO delivered. Hong-jun "Hotba" Choi finished off the combo with a D.Va bomb, leading to a point C capture.
Eqo's deep hero pool stole the show for the rest of the series. With great performances on Hanzo, Pharah, D.Va, Zarya, and Genji, he allowed the Fusion to use a number of compositions with great success. Though Carpe is the early frontrunner for the OWL playoff MVP, primarily for his Widow and Tracer play, Eqo's versatility should at least put him in the discussion.
London Spitfire vs. Los Angeles Gladiators (2-1)
The Spitfire never defeated the Gladiators in the preseason or regular season. Pretty much everyone wrote this matchup off early, expecting the Gladiators to walk into the semifinals for one last Battle for Los Angeles against the Valiant. As it turned out, the stage one champs from London were able to reset and once again give us a glimpse of what they're capable of.
It didn't start out pretty, however. Set one went the way of Los Angeles in 3-0 fashion. Gladiators DPS star Lane "Surefour" Roberts actually gave us one of the most memorable plays from the playoffs on King's Row. He sat in spawn as Brigitte while the rest of his team circled around and charged the point from the rear. As soon as the engagement began, he switched to Widowmaker:
London was tricked into thinking Los Angeles was going for a typical deathball and responded accordingly. By the time they realized what was going on, it was far too late, as the Gladiators had forced them out of position for Surefour to pick off.
That would be the last jab Los Angeles would get in. The Spitfire responded with a pair of 3-0's the following match day which were punctuated by superior tanking and overall strategy. The Gladiators often struggled keeping their backline alive, which led to many team fight losses. Luis "iRemiix" Galarza Figueroa did what he could on main tank, but the absence of MVP candidate Chan-Hyung "Fissure" Baek was felt.
A crucial part of the Spitfire's success was support player Seung-tae "Bdosin" Choi. Bdosin's signature Zenyatta was on display as always, but it was his flexing capabilities that made the difference on a couple of maps. Learning from their previous error on King's Row, London put Bdosin on Tracer to help deal with the double-sniper composition:
Bdosin said later that the move of swapping your second support to Tracer can work in this meta because it forces the opposing snipers to deal with an extra threat. The team also commented on the fact that they were never actually scared coming into this matchup, and were happy that their strategies in this meta were finally enough to defeat their nemesis.
Philadelphia Fusion vs. New York Excelsior (2-0)
The New York Excelsior was one of the best teams all season long. Every single one of their players was at the top of their field, including regular season MVP, Seong-hyun "Jjonak" Bank. With how dominant the Philadelphia Fusion had been coming into the semifinals, however, there wasn't a clear frontrunner.
Philadelphia took an easy 3-0 set to begin this series. New York looked slightly off their game, but they came back to force a five map set in game two. Though everything was looking up and there were several long, intense fights, the former LW Blue roster from Korea would once again fail to achieve greatness.
As usual, Carpe had quite the series on his iconic Tracer and Widowmaker combo. He was able to keep fan-favorite Do-hyeon "Pine" Kim on his toes for the duration of the match and came up with several clutch kills. Combined with the excellent tanking we saw in the quarterfinals, Philadelphia was able to squeak by without the need for a third set.
NYXL was visibly emotional after the game and during the postgame press conference. Their chance to play in front of a home crowd had slipped through their fingers.
London Spitfire vs. Los Angeles Valiant (2-0)
Los Angeles were heavily favored in this matchup. Even the analyst desk predicted that the Valiant would be able to have their way with the Spitfire. Unfortunately for them, London's momentum from the previous week carried over for a relatively quick series.
A lot of this matchup came down to the simple fact that Brady "Agilities" Girardi was behind on his Hanzo. The Spitfire showed clear dominance on the archer, with Jun-young "Profit" Park consistently adding more to London's game than Agilities did for Los Angeles.
Jae-jui "Gesture" Hong also heavily contributed to the cause, bringing out one of the most precise, aggressive Winstons in the playoffs:
Gesture and Profit absolutely dismantled the Valiant with some help from Bdosin. Ji-hyeok "Birdring" Kim even came to life on Widowmaker and Reaper, which was nice to see. The outcome, though well-deserved, was still shocking. It wasn't so much that the Valiant lost, but that they lost in such in such an unceremonious fashion.
The Grand Finals
Most players on the Gladiators predicted that we would be seeing the Fusion and the Valiant in the Grand Finals. Fans expected a coastal rivalry match between the Valiant and NYXL. But a North American team that wasn't the Valiant taking on the only European team was a scenario no one predicted.
For the Fusion, Eqo and Carpe will bring one of the most oppressive DPS squads to the table with the help of excellent tanking. The Spitfire will have Gesture leading one of the most aggressive rosters in Overwatch League that have been the best once before. This match will likely come down to whether or not we'll see the same London Spitfire that showed up over the last two weeks.
The Grand Finals kick off this Friday evening and finish on Saturday in front of a sold out crowd at Barclays Center in New York. Day one of the finals will be broadcast on ESPN, the first time an esports event has been aired on the network's main channel during prime time.