Despite being the underdogs going into the Overwatch League, Philadelphia Fusion defied all odds and made it to the first-ever Grand Finals at the end of an exciting first season. Even though Fusion all but dominated throughout the playoffs, each win seemed only to further shock League viewers who couldn’t let go of their preseason judgment of the team.
Once considered such a “meme team” that Fusion wasn’t even included in early season one power rankings, the Philadelphia Fusion were initially plagued with complications, most of which were completely out of their hands. While their story seems like one that’s all about overcoming obstacles and beating the odds, Head Coach Yann “Kirby” Luu revealed in a post-Season 1 interview with me that he has been confident in the team’s abilities from the very beginning. So much so, in fact, that the Fusion have already set their eyes on the ultimate prize going into Season 2.
How was the team feeling after stage four of the first season?
At the end of the regular season, we all took a bit of a break. When we got back to work, we all knew we that we still had a talented team. We just needed to focus on how to bring us together. As we practiced, we knew we had a very good chance of beating a lot of other teams. So we were confident going into the playoffs.
What was the team’s focus going into the Grand Finals versus London?
We knew that London were kind of like us – a talented team who had ups and downs. But we were pretty confident, because we had beaten some pretty good teams leading up to this, like the Boston Uprising. We knew we had to show up big, so we gave it everything we had. Unfortunately, that was a very tough week, because of travel and media obligations. We had to make sure our practice regimen wasn’t disrupted.
Do you feel that Blizzard’s Season 1 schedule threw you guys off a little?
With how the playoffs were structured, there was a lot of time before the first round. Then there was a week before semi-finals. Then between semi-finals and finals, we only had two days to practice. The practice was front-loaded in that sense, relying on what we had worked out previously. We maybe stuck too much to that. We should have maybe thrown in something else. There’s a lot of room for improvement in how the regular season was structured as well, but Blizzard has been really good about listening to the teams’ feedback.
At the very beginning of the first season, a lot of people were doubting the Fusion for various reasons. How did it feel to have people underestimating you and your team?
There’s a reason people didn’t think much of us. We scouted these players and started from scratch. We didn’t have any players coming in who had already knowingly played together. A lot weren’t big names. The audience didn’t know their skill level. But we did a really good job during the off-season of finding the right talent and assembling this team. So it felt very validating when, yes, we were right.
How did it feel when people started noticing the Fusion’s potential?
It felt good. But the people who knew what they were talking about, they had warmed up to us pretty quickly. They already knew the team had fire power. So their argument always was, ‘But will they be able to become more than just skill?’ We had a lot of issues with our roster at the beginning because of external circumstances, like Sado not being able to play when the season began.
Your team publicly stood up for Sado at the time and said you’d stand by him despite his suspension for account boosting.
We obviously knew how talented he was. I’m not going to lie, the reaction from the community, especially the Korean community, was very unacceptable. There was no reason to attack his family. We were going to stick by him.
Despite all of the earlier controversies, you now have many people rooting for you going into Season 2. How does that feel?
It feels great. It’s amazing the kind of support we have this year in Philly and New York, and from fans in other parts of America or the world. We do it because we’re competitors and want to win. But it’s always great to feel like people have embraced our mentality as well, and that we’ve embraced the mentality of Philly.
It’s clear that you were confident about the Fusion’s roster and potential even when others were unsure. So why do you think the team wasn’t performing up to par near the beginning of the season?
Just not having all of the players available. That definitely made things harder, because we didn’t have as many options. It put us further behind. But even though we were shaky in stage one, we still finished strong. It’s better than what a lot of these teams have been able to achieve. So even at some of our weakest points, we were above ground.
Do you think it just took some time for the players to communicate more effectively after not having as much time to play together going into the first season?
Communication was a big topic of discussion for our team since we have so many nationalities. It’s a bit overblown, though. Overwatch is such a fast-paced game that you don’t need to communicate everything. It was more about developing an overall team understanding of what to do in specific situations. To know what your teammates were going to do. Our coaching staff is very talented, but learning everyone’s play style and gimmicks takes time. Towards the end, every single time they’d put our coms on broadcast you’d hear all kinds of accents. And not all viewers could understand, but for our team, it was second nature.
It seems like the Fusion always had an effective way of dealing with issues during practice. How was it dealing with a constantly changing meta? Do you feel that the Fusion having two flex players (Hotba and Poko) gave you an edge?
We have 12 players total, and there are multiple reasons as to why we did that. One reason was the ability to run in-house scrims, but it was also just to have more people learn more heroes. To focus on that, so when the time comes that guy is ready to play that specific hero. There’s a lot of advantage to doing that. Having a quickly changing meta and new heroes keeps viewers interested, so it’s the reality of our industry.
What is the team’s goal going into Season 2?
The goal for our team is to win a championship. This goal is more achievable for some teams than others, but if you set a goal lower than that you’re not going anywhere. This year we came close. Our short-term goal is qualifying for the playoffs. That’s how we looked at it this year. And it’ll be the same next year.
So you guys definitely seem confident going into Season 2.
We feel confident, yeah. We know we have a talented team.
Are you planning on having the team focus on anything in particular, to improve upon for Season 2?
It’s a day to day process, which is something we learned a lot from this year. It’s where you practice. How you practice. How you handle game days. How many days you take off after a week of hard work. All that kind of stuff is what we experimented with during the first season. Going into Season 2, we have a better idea of how to do that, and it will help us put our players in better situations so they can focus on the game and accomplish what they can.
It seems like the team is very close. How important is it for a team to be in-sync and friendly? Does it affect in-game communication?
In a lot of sports, you don’t need to be best friends. There’s a definite difference between a friend and a teammate. But, within esports, when the guys also live together in a gaming house, it definitely helps when they’re on the same page. Hanging out. When they can discuss things in a low-key setting. We definitely had some conflicts early on – pretty much every single team did. But we definitely reached a point where the guys were having a good time. It was very pleasant to see.
What was your favorite part about being a coach for the Philadelphia Fusion during Season 1?
Because this was a League and a team being built from the ground up, I was one of the first people hired on, and it was cool to see all this turn into something huge. We want this League to be successful and we want our team to be successful. And to feel you have a small part in that, it’s very chilling.
What are some things, coach-wise, that you want to work on going into Season 2?
Overall, as a staff, we want to be better equipped at going through the entire season. We’re trying to figure out what’s going to be the best for everyone, in terms of responsibility and who fits where. The first season was a fun, wild ride and I definitely enjoyed it. The support of the fans obviously made it all worth it. We’re thankful for their support.