London Spitfire’s OWL season can best be defined best by two moments. Stage One championship match victory over favourites NYXL, and Stage Three’s failed playoff run.
Two Halves of a Season
It’s been a season of highs and lows for fans of the C9 team. Celebrations abound in the first half of the season, as London claimed Stage One Champions, and managed another Stage playoff appearance in the Second Stage. This was counterbalanced by despair in Stages Three and Four, as the all Korean roster was unable to manage any meaningful results and failed to make the playoffs twice. With the exception of Seoul, I don’t think many teams had as disappointing a second half to the season as the Spitfire.
Between Stages One and Two, London had a combined 15-5 record, plus a Stage Championship under their belts. This placed the team in 2nd overall behind only the New York Excelsior (NYXL) at 18-2 with their own Stage Championship. Thru one half of the season, it looked like these two teams would be favourites to meet in the Season Grand Finals in New York.
Stages Three and Four on the other hand, London limped to a combined 9-11 record. The Spitfire looked grounded compared to their high flying first half of the Season.
Meta changes and Control Worst
Any fan of London knows that all matches essentially start 0-1 in the opposing teams favour. The Spitfire have an abysmal showing at arguably the most important Match Mode, Control (importance largely due to its usage as a tie-breaker). Their inability to win on Control made victory increasingly harder as the season wore on, especially with the change to playing Control on Maps 3 and 5.
Often, London would come out to a great 2-0 start, only to get reverse-swept. Momentum is a huge part of victory in the OWL, and when a team has a map mode which kills all momentum played at the middle of a match, it’s guaranteed to throw them off their game moving forward. Teams knew, if we can win Map Four, we beat London. Control became a rallying point for rosters who, on paper, shouldn’t be able to withstand the Spitfire’s high calibre players. When with 1-2 nearly guaranteed victories in a match, teams just needed to win one more for a chance at victory.
This, coupled with a second half to the season Meta that seemed to cripple the Eastern rosters (fans and analysts would agree that it created more interesting compositions however), culminated in a poor showing for both London and Seoul in the second half to the season. Spitfire fans should only be so relieved as to remember that their slide, unlike Seoul’s did not result in a failure to qualify for playoffs.
Musical Chairs (on the Roster)
London began the season with the largest roster in the OWL. C9 took an interesting approach to their roster, combining both their APEX winning team with that of arguably their biggest competition. C9 owned Kongdoo, and acquired their last season APEX rivals GC Busan. The combination of these two rosters seemed like it would be unbeatable. Two high calibre teams, combined into one. Two rosters that could scrim in private and prepare for any situation. Stages One and Two seemed to show how effective this approach was, but then the second half of the Season saw cracks in it’s foundation. Players weren’t getting enough time. The bench was so powerful, that fans and analysts alike questioned any move. Even in victory, the Spitfire “could have played better if x player was in place of y”. This seemingly became a nightmare as the victory celebrations became less frequent. Ultimately, the game of musical chairs cost London the best tank in the game (who’s better than Fissure), and forced them to put 4 players on the inactive list as the season wound down. Fissure was replaced by Gesture, nearly a 1 for 1, and T1Z1, one of the 4 later placed on inactive never actually played a map for the Spitfire. These changes though seemed to be indicating that the C9 team was committing to a core group of players, with a few subs on the bench for situational advantages, rather than an entire roster on the bench for “changes on a whim”.
Even with that terrible finish to the season, it is hard to rule London out. The raw talent on their roster constantly argues to be held in high esteem. Fans of the organization remain optimistic about their chances at victory in the Grand Finals, citing easy roster moves and past successes as indications of future success. I agree that when it comes down to must win situations, there are few (at the moment only two) rosters I would rather be counting on than London’s. As for those two, London’s biggest hurdles in the Grand Finals will be both division champions. The NYXL, and the Los Angeles Valiant (VAL) come into these playoffs favourites to win, and each get a bye week before playing. London will need to beat 2 teams to get thru to the Finals. First a best of Three (matches) against the Los Angeles Gladiators. If victorious, depending on who wins the Boston Uprising vs Philly Fusion bout, London will then have to have either NYXL or VAL for a shot at the Finals. Either of those teams could, if playing at their Stage Four best, easily dispatch the London Spitfire of Stage Three/Four.
I wish I could say that London will make it thru to the Finals. However, I really believe they have the hardest road to do it. Not only could they face either VAL or NYXL (or possibly both) on their run, but in the first round they drew the Gladiators, arguably the hottest team in that round right now, and dark horse contenders to win it all.
Tank play will be a huge factor in this Grand Finals, as all the teams involved (with exception of Boston unless they figure out how to utilize them effectively) having ridiculous talent at the DPS position. The Tanks will then be the factors in tipping the scales one way or the other. If playing at their highest calibre, Fissure and Void could catapult the Gladiators over London and even into the Finals. Conversely, Gesture and Fury could give London the edge themselves.
London fans should hope for a long run into a Finals match, but it is just as likely (if not more) that the Spitfire will bow out in the first round against the Gladiators. London’s biggest asset was their ability to change their look seemingly on a whim; however,coupling their second half showing, with their reduced roster could indicate trouble for the Light Blue and Orange.