Overwatch League: London Spitfire rising

London Spitfire celebrates after a win during the Overwatch League. Provided by Robert Paul/Blizzard Entertainment

A single game had yet to be played in the Overwatch League's inaugural season, but the London Spitfire was already a heavy favorite. Before the team was announced and rebranded in November 2017, it was originally known as Cloud9 Kongdoo -- this was after the the entirety of the South Korean roster was signed to the Cloud9 org in September. Three days after the official announcement, London Spitfire acquired GC Busan, the upstart lineup that had taken OGN APEX Season 4 by storm and won the APAC Premier in China.

London was stacked with top-tier talent with two successful rosters that the team could swap between if necessary. Any gaps from these teams were filled with players from other teams, like former Meta Athena support Kim "NUS" Jong-seok and former Team Liquid flex tank Kim "Fury" Joon-ho.

Yet, after three full stages of the Overwatch League, the Stage 1 title and multiple roster changes, the London Spitfire was in danger of falling out of season playoff contention. Hybrid rosters like the Los Angeles Valiant and Gladiators had begun to synergize, especially after mid-season roster changes, while the all-South Korean roster of the Spitfire struggled. After main tank Baek "Fissure" Chan-hyung and DPS player Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun left the team in the middle of Stage 2, the Spitfire swapped through myriad iterations of its roster with no discernible improvement, especially in Stage 3 and the beginning of Stage 4. The team had an excess of talent, but it wasn't leading to consistent map or match wins. The early hype around the Spitfire was long gone, replaced by fan laments that the team could be strong if only its players could find synergy.

London has now found that synergy just in time to make the Season 1 Grand Finals.

A week into Stage 4, the Spitfire released four players: Seong "WooHyaL" Seung-hyeon, Jo "HaGoPeun" Hyeon-woo, Hwang "TiZi" Jang-hyeon and Lee "Hooreg" Dong-eun, paring the team's roster down to a core of seven. Players and staff members alike stressed that the move was not based on talent -- but still, it seemed desperate and was met with community and fan concern.

"I think that swapping players in and out between the maps caused a lot of confusion around gameplay," Fury said. "Each individual, as talented as they are, has their own specific playstyles and specific ways they view the game."

"Now with a smaller roster we have stabilized and gotten rid of a lot of the confusion that was going on. We utilized swaps a lot not because players were lacking in skill but because we wanted to change the atmosphere because everyone has their own color. But I think that caused a lot of disturbance in how we played the game overall and that's why."

NUS echoed Fury's words, and stressed that it was these roster changes that allowed the Spitfire to come together in time for playoffs, especially when players didn't have to split scrim time.

"All of our members are really good, including the guys that we sent home," NUS said. "It's just that when you see other teams that do well, they have a core roster and so the amount that they're able to practice was a lot more than us because if you have to split scrims certain players might only get one hour of practice while your opponent will get two. In that sense, after we sent them home, the core roster getting more practice time helped a lot."

This also helped the Spitfire adjust to the playoff meta more quickly using the talent of the team's DPS duo -- Park "Profit" Joon-yeong and Kim "Birdring" Ji-hyeok -- creating a two-prong attack that combined the highlights of the former GC Busan and Panthera rosters.

"The main thing is that now that there are no more massive substitutions being made between maps we can really focus on specific strats and have consistency throughout the match," Fury said. "That got rid of a lot of the chaotic stuff that we had to deal with in the past."

According to NUS, the Spitfire's attack starts with Profit's flexibility and builds from there based on their opponents' compositions and strengths. As a Mercy player, NUS doesn't swap heroes often, but changes his playstyle as Profit or Birdring change DPS heroes, or flex support Choi "Bdosin" Seung-tae swaps onto Tracer, Roadhog or even Brigitte. Without as many roster substitutions, the Spitfire have been able to focus on hero substitutions, making the team more flexible with less.

"Profit is our flex and he determines what our playstyle is going to be," NUS said. "Profit is Profit but any player, any carry, they're all just really good at whatever they decide to do -- we can use any color at all. But if I have to pick one, it's finding the counter to our opponents constantly and thinking about it."

Both NUS and Fury gave their opinions on what the Spitfire's "team color" is now that the team has a specific, seven-man lineup. NUS said that the Spitfire could flex into any playstyle, while Fury said that the Spitfire was a team that wanted to execute everything at the highest level.

"That's true too," NUS said. "Maybe that's why our Stage 3 and 4 sucked because our thoughts were different. Maybe other guys have different thoughts too." He laughed. Now that the Spitfire have come together, the team looks nearly unstoppable.