London Spitfire finally reaches new heights

The London Spitfire wasn't chosen to be on top, but that's just because the team had not realized its full potential. London picked the right time to figure it all out, and won the inaugural Overwatch League title. Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

NEW YORK -- When the London Spitfire stepped foot on the Barclays Center stage to play in the inaugural Overwatch grand final versus the Philadelphia Fusion, the team was booed.

A strong Philly contingent had gathered in Brooklyn for the final, outnumbering supporters of the favored British Spitfire, owned by an organization based out of Los Angeles with an all-South Korean lineup. The crowd instead went for the pesky underdogs from Philadelphia, whose run to the final was marked with suspensions, close calls, and a melting pot of a roster that featured players from France to South Korea to Israel.

As the Spitfire exited the stage, though, after defeating the Fusion in back-to-back days to take the championship in a dominant sweep, all the fans could do was cheer for the new king of Overwatch, led by finals MVP Kim "Profit" Jun-hyung, who dropped jaws all weekend with his multitude of flashy, highlight-reel-worthy outplays. The Fusion, as scrappy as they come with the potential to reach some of the highest highs seen in Overwatch if the team could get rolling, never got off the ground in New York, taking their first and only map of the final in the opener on Friday before losing six straight to bow out as league runners-up.

The story of London on the surface seems simple: a star-studded team expected to be here at the beginning of the season. But it was far more complicated. As a combination of the two top South Korean teams -- pre-Overwatch League GC Busan and C9 Kongdoo Panthera -- the bloated roster of high-end talent was whittled down as the season went along, with players too good for the bench being shipped out to alleviate the pressure of needing to figure out how to fit too many pieces into the puzzle.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, London was sleek, sporting only seven players with three supports to mix things up if needed. The DPS and tank lines were entrusted, win or lose, and that was never better tested than when the Spitfire fell down early to the Los Angeles Gladiators in the first-round quarterfinal series, getting swept and on the brink of elimination.

Realizing its season might be coming to a close, the Spitfire opted to play with a carefree attitude for the rest of the playoffs, relishing in the fact no one would shed a tear over its displacement from the tournament against the hometown Gladiators. Freed from the expectations of being a "super team," the Spitfire got its wheels off the ground and never stopped soaring en route to a championship, coming back to sweep the Gladiators in back-to-back matches before dispatching the other Los Angeles franchise, the Valiant, in the semifinals -- also in front of a Los Angeles crowd at Blizzard Arena.

Being booed had become secondary for the Spitfire. Walking onto the stage in Brooklyn, playing up to the crowd with taunts and showing off its expensive streetwear, this was a team that knew its identity and how good it was compared to opponents. Cheers or not, this was London's final, and no one could say differently.

"I didn't think it would be this easy," said flex-support Choi "Bdosin" Seung-tae at the postgame media conference. "Next year I hope we play against a stronger team."

In a city that is all about working your way from the bottom to the top, London embraced that same philosophy throughout the playoffs. After going 4-6 in the final stage and resembling an already half-dead club by the time the playoffs rolled around, the team rediscovered its swagger just in time to put on a memorable showcase at the first-ever Overwatch League grand final.

Now, seated at the head of the table with more expansion teams entering the fray in 2019, the narrative shifts once more. Every single team, expansion or not, will have its eyes on the crown, which now lays atop of the Spitfire's head.

"Next year I want to become stronger," said London's DPS standout Kim "Birdring" Ji-hyeok. "I also want to face a stronger team in the finals."

For London, the team wearing specialized championship jackets and a lineup of designer shoes, that suits them just fine.