At the moment of victory, when the NYXL players all barreled into each other amidst a downpour of confetti, their eyes squeezed shut in happiness, one might’ve thought they’d won a prize much greater than the $100,000 USD bonus awarded to the quarterly winners and a title that’s only temporary.
Such was the intensity of Stage Finals Sunday, which featured 10 maps, wild momentum swings, a challenger that came seemingly out of nowhere, and, at the end of the day, a result that’s been a long time coming for the victorious team—much longer than Stage 2, and even longer than the Overwatch League has existed.
It was an emotional moment, not only for the few members of the NYXL who had to blink back tears onstage, but also for longtime followers of the Luxury Watch teams—who have waited since December 2016, when LW-Red won IEM Gyeonggi—for this group of players to return to greatness.
“All of the original LW members have discussed it before,” NYXL captain Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park said during the postmatch press conference. “We said we were going to win in the Overwatch League. We truly believed in that, and it’s come true.”
The NYXL thought their moment would come in Stage 1, but in the final match, they suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of a fatigued yet determined London Spitfire squad. On Sunday, it was their turn to orchestrate the comeback, this time against an unexpected foe.
At the beginning of the day, most fans and analysts predicted a New York–London rematch. But the Philadelphia Fusion had other ideas, taking down the Spitfire 3–2 to continue their meteoric rise. The team’s current position—fourth in the overall standings, and Stage 2 runners-up—is a far cry from where many thought they would be, considering they missed out on the entire preseason.
And they’re not done.
“This stage we lost to a lot of the Korean teams, and people underestimated us,” Philadelphia DPS Josue “Eqo” Corona said. “No one expected us to come into this match [against London and win] this big. People will start to realize that there’s a lot of talent on this team, and we can not only be strong competitors against the Korean teams, but we can also beat them, and eventually even become the best team and win Overwatch League.”
Eqo was one of two breakout rookies for the Fusion this stage, along with Tracer specialist Simon “Snillo” Ekstrom, who personally terrorized London on Route 66, the deciding map of the semifinal. He repeated the feat against the NYXL to start their match, capitalizing time and again on the pressure generated by Joona “Fragi” Laine, one of the most improved main tanks over the course of the stage.
New York, to put it simply, were caught off guard.
“We mostly prepared for London, thinking that they were going to make the finals,” main tank Dong-Gyu “Mano” Kim admitted. “We used the strategies we prepared against London against Philadelphia, and it didn’t work at all. At halftime, what we talked about is, ‘Let’s just do what we’ve been doing, not the strategy we prepared against London.’”
The NYXL did just that, but with a twist: flex DPS Hae-Seong “Libero” Kim swapped to Widowmaker—his first time on the hero all season—to directly counter Philadelphia’s own sniper, Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” Lee, who had absolutely demolished London in the previous match. The swap wasn’t without its risks, but Libero made it count with some huge headshots on the last three maps.
“At first I thought he might have a hard time on Widowmaker because he’s almost never played that hero before, but we also had the trust that he would do great on Widowmaker because he’s really good at adapting to different [heroes],” said NYXL support Yeon-Jun “Ark” Hong.
“I think Carpe was kind of tired after the first game, since they had to play two matches today, and I was feeling really good about hitting my shots,” Libero added. “After Volskaya I had more confidence.”
The audacity of making a bold hero swap to turn around a dire situation is a testament to the NYXL players’ skills and adaptability, and the players in turn have consistently credited their coaching staff for their strategic and mental preparation. Perhaps it’s only fitting, then, that Hyeong-Seok "WizardHyeong" Kim, who works with the team on individual mechanics, landed this zinger when asked about teams like Philadelphia continuing to improve: “I don’t think there’s any gap between Korean teams and Western teams. I think there’s only a gap between Excelsior and non-Excelsior.”
Jovial postgame bragging aside, NYXL players readily identified several teams that they felt could all impress in Stage 3: the Dallas Fuel, the San Francisco Shock, and, unsurprisingly, their most recently vanquished opponents.
We defied the odds and fought hard to get to the Stage 2 Final! GGs to @NYXL - We'll see you in Stage 3!— Philadelphia Fusion (@PHL_Fusion) March 26, 2018
Despite their frustrating collapse just before the finish line, the Fusion still had a few jokes in them. When asked who their stage MVP was, Snillo’s 100 percent map win rate was immediately brought up, while the rookie’s more earnest response was Carpe, the team’s ace. Support player Alberto “Neptuno” González Molinillo muttered his own name into the mic, wanting to be appreciated as well, earning laughter from the whole room.
It’s clear that this is a team that respects everyone’s contributions and wants to push forward together—and if they want to know how sweet it will feel to finally fulfill their long-held dreams and win that coveted stage title, they can ask the team that just beat them.
The NYXL will have at least the next six weeks to savor the weight of the crown, and their victory tour will start in their future home of New York City, where they’ve planned an official fan meet at a Mets game. For most of the team, stepping foot in an iconic U.S. city and meeting their already-rabid fan base is exciting enough, but a couple players had specific goals in mind.
“I want to go a fancy restaurant,” Ark said, ready to put some of that Stage 2 prize money to good use.
Saebyeolbe’s wish was slightly less lofty.
“I want to look at the dogs in Central Park.”
Yes We Can !!!— Mano (@Mano_OWL) March 26, 2018