Iwasn’t really nervous about the outcome heading into the Overwatch League Grand Finals.
Seriously, I wasn’t. I knew our team was good, and I was confident in our strategies. The Philadelphia Fusion were absolutely a formidable squad, but I knew that if we played our best and listened to each other, we’d come out on top.
Of course, having Birdring on your side sniping people all over the map helps too.
What I was nervous about, though, was walking out on that stage.
Blizzard had hyped it up all year, for good reason. It was the first finals, and 20,000 people sold out Barclays Center a full two months before the championship to come see us play. We’ve played in big arenas before, but it was obvious that this was going to be something different.
So the only time while I felt nervous or self-conscious the entire weekend was when I was standing backstage thinking, “Man, I hope I don’t do anything stupid when the announcers call my name.”
Thankfully though, as soon as it was my turn, all those fears melted away. There was loud pumping music and a huge venue full of our fans, some who had come all the way from the U.K. to cheer us on. And of course, I was wearing a pair of sky-blue sneakers that just happened to match the London Spitfire’s team colors. (Everyone knows I’m a bit of a sneakerhead; I can’t help myself.) I took my spot next to my teammates, basked in the lights and let the moment sink in for a bit, and then it was time to play. The hard part was over, all that was left was to do the thing we have always done: win.
My name is Jaehui Hong. In game, you know me as Gesture, and I play as Winston. My teammates were recently crowned the first-ever Overwatch League champions. And to be honest, it still hasn’t totally sunk in yet.
I never really doubted that we could get here. When the Spitfire first came together at the dawn of the Overwatch League, we were basically this combination of two of the best Overwatch squads in Korea. Bdosin is our leader and shot-caller, NUS and Closer are two clutch supports, Birdring and Profit wreak havoc when they fall into their dual-sniper loadouts and Fury is one of the most versatile players in the entire league. While we never were going to take anyone lightly, there also wasn’t a team in the league I feared. We were capable of matching up against anyone, all we had to do was execute.
Still, looking back now, this journey was difficult in ways nobody could’ve really expected. Basically, we were losing, which was not something we were used to. If you’re reading this, you might know that we started dropping some games partway through the season. Some of the reasons for that were purely mechanical; we had difficulty adjusting to the new meta sweeping through Overwatch, which is a thing that has hurt esports teams since the beginning of time. Birdring also came down with a wrist injury that took him out of action for a while, which obviously hurt our damage output, but some of the other problems were more emotional, and more surprising.
For starters, The Overwatch League is long. It started with a preseason in December and continued all the way through the summer. For most of that time, we were living in Los Angeles and playing at Blizzard Arena. It was an incredible experience to be part of this new global league, but after enough time, being that far from Korea resulted in a certain homesickness. All your friends and family are across the ocean, and you’re just living and breathing Overwatch — every single day. That can wear the team down after a while. Especially if you’re Korean, because Koreans go stir-crazy if they’ve gone without Korean food for too long.
Seriously, ask any Korean and they’ll know what I’m talking about.
Korean food recharges our batteries. It’s an instant morale booster. Thankfully we were in L.A., and could make it out to the city’s Koreatown every now and then. Whenever we went there, it really did feel like we were transported back home for a while. You need to latch onto that stuff the best you can. It’s what keeps you sane.
We powered through it though. We rallied. When you focus on the finish line, everything else fades away. It’s really hard to drop your guard when you find yourself three wins away from a championship. And when we qualified by beating the Los Angeles Valiant in the playoffs (in Los Angeles, nbd), we knew we were on the cusp of history. Going into Barclays Center, which isn’t too far from Philadelphia, we knew the crowd would be more on the Fusion’s side. That’s O.K., because the months of experience we’d gained by playing against the L.A. teams at Blizzard Arena prepared us for that experience of feeling like the “away” team. We know what it’s like to play in front of an audience that’s 90% against you. But the thing is, with Overwatch fans, when we start playing well, they can’t help but cheer for us.
Also, we weren’t worried about dodging the New York Excelsior. In fact, if NYXL had made it to Barclays Center instead of the Fusion, we would’ve beaten them in their hometown, too. Just so you know.
The first day of the Grand Finals went well. We won the first match with a map score of 3–1, which we were proud of, despite the mistakes we made. But going into Saturday, we still felt pressure. We wanted to close things out and play better, because we knew that if the Fusion fixed some of their errors, they could be right back in the best-of-three match series. But after that first map, where we put together such a ridiculous lead on Junkertown, I knew that we were in the driver’s seat. An hour later, we were the Overwatch League champions.
Yeah, it wasn’t the most dramatic series of all time. I understand that, we felt it too. It’s funny: In the clinching game, it still felt like we were playing any other game of Overwatch — exactly what we had done for the past eight months. When we officially won, though, that’s when the emotions hit me. It was overwhelming.
I want to thank the fans out in London. I know we haven’t met yet and that we’ve only been playing out of L.A. and New York, but I promise you we deeply appreciate the videos of your watch parties and the tweets that pour through our timeline after every game. It means so much to us, and I promise you the team will be making a trip to the city in October, so we can finally meet face to face. In the meantime, keep hitting us up on Twitter. We appreciate the love more than you know.
There may be other champions in the Overwatch League, but we will always and forever be the first champions. It’s historic. It means a lot to us. We’re the only ones in the league who know what it’s like to climb the mountain, and I think that will help us a ton next season.
Oh man, next season. It’s hard to think about that right now. The past week and a half has been a blur. I’ve been running around all over celebrating our win. It’s now good to be back home and taking a break. No more practice sessions or watching tape, I just want to take it easy and settle back into a sense of ease and normality.
But even when I’m not practicing and get to unplug for a bit, I know my mind will keep wandering back to what I experienced that weekend in Brooklyn. Everything we worked for, culminating all at once. I didn’t even touch my phone for hours after the victory; it was just jam-packed with messages from back home. Thousands of notifications, all at once. I’m always going to remember the roar of that crowd when it was all over, and the celebrations after. In the first year! It’s hard to imagine how much bigger this will all get from here.
And, even though we won, everyone should know we plan on coming back even stronger next season. Yes, we’ve already made it to the top. But now that we’re here, I hope everybody gets used to it. We plan on staying here for a good long while.