A year in review for the Fusion

Jing Hao Liang
NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Fusion's playoff run ended before it even began in the first round of the Overwatch League postseason play-in tournament, as they fell 2-4 to the Shanghai Dragons. For many, however, the result was not unexpected.

Despite having reached the grand finals of the OWL last year where they lost to champions London Spitfire, Philadelphia had struggled all year with consistency in the new year's metas.

Both the Spitfire and Fusion had been tipped to maintain their strong performance from the playoffs into the new season but failed to adjust adequately to the new triple tank, triple support, or GOATS meta. In hindsight, both the Spitfire and Fusion received a lot of their strength from their DPS players both in the playoffs and previous stages, with Philadelphia's Jae-hyeok "Carpe" Lee and Josue "Eqo" Corona putting in stellar performances on Widowmaker and Hanzo respectively. However, the new meta meant that teamwork and synergy were prized above all, while the individual brilliance of Philadelphia's DPS could not shine through amidst the maelstrom of shields and support ultimates.

The problem was further compounded when it came to figuring out which hero each player should be playing. The team's best Zarya player by far was Gael "Poko" Gouzerch, but he also happened to be the team's only D.Va player, and both heroes were absolutely necessary for the new meta.

Neither Carpe nor Eqo seemed comfortable on Zarya, and there was a period of swapping back and forth before it was finally decided Carpe would be the team's starting Zarya, while Eqo would play Brigitte. Both players put in decent, but never outstanding performances, always far behind the likes of Jay "Sinatraa" Won of the San Francisco Shock or Hyo-jong "Haksal" Kim of the Vancouver Titans.

Another area of weakness was the main Tank Su-min "Sado" Kim, who was far more amenable to the prospect of playing Winston rather than Reinhardt, a mainstay in the GOATS meta. This preference meant Philadelphia's willingness to run Winston GOATS was often exploited by other teams as Reinhardt dealt far more damage, and Sado never quite looked comfortable on the Rein v Rein matchup.

The season had started brightly, with the Fusion finishing tied for 3rd in Stage 1 with a 5-2 win-loss record and making the Stage 1 playoffs, where they were knocked out immediately by a surging Atlanta Reign led by the now-retired popular streamer Daniel "Dafran" Francesca. In Stage 2, we began to get a clearer idea of the truly strong GOATS teams, as strength of schedule had played a large part in the standings after Stage 1, and Philadelphia found themselves in 11th for the stage and with an 8-6 record heading into the midseason break – not exactly ideal, especially when compared to the 14-0 Vancouver Titans or 11-3 San Francisco Shock.

By Stage 3 it was clear that Philadelphia were not one of the stronger teams in GOATS, as they received another 11th place finish for the stage and a 4-3 record, bringing their overall record to 12-9. Many expected that the impending 2-2-2 role lock for Stage 4 would allow Carpe and Eqo to showcase their DPS prowess once again after having been stuck on Zarya and Brig for the better part of a year, and tipped Philly to close out the season strongly.

Alas, the 2-2-2 role lock only brought another composition that played almost exactly like GOATS, which was called Mei-Reaper.

The composition, much like GOATS or 3-3, focused exclusively on close-quarters combat, and while there were evolutions here and there by other teams such as the Washington Justice to include a Hanzo for some long-range damage, Philly seemed determined to stick to the prevailing meta instead of changing up their strategy to allow their DPS to shine. Another stage out of the top 10 beckoned, as the Fusion finished 12th with a 3-4 record. No matter; perhaps the new patch for the playoffs, which would include new hero Sigma for the first time in professional play, would bring some favourable changes.

On August 30th, the Fusion arrived in the Blizzard Arena for their first, and possibly final, game in the play-in tournament. The OWL playoffs format had been modified for Season 2, with the overall top 6 teams for the season securing automatic qualifications for the playoffs, and the 7th-12th placed teams participating in a play-in tournament for the final 2 spots. With Philadelphia having finished the season 10th, they would go up against the 11th overall Shanghai Dragons, who had become Stage 3 champions with an unorthodox Pharah-Widowmaker combination but unexpectedly fallen off in Stage 4 in the 2-2-2 lock.

Right off the bat, Poko was making a case for himself as the best Sigma player in the tournament, with his stuns and shield management being a crucial factor in allowing Philly to win fights. However, the Fusion again proved themselves beholden to the meta, when they stayed on Reaper and Mei despite Yong-jin "Youngjin" Jin's Doomfist running rings around them with his ability to one-shot squishy heroes in fights.

Nevertheless, the match was closely contested, and a back-and-forth match saw both teams win King's Row after a technical issue meant Numbani could not be played, but it was the Dragons who came up on top in the end. The game capped off a decent, but not a stellar year for the team, much like their performance in GOATS which defined so much of their season.

Looking ahead to the next season, many have pointed to the burgeoning talents on the Fusion's academy team Fusion University as catalysts for a rebuild, in particular, flex support Kyung-bo "Alarm" Kim. However, it is uncertain how exactly the team will perform if they decide to take this route.

Fusion University struggled when they moved to Contenders Korea for 2019 Season 2, with a 5th-place finish out of 8 teams, losing 3-4 record for the first time ever in their history and being knocked out in the first round of playoffs despite having lost just 1 match and won the championship every time they participated in their 4 Contenders seasons in North America.

Whatever the case, a more difficult road lies ahead for Philly as competition gets ever more intense for Season 3 of the OWL and travel for away games comes into play.

A year in review for the Fusion originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

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