During the last century, the U.S. came to be associated with the moniker "the land of opportunity" across the globe. America was not only a place "in which life should be better and richer and fuller" for everyone but also one where "each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable" as described by the American author James Truslow Adams. Despite us living in a much more dynamic and connected world, and many considering the 'American dream' dead, the move across the North Pacific represents exactly that concept for the members of NYXL. The participation in Overwatch League gives them a chance to leave behind not only the harsh financial reality of Korean Overwatch but also the struggles of fulfilling their potential they've experienced in the past.
For even though the former LuxuryWatch players have accomplished a lot in their pre-OWL days, they are yet to make good on the promise of greatness that was their win at IEM Gyeonggi and the occasional superb performances afterward. For the most part, the team failed to live up to the expectations of absolute excellence their own play had set up for themselves.
Back in 2016, LuxuryWatch was one of the first Korean team names the West came to recognize due to their participation in an online tournament, but it was LW Red who had the success at this point of time. Led by the now well-known DPS star-duo of Pine & Fl0w3R and the Winston specialist aWesomeGuy, the squad beat on North American competition, ending the tournament with 10-0 map record while playing with the ping of over 150ms. A week later, they beat Lunatic-Hai in a series for the second time in the spawn of several weeks to win the first notable offline event in Korea. At this point, the squad was often in the conversation for the best in Korea, but, another two weeks down the line, they’d fail to qualify for APEX’s inaugural season. This placed them in Challenger, where they won 21 out of 22 Bo5 series and end up with map record of 63-11 over the course of two months. Led by what some deemed as the two best Korean damage dealers and being the second best team in Challenger, the squad was primed to make it through the APEX S2 offline qualifier. When push came to shove, however, they failed once again. LW Red lost an exciting but low-quality series against Afreeca Freecs Red, who in turn won zero maps in the following season of APEX.
An unlikely success story
Meanwhile, LW Blue, which was a several-weeks-old lineup at the time of the aforementioned APEX S1, made its way not only to the tournament, but also the playoffs. Led by Saebyeolbe's heroics and backed by solid play from Janus and the support duo, the squad overcame online powerhouse KongDoo Panthera and a RunAway lineup featuring Runner, Haksal, and KAISER from its runner-up finish next season. Blue's finish was encouraging -- especially for a team that is supposed to be the second-best in its organization -- but the Ro8 saw them lose convincingly due to a lack of firepower. Saebyeolbe showed up to the match and went down swinging, displaying prowess on multiple characters fans hadn't seen him on previously, but the rest of the roster crumbled and they lost in a quick sweep.
The addition of Fl0w3R and patch changes favoring D.Va provided a much-needed infusion of firepower and playmaking for LW Blue. Simultaneously, it removed any weak links, added another player who could single-handedly swing the course of a fight and relieved pressure from Janus, as he no longer had to act as the team's secondary carry. FL0w3R fit in immediately and they hit the ground running at IEM Gyeonggi. On their way to the final, they dispatched KD Panthera, who had been hyped up due to strong performances in practice, and a somewhat uncoordinated Rogue team. To lift the trophy, they overcame Lunatic-Hai and became the first Korean team to win a huge Overwatch tournament. While the competition at the event wasn't as good as possible -- missing top teams in EnVyUs (now known as Dallas Fuel) and KD Uncia -- the team delivered a dominant performance and that was enough to get them in the conversation for the best team in the world. By the time APEX S2 started, most considered them the favorite to win it as a result of the recent win in combination with EnVyUs' decline, roster troubles in the Lunatic-Hai camp and a shift in the metagame.
However, when it was the time to secure their status as the best in Korea, Blue came up short, just as Red did when they had the opportunity. After surprising losses in the Ro16 and Ro8, they got to the Ro4, still as the favorite to advance to the finals. They dug deep and delivered some clutch plays throughout the semifinal against RunAway, but, ultimately, it wasn't enough. Fl0w3R and co. won the third-place match and even though the finish would have been considered a success for any other team at the time, it was a disappointing one for them. As is often the case in competitions, when one is expected to take home the gold, anything else but that is an absolute defeat.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times ...
Regardless of them losing to both finalists and KD Panthera, by the time APEX S3 started, LW Blue was once again considered by many the favorite to win the tournament. Their versatility, ability to adapt to what opponents are doing in real time, overall well-roundedness and the level of firepower were simply too much to pass up on them when considering who the best team in the world is. Additionally, the team also featured Fl0w3R, a superstar who could take over a game at any point of time, seemingly regardless of the character he was playing.
They blitzed through the group stage with ease, but the Ro8 saw them in trouble once again. Janus' recurring health issues limited his practice time. Additionally, it caused them to use a substitute and some players to shift positions for a match. On top of all that, they were playing against the other two best teams in the tournament. Things got even worse as both had found a way to exploit a weakness in LW Blue's reactionary game and did so masterfully. All of this resulted in them exiting the tournament in 5th-6th place after losing to the two eventual finalists.
Unlike Red, Blue had valid reasons for failing to live up to expectations and their losses came to a degree as a result of a series of unfortunate events, especially in APEX S3. Still, explanations are no excuses and, to paraphrase the famous saying, a loss is a loss, no matter how you look at it. In addition, on the flip side of said explanations, question marks on the roster had started arising.
One of them was regarding the team's underage superstar. The expectations of Fl0w3R upon moving over to Blue were for him to overtake the likes of Taimou and TviQ, who were at the time vying for the tile of the best in the world. He did indeed surpass both, but never really took over as the inarguable number one. He was always a positive force on the team, yet, it's hard to say he was even the squad's best performer over the course of LW Blue's lifetime. Whether it is due to the issues with his hands or because of something else, Fl0w3R simply wasn't the carry force many expected him to be. In a way, he was the personification of LW Blue -- an elite player, who's versatile, adaptable and has the talent to be the best, but, ultimately, unable to do it with enough consistency to be the best.
Another question mark that emerged over the course of the two APEX seasons was the team's mentality. The squad didn't experience performance issues in the big games and clutch moments -- IEM Gyeonggi and the many late game plays they've pulled off serve as an evidence to that -- but where they seemed to have trouble is once something didn't go their way. When Janus had health issues and their strategy got countered, their otherwise commendable ability to adjust was seemingly gone and they all but rolled over and died. Their reaction was similar when they got a bit too cocky against KD Panthera and a rampaging EVERMORE brought the series back for his team. Instead of sending Saebyeolbe's Tracer to neutralize the Roadhog specialist -- as they did in a subsequent match -- they maintained the same approach and lost the series after being up 2-0 in terms of maps. The squad appeared to be impeccable as the front-runners, but once things went south in an unexpected way, one could see the chinks in their armor appear.
Once again, the explanations exist in each instance and all of them are reasonable ones. However, those are the obstacles winners must overcome to lift the trophy. That is what NYXL's core did at IEM Gyeonggi and it is what they're looking to do once again in the first season of OWL.
New team. New place. New opponents. New mentality..?
They still have the perfect excuse, due to the league's age restriction rules Fl0w3R is unable to play this year. On the bench of the team sits a talent of such a magnitude that when everything's said and done for Overwatch as an esports, he might end up being the greatest of all time. Due to that and the multiple changes, many pundits deemed it a developmental season for the Excelsior, but so far the team has been playing like they mean to win the whole league. Even though the squad still has much polishing to do and, the new additions in particular, are rough around the edges as a unit, they've looked much better than most anticipated. NYXL defeated a hot Valliant and currently sports the second best map record in the league.
Yet, the question about their ability to get over hurdles remains as the schedule they've had has been relatively easy thus far. In the upcoming match against Seoul Dynasty they'll have the opportunity to show whether the infusion of new blood and the move across the ocean have been enough for the team to evolve mentally. A defeat is likely, as RJH's boys have looked dominant whenever they aren't experimenting. The real test for the Excelsior, however, won’t be whether or not they can beat them now, but how they deal with the havoc Fleta and co. will inevitably wreck among their ranks. Should NYXL be able to show resilience, continue adjusting and give their best -- especially if outmatched by the powerhouse that is Dynasty -- that match will be considered a feather in their cap, regardless of the final map score.
And should they fail and crumble in the face of adversity once again? No one will fault them as they have the best excuse possible, but the thing about excuses -- they are not for the winners.
(Photo credits: Activision Blizzard)
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! I’ve been following different games within the esports industry ever since finding out about it in 2009. The titles that I follow closely for the time being are Overwatch, CS:GO and Quake, while occasionally dabbling in some other games as well. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports and gaming, you can find me on Twitter at @RadoNonfire.