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2019 Off-Season Risk Takers: New York and Houston

Building a roster in any sport has always been a matter of balancing risk and reward. Even seemingly totally safe roster pickups can lead to massive disappointment; something the Dallas Fuel and Seoul Dynasty learned in 2018. That year’s champions, the London Spitfire, were a Frankenstein fusion of two rosters. The next year, 2019 champions San Francisco Shock swapped half their roster out going into playoffs. These, and many others, have seen bold but risky roster decisions pay off.

Over the 2019 off-season, several teams have made bold, drastic, or simply surprising roster moves. But with the 2020 season already upon us, how do these risks stack up and what are their chances of paying off.

The Houston Outlaws

For a team that’s long been the picture of stable mediocrity, Houston’s off-season roster moves have been pretty shocking. Tae-hong “MekO” Kim is their biggest pickup. Jung-geun “Rapel” Kim and Seung-soo “Jecse” Lee are welcome additions to their backline. João Pedro “Hydration” Goes Telles’ flexibility should, in theory, allow him to plug any holes the new Outlaws roster is left with. It’ll be on either Hydration or Jeffery “blasé” Tsang to fill the shoes left by Jacob “JAKE” Lyon’s retirement from professional play. 

2019 Offseason
Image: Houston Outlaws

Most analysts would agree that all of the Outlaws’ new pickups are upgrades over their counterparts on 2019’s roster. However, bringing in new players at three positions, two of whom have never played on English-speaking rosters, will mean losing a large part of the synergy that was the Outlaws’ redeeming feature throughout their first two seasons. Combined with the loss of leadership figure Jacob “JAKE” Lyon, the Outlaws might find themselves regretting their new pickups when communication and synergy problems begin dragging them down. 

Best Case Scenario: MekO, Jecse and Rapel manage to strike synergy with their English-speaking counterparts. Austin “Muma” Wilmot steps up as a leadership figure, freeing Hydration to focus on being a mechanical upgrade over JAKE. Houston overcome the language barrier and their enormous skill helps the Outlaws power their way into playoffs for the first time in the team’s history.  

Worst Case Scenario: A lack of synergy and a language barrier leads to a breakdown in communication both in and out of game. Without JAKE’s leadership, the Outlaws implode, ending up as less than the sum of their parts in a bottom 4 finish. 

Verdict: While losing existing synergy might hurt in the short-term, Houston’s roster moves will pay off. While their first few matches might see them stumble from growing pains, this new roster should make the Outlaws’ 2020 season their best yet. 

The New York Excelsior

Coming out of the 2019 off-season, the New York Excelsior have made more interesting moves when compared to their relatively uneventful 2018. Particularly notable is the loss of two people who have been with the organization since the beginning. NYXL have seen the departure of both off-tank MekO and head coach Hyeong-san “Pavane” Yu. To replace MekO, NYXL have brought in Guangzhou Charge off-tank Hong-joon “HOTBA” Choi. Alongside him, they’ve promoted Dong-wook “BiaNcA” Kim from their academy team. Meanwhile, their head coach position will be filled by promoted assistant coach Yong-cheol “imt” Jeong.  

2019 Offseason
Image: New York Excelsior

The final piece of the NYXL puzzle is the addition of APEX veteran Seong-jun “WhoRU” Lee. WhoRU and HOTBA are both well-suited to the more aggressive playstyle NYXL employed in 2019’s playoffs, where their eventual 3rd-place run was masterminded by imt. Even so, when considering NYXL’s changes it’s difficult not to think of the old aphorism: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. 

 

Best Case Scenario: New York come into 2020 with a brand new look that blows away the competition. In a new team environment with a totally revamped coaching structure, the Excelsior finally bring home the postseason performance their fans have been waiting for. 

Worst Case Scenario: Pavane and MekO prove to have been crucial cogs in the NYXL machine. Neither BiaNcA nor HOTBA prove to be of MekO’s caliber, and WhoRU’s large personality causes conflicts within the team. Even if disaster strikes, it’s difficult to see the NYXL missing out on playoffs, but they don’t get far. 

Verdict: The NYXL have certainly taken a risk; but one in the perfect proportion to their success. Instead of making wholesale changes, they’ve made tweaks around the edges that might put them on a stronger path. If nothing else, the feeling of a new team environment should prevent NYXL from getting inside their own heads and let them finally put the ‘LW Blue Choke’ narrative to rest. 

 

Stay Connected

Tune in next week for an installment of Off-Season Risk Takers that’ll cover the London Spitfire and Los Angeles Gladiators! If you want to dive deeper into teams’ off-season pickups, take a look at The Game Haus’ list of rookies to keep an eye out for in 2020. 

Featured image courtesy of the Houston Outlaws

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