The Overwatch League is finally back.
With all the changes coming to the 2020 season, it is no surprise that teams are bolstering their rosters in preparation for the new meta. While several teams have completely overhauled their roster, a few teams have kept their core after strong finishes last season. Following a fourth-place finish in 2019, the Hangzhou Spark look to best their record from the previous season with virtually the same squad. This, in theory, could be both a boon and a bane for the team. Great teams stick together, but whether or not this team has the capacity to go beyond what they accomplished in their inaugural season is to be seen.
Qiulin “guxue” Xu (Tank)
Sungwook “Ria” Park (Tank)
Jaehwan “Adora” Kang (Damage)
Kyeongbo “GodsB” Kim (Damage)
Junki “Bazzi” Park (Damage)
Hojin “iDK” Park (Support)
Huichang “BeBe” Yoon (Support)
Sanghyun “SASIN” Song (Flex)
Out of the 11 players that played with Hangzhou last season, eight return this year. The organization moved Daun “NoSmite” Jeong to the Paris Eternal after guxue proved he was the Spark’s starting Main Tank. Hyeonggeun “Revenge” An and Shilong “Krystal” Cai were also both let go after having difficulty finding playtime and in Krystal’s circumstance, having personal issues that affected the team last season.
Ria returns as the team’s off-tank after some highlight plays on D.Va. He will also continue to be supported by SASIN‘s presence when the need arises. Adora and GodsB are back as the team’s mainstay Damage duo with Bazzi returning as a two-way player after a stellar playoff run last season. iDK and BeBe also return as the Supports.
It makes complete sense for this team to stay together after a successful season on paper, but that statement only makes sense in context. “On paper” this team was the fourth-best team in the world, but in reality, the three teams above them were on a whole other level that the Spark never seemed to match. While other teams resorted to drastic changes to hopefully match that of the Shock, Titans, and NYXL, Hangzhou has stuck to their guns for the most part.
Glad to announce that COLDEST and M1KA join us from BLG.OW! The support duo of our academy team impressed the coaches & roster with their gameplay and dedication. As their technique & teamwork continue to grow, we believe they shall become an essential part of us. Get hype!#bang pic.twitter.com/ioaP6Z086m
— Hangzhou Spark (@Hangzhou_Spark) January 15, 2020
Tong “Coldest” Xiaodong (Support)
Liu “M1ka” Jiming (Support)
Jung “Yeah” Young-su (Assistant Coach)
Despite keeping the majority of their roster intact, Hangzhou has decided to call-up their Chinese support duo from Billibilli Gaming: Coldest and M1ka. The Spark has also sent Hang “YinDong” Gao to Billibilli Gaming to be their head coach while letting go of one of their assistant coaches, Seungjun “Sup7eme” Han, and hiring Yeah to replace him.
Strengthening their support line does make sense in the grand scheme of things, but the issue with Coldest and M1ka‘s arrival is how the Hangzhou staff will deal, once again, with a similar issue they had early last season. An interesting dynamic going into the Spark’s first season was how they were going to handle the language barrier between Chinese player guxue and the rest of the Korean members. This inevitably led to guxue learning Korean and the team going forward as primarily Korean-speaking team. So, now the question arises: do Coldest and M1ka learn Korean? How does this affect the team when the players are split evenly between Chinese and Korean on stage?
The big factor on whether this will be a glaring problem is how the Spark decides to rotate their support duos. An indication of how well the issue has been resolved, and how quickly, may be seen by just observing the performance in their first few games alone.
The coronavirus epidemic has placed a wrench in both Hangzhou’s travel schedule as well as their homestand status. As of the writing of this article, the home games planned to be played in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou in February and March have been cancelled. Currently, there is no proof of a “hometown advantage” in the OWL as there have been only a handful of opportunities to see Overwatch League crowds outside the now-defunct Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles. But not being able to play in front of a majority crowd must hurt for the Chinese-based organizations.
There are potential opportunities for homestands in China later on in the season, but not having them early on while the rest of the league enjoys their opportunities could hinder the team’s consistency. The team may also decide to relocate their headquarters to Korea, like the Charge or the Dragons, or maybe even to a city in North America like the Paris Eternal did. This could allow for less travel in general, which could be a blessing amongst an otherwise unfortunate circumstance.
Keys to the Season
The boys in pink need to be much better off the bat for the team to surpass what they accomplished last season. The team finished last season with an 18-10 record and a 64-52-4 map ratio. This was just above other teams like the London Spitfire (16-12), Atlanta Reign (16-12) and LA Gladiators (17-11), in which the Spark ended up losing to the latter in the winner’s bracket quarter-finals of the 2019 playoffs.
The more telling statistic to look at though is the map difference between Hangzhou’s record and the record of the top three teams of last season. The Titans, Shock, and Excelsior all averaged more than a +40 rating in map difference (+61, +66 and +40 respectively). While the Spark ended the regular season with a +12 rating. This is less than both the Gladiators and Reign at +19 and even the eighth-place team in the league: the Seoul Dynasty at +14.
An apparent issue the team had last season was their rocky starts when it came to newly introduced metas. The team needs to find consistency early on in a meta’s lifecycle in order to be a top-tier squad. With the new integration of the “first-to-three” format for the 2020 season, this at the utmost importance.
The second key to this season is that the returning players must show why they deserve to be on the starting squad. Knowing that the team clinched the 4th seed last season, the Spark could easily take the lazy approach and just try to replicate last season. But as the league’s offseason moves suggest; bad teams have gotten better and good teams are only going to get even better than last season. Hangzhou can not just rest on their laurels.
After fighting for the Main Tank role during the early stages of the 2019 season, guxue finally has a chance to own his role, playing alongside Ria, and rocket his team to the top.
On top of that, choosing between iDK and BeBe or Closest and M1ka may present a challenge, as previously stated, but having four support players provides a cushion for when things go wrong in the backline.
The most vital aspect of this team is whether Adora, GodsB and Bazzi can prove themselves as elite. While GodsB was a flex “god” last season splitting time between Zarya and his Damage picks, it will be up to his performance, alongside Adora and when Bazzi is called upon, to help the Spark prove why it made sense to keep the team together. If things do not work out, then roster changes could be in the Spark’s future.
Which was something that could have been done during this offseason.
In 2019, the Spark were just the cream of a mediocre crop and it will be interesting to see if the team will perform up to par despite the lack of proverbial upgrades. With all that being said, TGH Esports has the Hangzhou Spark listed at #12 on the Preseason Power Rankings. So have the Pink and Blue already hit their ceiling or are they ready to ricochet back to top-team status as they once did last preseason?
All it takes is a spark.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment
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