For the second year in a row, the Hangzhou Spark will watch the Grand Finals from the sidelines after an early exit in the postseason. While the team was riding high on a positive end to the regular season, they were unable to replicate that success against their 2020 rivals, the Seoul Dynasty. There have been many ups and downs for the Chinese/Korean squad, and many lessons the team can take going into next season. If the team wants to win the 2021 Overwatch League championship, they will need to reassess a few things.
1 // The Spark Are Anime
While yes, the Spark are technically now partnered with an anime series, but their ties with anime go far beyond just marketing means. This season, the team went through many different looks and gave fans multiple different narratives through the season. In a way, the organization teased the idea of an anime-inspired team with the introduction of the team’s branding in 2019. In 2020, however, the team fully embraced the anime brand with both the marketing material with their manga series for example and in the way their play in-game turned out. The squad started the season in an anime comeback fashion with a reverse sweep against the Hunters. From there, the team found their place in the middle of the APAC region during regular season play.
Then came the multiple 3-0 bouts against the Dynasty that would lead to not one, but three meetings in tournament/playoff scenarios. This rivalry would end at the hands of another 3-0 by the Dynasty in the playoffs. Before the playoffs, however, the team would also go through a makeover. What was once a stagnant roster was blown up and given new life through the introduction of Minho “Architect” Park and Sungjun “QoQ” Yu. Alongside the continued rotation of support rookies Tong “ColdesT” Xiaodong and Liu “M1KA” Jiming, the team finally had the depth it needed on top of a superstar DPS player.
But the struggles did not end there. While the new roster had a successful debut against the NYXL, the team would go on to play at the same mediocre pace the original squad was at. This led to another disappointing 1st round exit in the Summer Showdown and the streaky play continued until the final regional tournament of the season: the Countdown Cup. This was the turning point for the Spark. At a point where the entire league wrote them off as a B+ squad, the team denied every preconceived notion the APAC region had of them in this tournament. This run was the motivation the team needed as the postseason loomed ahead. After the Countdown Cup, the team held a positive record but unfortunately fell short as previously mentioned.
But if that’s not preparation for a 2021 character development-boosting, anime redemption arc: then something ain’t right.
2 // The Goals Were Not Met
Early in the season, Hojin “iDK” Park had an interview with local Korean media reflecting on Hangzhou’s inaugural season and expectations going into this season. In that talk, iDK explains how he believes that their 2019 season was a miracle because of the lack of a star player. While the team overall was comprised of OWL-quality talent, there was not a carry player that many of the top teams rely on in clutch situations. This led to the team falling short during Stage 1 and from there the team never quite was able to adjust to GOATS quick enough by the introduction of 2-2-2. In the end, however, the Spark did finish with 18-10 record and 4th place finish.
This looks like a success in context but the top 3 teams (Titans, NYXL, and Shock) were far ahead of the 4th place Spark and the rest of the pack overall. One of iDK‘s goals for the 2020 season was to place better than 4th and win the League. Well, the Spark 12-11 record, which was only good for 10th place. The Spark wanted to replicate much of success from last season, but they couldn’t do it without a full season with a star player.
A star player that they eventually got half-way through the season.
3 // The New Face of the Franchise
As previously mentioned, the Spark needed a star player and they found one in Architect. Architect ushers in a new era for Hangzhou and with a full offseason with the team coming up, the team has an opportunity to find the right rhythm with the Korean talent. iDK was sure that this team could be successful with a carry player on their team, and there were glimpses of winnable potential throughout Architects 2020 tenure with the Spark. From the amazing debut to the Countdown Cup run, Architect is now a mainstay DPS in the OWL.
Alongside his DPS partner Kyeongbo “GodsB” Kim as well as improved play from players like Qiulin “Guxue” Xu, the Spark finally have a core of players they can build around. With this offseason being perhaps the first featuring long-term contracts, the team could secure their future with parts of this squad. For the rest of the roster holes, the organization may decide to find the other pieces elsewhere or stick with the current crew again. There is plenty of opportunities for improvement and with the new coaching staff at the helm, things could shake up quite a bit for Architect and the Hangzhou Spark in 2021.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Hangzhou Spark
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