The Hangzhou Spark find themselves fighting an uphill battle going into the 2021 postseason. Following a turbulent regular season, to say the least, the Pink and Blue squad narrowly squeaked into the 2021 Overwatch League play-ins with just a four map win difference against the NYXL. Falling to 7-9 after losing their last four games, The Spark now need to find a way to quickly regroup in this weekend’s single-elimination tournament against the Philadelphia Fusion and Seoul Dynasty.
#4 Philadelphia Fusion (10-6)
The first roadblock in Hangzhou’s path to the playoffs is the fourth-seeded Fusion. These teams last clashed back in Week 17 where the Fusion defeated the Spark 3-1. The difference going into this matchup, however, is the makeup of the backline. Following Jeong-ho “MCD” Lee’s recent departure from the team, the Spark’s current support lineup has now given way for a much-needed shake-up for a struggling roster.
The insertion of both Liu “M1ka” Jiming and Tong “ColdEst” Xiaodong could all be the difference in this underdog matchup for Hangzhou. There is not a lot of tape that Philadelphia can look at for the Chinese support duo, so the Spark would have that advantage. The pair’s motivation to prove themselves in the OWL and solidify their starting spot on the team’s roster during the play-ins might also be enough to give Hangzhou the edge.
The 3-1 score from a few weeks ago could end up just being an afterthought.
However, The Fusion themselves are not just some basic pushovers. In 2018, the Fusion found themselves to the inaugural Grand Finals. Last season, the team clawed their way to the four-team Grand Finals after ending the Washington Justice’s miraculous Losers’ Bracket run.
When the Fusion are red-hot in the playoffs, Philly is a different beast.
Philadelphia walks into the 2021 play-ins, perhaps, not as potent as previous seasons, but still a monumental threat in the grand scheme of things. This is especially true to a potentially dispirited – and Head Coach-less – Spark roster. Between the two teams, the Fusion hold a 2-0 record on the season matchup. Unless Xu “Guxue” Qiulin and the Spark can perfectly execute the dive – including a returning Ashe lock from Zheng “Shy” Yangjie – the Fusion may be too much to handle.
In particular, the biggest matchup to look at is whether M1ka and ColdEst’s postseason debuts and stave off a consistently surging Kyungbo ‘Alarm’ Kim on the other side of the support line.
#3 Seoul Dynasty (12-4)
If Hangzhou finds their way past Philadelphia, then Tiger Nation is next up to bat. Just like the Fusion, however, the Dynasty have a 2-0 record against the Spark this season.
Presuming the Spark found a way past Jae-hyeok “Carpe” Lee and the Fusion, then that would mean the new support duo for Hangzhou is clicking with the current roster. If ColdEst and M1ka play past their nerves and Guxue, Shy, Minho “Architect” Park, etc. are in playoff form, then the Spark may have a chance to ride their momentum from a win against Philadelphia into a solid matchup for Seoul.
For this to happen, however, Shy and Architect – specifically – must find a way to outplay Dong-eon “FITS” Kim and Joon-yeong “Profit” Park. FITS in his own right has been playing lights out alongside Profit, but if there is a single entity that can stop Hangzhou in their tracks: it’s Playoff Profit.
The man who almost single-handedly won the Spitfire the 2018 OWL Championship against the previously mentioned Fusion has all the right to be fear going into this matchup. Not to mention that his fellow Spitfire teammate, Jae-hee “Gesture” Hong, is also on this current Dynasty roster.
With that being said, one of the closest things to Profit’s flexibility among the rest of the league is Architect.
Architect has been touted as the most versatile player in the OWL but has never hit the peaks of talent Profit seemingly has. While this may look like a mismatch on the Spark’s part, based on the scenario that the Spark make it to this matchup, Architect will also be on his A-game after a win over the Fusion. Alongside Shy’s typical numbers, a top-tier Architect has the chance to create his own Profit-like playoff moments.
Play-ins and Beyond
By all intents and purposes, the Spark have a low chance at success in the postseason based on their play during the last few games of the season. With a forced roster swap and a few intangibles, however, the Spark can exceed expectations. If they can find a way to hone their dive composition with a half-Korean half-Chinese roster and carry it into the playoffs, they have a strong chance at being this year’s Washington Justice surprise run.
But first, they need to focus on play-ins and play-ins only.
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Featured Image Courtesy of the Hangzhou Spark.
Spark 2021 Play-ins
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