The Atlanta Reign became one of the most improved teams from 2020 to 2021. In a year full of uncertainty, they vastly surpassed the expectations placed on them. A trip to the 2021 Grand Finals signifies their incredible progress. This is the story of how the Atlanta Reign went from pretenders to contenders.
Failing to Meet Expectations
After signing numerous players from their ever-so successful Academy team, the Reign were expected to be one of the most dangerous teams in Season Three. Some fans and experts even considered them to be title contenders.
Unfortunately, the year did not play out the way Atlanta and their fans hoped it would. The Reign finished in twelfth place overall with a 10-11 record. Along with those poor results came no real tournament runs of any kind. The Reign lacked versatility. The Reign failed to adjust and pick up new heroes as needed. A team commonly found in the top five of Preseason power rankings had four combined tournaments and Playoff wins to their names.
Farewell to our players,
Farewell to our friends,
Farewell to our family.
No words can explain the gratitude we have for all of you representing Atlanta. Thank you @Fire_OW, @frdwnr, @DogmanOW, @ERSTER_ow, @Pokpo_ow, & @Saucy_OW for always letting it Reign. 🖤❤️#ReignForever pic.twitter.com/T69DuZljow
— Atlanta Reign (@ATLReign) October 22, 2020
Consequently, a rebuild was in order. To regain their contending status, the Reign had no choice but to buckle down.
Almost immediately, Atlanta cut their roster in half. Despite boasting one of the deepest rosters in 2020, the versatility was not there. As a result, Atlanta decided it might be better to focus on a smaller roster where the attention didn’t have to be as divided.
After saying goodbyes to familiar faces, the Reign signed Se-hyun ‘Pelican’ Oh and Kai ‘Kai’ Collins. The idea of these additions was to increase the Reign’s overall explosiveness, which is something they lacked one year prior. Former Valiant Assistant Coach, Max ‘Unter’ Unterwurzacher was also signed to provide new views and philosophies.
As Season Four got underway, the logic behind the Reign’s offseason moves quickly became apparent. After some growing pains in the May Melee qualifiers, the Reign never looked back.
Big wins against major Western rivals starting rolling in left and right. This trend never went away either as seen by their 14-2 qualifying record the rest of the way. Along with that came three straight trips to Hawaii and a Playoff appearance. The Atlanta Reign were true contenders in 2021. Despite going out in blowout fashion during the Grand Finals, they still vastly surpassed their expectations on the way to a fantastic campaign.
The Reign’s successful year starts with significant team improvements. The first of which was their player additions. As one of the strongest DPS duos in the league, Kai and Pelican opened a multitude of opportunities for the Reign. Their consistent playmaking and versatility almost always gave this team a chance to win.
Along with that, the players who stuck around after Season Three worked hard to get better. In the 2021 Grand Finals press conference, Blake ‘Gator’ Scott offered some insight into his team’s improvement. Gator said, “I think we’ve become more flexible as a team and I think our teamwork has improved a lot. I also think we got some insane players too which helps.”
The results say it all. Atlanta remained strong through multiple metas and hero pools. The iconic duo of Gator and Xander ‘Hawk’ Domecq finally broke out of the average territory. Meanwhile, Seung-hyun ‘Ir1s’ Kim finally became comfortable playing for the Reign. He embraced his new role as the starter, quickly becoming a borderline, Role Star level Flex Support.
The Reign showed competent mid-game adaptations as well which was a struggle previously. Their stronger teamwork and versatility helped them win more of the close games they used to always lose. Despite playing fewer games, the Reign won an extra match compared to Season 3. They also cut their losses in half, putting them at 11-5 on the year.
A New Identity
Unlike in 2020 where the Reign seemed to only be good at one or two compositions, this year’s team was flexible. Whether they played rush, Wrecking Ball or Orisa comps, Atlanta remained a threat. All of their starters could make a difference on numerous heroes. As seen by their few losses on the year, it took a total team effort to take the Reign down.
It was no longer some cakewalk where the other team could capitalize on exploitable weaknesses. The combined improvements made way for one of the most surprising playoff pushes in Overwatch League history.
The “Fun” Team
For fun team makes finals LOoOLl ggs Dallas we win 3-1
— Gator (@Gator_OW) September 25, 2021
Another important aspect of the Reign’s story comes from their attitude. Oftentimes, they would engage in friendly banter and trash talk. As many Reign players have said on Twitter, they saw themselves as the team who had fun.
Trash talking their opposition was only one half of the equation though. As it turns out, many fans did not appreciate their “fun”. As the Playoffs rolled around, they became villainized by part of the community. The players used this as extra motivation.
As fans continued to wish failure upon them, they did everything in their power to prove the haters wrong. Evidently, the Reign’s desire to upset the haters helped them push past their limits. Since they were already being doubted to begin with, they felt less pressure to perform. This mindset gave them an advantage over some of the other Playoff teams with high expectations.
I wonder how many salty nerds mad the villains made finals LOL
— Gator (@Gator_OW) September 25, 2021
Teams such as the Fuel and Gladiators felt inclined to perform. As a result, a majority of the pressure deflected to the Reign’s opposition, making it more likely they would make the game-deciding mistakes. Atlanta worked hard and had fun at the same time, which is ultimately why their trip to the Grand Finals was so special.
“From Our Haus to Yours”