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It took three months for the Philadelphia Fusion’s roster to finally come together.

When the 2021 Overwatch League season began in April, the Fusion were scrambling. They had opted to operate the team out of South Korea this season, but the core foreign players who made up the roster were having difficulty securing visas. As a result, the team signed flex tank Choi “HOTBA” Hong-jun and main support Yang “tobi” Jin-mo to fill in the gaps. The signings came mere days before the start of the season, giving the team little time to gel. 

It wasn’t until July that the foreign members of the team were able to arrive in Korea. Main support Daniel “FunnyAstro” Hathaway hadn’t played in the Overwatch League for close to a year by the time he was there.

“It was kind of a shock getting back into it,” FunnyAstro said. “I was out of practice and a little bit slow at the start. There were a few weeks where I was sharing playtime with tobi. After that, I got used to it again. I got back in the groove and started doing a lot better.”

The Fusion have a history of surprising in playoffs; they famously upset the New York Excelsior to make it to grand finals in 2018. They’re on track to make a similar miracle happen this year, following another upset victory against the Seoul Dynasty. The Dynasty defeated the Fusion quite handily in their last two matchups but, in play-ins, the Fusion managed to snag victory and a playoffs spot.

“We didn’t have any crazy high expectations because nobody expected us to beat Seoul,” FunnyAstro admitted. “They were the favorites of the match. They’d already beat us twice. But we had a lot of strategies we’d prepared against them. We were a lot more ready for them this time around.”

All season, the Fusion have struggled to find their identity. Despite the immense talent on the roster, there’s been a persistent sense that they’ve never really clicked. The team has done fairly well in the regular season, but they never once made it to a tournament.

The Philadelphia Fusion have been operating out of South Korea this season
The Fusion have been operating out of South Korea this season. | Provided by Overwatch League

Still, their reinvigorated play-ins performance isn’t just a late-season surge; it’s them performing to the standard they were supposed to all along. They were just incomplete for most of the season. Now that almost all of them are finally together, the Fusion are figuring out the approach they want to take going forward. According to FunnyAstro, the team’s flexibility will be their biggest strength heading into playoffs.

“I don’t think we have a set style,” FunnyAstro said. “It was sort of the same thing last year where, even though we played a lot of different [compositions], we didn’t have a super aggressive or super passive style. We just tried to do what we thought was best. I don’t think there’s one style that we’re particularly set on, which might make us a little harder to prepare for.”

The Fusion’s ability to adapt will serve them well in the playoffs, where the meta is undefined and it seems like anything goes. The eight participating teams all have different preferences when it comes to compositions and playstyles, setting the stage for exciting matchups all around. FunnyAstro believes that, contrary to previous postseasons, this year’s playoffs will see a wide variety of compositions.

“These playoffs are going to be very interesting to watch,” FunnyAstro said. “Every playoffs before, there’s always been a set meta where you expect the teams to be mirroring each other. But this year, there are a lot more teams who have their own style. Dallas likes playing the Winston comps. Atlanta loves Orisa and Reinhardt. Chengdu love playing Ball and Zenyatta and crazy stuff like that. Shanghai have their Sombra-Tracer…. I think it’s just going to be everyone playing their style, and we’ll see who can play their style best.”

FunnyAstro and the Philadelphia Fusion in early 2020
FunnyAstro and the Philadelphia Fusion in early 2020. | Provided by Overwatch League

The Los Angeles Gladiators, who took first place in the Countdown Cup, selected the Fusion to be their first-round opponents. The Gladiators have developed into a fearsome team but they’re also something of a known quantity. There’s a certain rigidity in what they can play, depending on whether Kim “skewed” Min-seok or Grant “moth” Espe is in on main support. This is something that FunnyAstro pointed to as an exploitable weakness.

“All of our players are really flexible,” FunnyAstro said. “I can confidently say we’re one of the few teams that can play Reinhardt, Orisa, Ball and Winston comps at a high level. [The Gladiators] have a lot more difficulty swapping between comps that easily because they have two supports that they have to swap out, depending on what they’re playing.”

Still, he has a lot of respect for the Gladiators’ star damage dealer, Kevin “kevster” Persson, based on their encounters on the ranked ladder.

“I’ve played against Kevster a lot in EU ranked,” FunnyAstro said. “I’ve only scrimmed against him a bit, but he’s definitely a scary player. I’m not sure how scary he is compared to his ranked performances — I think he doesn’t play as perfectly in matches — but he’s looked really, really strong this season, so we’re going to have to focus a lot on shutting him down.”

It took the better part of a season but the Fusion are finally coming into their own. The team that will compete in playoffs is very different from the team that played in the May Melee. And, if they can continue to improve, the Fusion could very well find themselves making a surprise run all the way to the grand finals. After all, they’ve done it before.