The Los Angeles Gladiators are the frontrunners in OWL 2022
Los Angeles Gladiators 2022
Provided by the Los Angeles Gladiators.

The Los Angeles Gladiators are the frontrunners in OWL 2022

Even with recent poor form, it's hard to argue that the Gladiators are the top team so far

The Overwatch community had many questions about the Los Angeles Gladiators heading into the 2022 season despite a successful end to 2021.

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Last season, there were some big roster changes, most notably at DPS. Kevin “kevster” Persson remained on the team from their first title win in team history, but Lee “ANS” Seon-chang and Patiphan “Patiphan” Chaiwong were coming off breaks from Overwatch following stints in pro VALORANT play. The Gladiators had talent but needed their players to mesh to succeed once again in the Overwatch League.

But halfway into the 2022 season, the Los Angeles Gladiators are the team to beat in the Overwatch League. Offseason moves and time to gel have helped the team win back-to-back stage titles in the Kickoff Clash and Midseason Madness; both regional and international tournaments. With a good chunk of the team present for the Countdown Cup win in 2021, the coaching staff knew it was just a matter of making the new pieces fit and fixing minor mistakes.

“With what translated from last year to this one, I don’t think you can point to one thing,” head coach Sam “face” Merewether said. “You keep just working on the good things while fixing the bad ones. This year is just a result of this squad building since 2020, all of them have put in hard work to get this success.”

Gladiators’ success reflects a strong roster

Face joined the team as a coach in late 2019 — he’s one of the longest-tenured Gladiators alongside player Indy “SPACE” Halpern. The coach helped oversee the team’s development from 2020 to now, including signings such as kevster, Kim “Shu” Jin-seo, and Kim “skewed” Min-seok. Those three players have remained crucial to the team since the Gladiators signed them, and their flexibility and impact in the game seems almost irreplaceable.

“It’s a close race between Shu and kevster for who I would call our MVP so far this year,” Gladiators support player Daniel “FunnyAstro” Hathaway said. “Both are super consistent and great playmakers. Shu on Ana was the difference maker on a lot of maps this year and kevster can play almost anything to that top level too. If I had to pick one, it would be kev for his Midseason Madness performance.”

FunnyAstro himself is among the most recent signings on the Gladiators, joining alongside ANS and Corey “Reiner” Scoda.

“We didn’t have many issues other than just gelling together as a team,” FunnyAstro said. “Two rookies and a lot of veterans; it’s a great mix, but it took time to fit together. It’s hard to ignore the two reverse-sweeps from the Kickoff Clash, but they encouraged us to work harder. I felt we needed that adversity, especially after the easier wins we had before those losses.”

Patiphan’s return starts hot but ends with a hiatus

Patiphan went from one of the best prospects in the Overwatch scene to an international VALORANT talent and, now, a standout DPS for the Gladiators. Even after helping X10 Crit to a great underdog run at the VALORANT Champions 2021 tournament, he returned to finally reach the Overwatch League. Patiphan needed to reacquaint himself with Overwatch in order to succeed with Los Angeles.

“I think he’s really heavily exceeded expectations,” assistant coach Max “Unter” Unterwurzacher said. “Obviously, people remember his talent back in the older Overwatch days, but as soon as he moved back, people started to doubt him more. Now, he’s proved those doubters wrong, and he was an enormous part of both of our title wins. Against Dallas at the Kickoff Clash finals, he proved himself and was the best Soldier: 76 in the tournament.”

Unfortunately, Patiphan confirmed on stream that he’s taking a break to heal from a wrist injury. To help fill in his role, the Gladiators picked up Lee “Happy” Jung-woo on the trade deadline from a selling Washington Justice. With this change, every Gladiators player except new signing Happy has had their moments throughout this 2022 season. Those moments have added up to their two titles, and a great spot in the standings.

“I feel like everyone acknowledges how elite and complete their entire roster is,” analyst Jonathan “Reinforce” Larsson said, “whether that’s MVP candidates Shu and kevster, or the rookie-of-the-year prospect in Reiner, and how Kickoff Clash was all about Patiphan’s magical career path.”

Gladiators stumble in Summer Showdown qualifiers

Now, as much as they are the leaders of the pack, the Gladiators hit another snag in the Summer Showdown.

Four matches in, they’ve started the stage 0-4. Their opposition has been challenging, but the team clearly is having trouble with the Junker Queen meta. They still have a chance to qualify for the Summer Showdown tournament, but it’s a small one.

The Gladiators have been in this position before mentally, especially after the back-to-back reverse sweep losses in the Kickoff Clash. Los Angeles fought out of that hole thanks to good coaching and a strong roster.

“I think it’s pretty evident Gladiators have some of the best coaching in the game; as [evidenced] by their consistency in differing metas,” Reinforce said. “At the end of the day, coaching is about unlocking the best player performance possible, and the Los Angeles Gladiators have proven they get their best out of their players consistently in spite of various circumstances in 2022.”

Face echoed this sentiment. This quote he provided comes from before the Gladiators’ Summer Showdown matches, but it addresses the situation the team found themselves in. The Gladiators know how to keep their heads up heading into the second half of the 2022 season — even more than face could have known then.

“We’re confident, we’re aiming for the season sweep, winning all tournaments,” face said. “Everyone on the team is competitive and always wants to win, and that’s not going to change. Early in the metas, sometimes there will be upsets, but as we understand it more, we know we can win it all in the end.”

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Michael Czar
Polish-Canadian game enthusiast. I've been entrenched in gaming for as long as I can remember, with my first game being Pokemon Yellow and my most played games being Borderlands 2 and Overwatch. I have a degree in Film Studies, but writing about esports just makes my job all the better.