*Words by Marcelle Aron French, data by Winston’s Lab, and featured image by Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment*

The Philadelphia Fusion entered Stage 2 of the Overwatch League Final riding a wave of emotion after edging out a victory over the London Spitfire. They dominated the Spitfire on Route 66 — a map the incumbent champions had not lost yet this season — thanks to the fact that recently activated DPS player Simon “Snillo” Ekström providing Philly with a secondary Tracer specialist allowed Jae-hyeok “Carpe” Lee to switch over and pick apart the opposition on Widowmaker. On defense, his ability to patiently wait for opportune moments to pick off support heroes before pushes started was paired beautifully with the mechanical skill and aggressive mentality necessary to put opposing defenses on their heels when attacking alongside Fragi’s rampaging Winston. In a way, Snillo provides a fusion of Eqo’s constant pressure and Shadowburn’s imminent threat without Philly necessarily forecasting their strategies. Fortune was on their side at the start of the Final, as they were given the opportunity for a reprise on Route 66 against the New York Excelsior. NYXL attempted to stall them out with a strong stationary Orisa-Widowmaker-Junkrat composition, but ultimately Philly powered through with Snillo casually racking up 18 eliminations.

This momentum carried over into a thriller on Lijiang Tower in Game 2 where they neutralized NYXL’s tankline as Eqo beefed up Fusion’s own tanky line-up with his D.Va and Roadhog play (as well as some uncontested Pharah play). Fusion’s pairing of Gael “Poko” Gouzerch and Joona “Fragi” Laine went a combined 17-11 (Eliminations-Deaths) compared to Tae-hong “MekO” Kim and Dong-gyu “Mano” Kim who went 7-20. Most notably, Fragi kept his deaths to a lowly 6 for the entirety of the map as he continuously harassed the New York squad with his Tesla Cannon and fed the least amount we’ve seen all season. Hye-sung “Libero” Kim was the lone bright spot for New York on Lijiang with his map-high 16 eliminations in their losing effort. Going into halftime at 0-2 however, the Excelsior recovered and were quick to make note of their issues in the first two maps.

Down 2-0, the Excelsior found themselves in an unfamiliar position against an opponent who they had admittedly not expected to face. Additionally, not much game tape was available for them to prepare for the Fusion’s duo of Snillo and Carpe on Route 66 (where Shadowburn or Eqo had previously joined Carpe in previous matches). They shifted the focus of their team compositions to prioritize Libero on Widowmaker in an attempt to play the hot hand and counteract Carpe’s range. Here we saw how great of a luxury it is to have both an extremely multifaceted DPS player in Libero as well as the most consistent Tracer player in the OWL: Jong-yeol “Saebyeolbe” Park.

NYXL made quick work of the Fusion on Volskaya Industries, full-holding them on Point A and shooting down their hopes of an easy 3-0 victory. Ironically, Philadelphia only mustered a total of 3 eliminations for the map. Meanwhile, Libero and SBB amassed a total of 14 together as Libero connected on some flat-out amazing headshots to secure the capture on attack. Hollywood was a similar story, this time starring Song Joong “Janus” Hwa in place of Mano.

In a grand reversal of fortune, Philly had now lost two consecutive maps in spectacular fashion and was forced to return to a map that they had previously struggled on (especially against London) to win the final: Watchpoint Gibraltar. Despite their best efforts, the Fusion could not adequately protect support player Isaac “Boombox” Charles from SBB’s hounding Tracer who recorded 4 eliminations on him during the Hangar phase of their attack round alone. They found themselves overcompensating for this on defense, going as far as Nano-Boosting Zenyatta in order to keep SBB at bay. The Excelsior eventually proved to be the superior squad, proceeding to march through Point B of the map, and finally earn their first stage playoff victory (and $100,000) in the rare reverse-sweep.

Libero was awarded the Most Valuable Player Award for his 25-3 performance on Widowmaker in the 2nd half of the series and establishing himself as more than just a stand-in for the highly touted Yeon-oh “Fl0w3R” Hwang. The Philadelphia Fusion proved that they are a legitimate contender in the league with their new additions to the team adding new dynamics to an already high-powered roster. Given an entire stage to develop map-specific strategies with their new players they should only improve for Stage 3 as they join the rest of the league in trying to dethrone New York’s finest.