What do You do When it Doesn’t Matter
As of their win over Seoul last week the NYXL have secured the best regular season record in the Overwatch League. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season they have secured that achievement along with the associated $300,000 bonus. In doing so they have also secured the number one seed for the Atlantic Division. An important advantage going into the inaugural season playoffs. The kind of advantage that, when you’ve already locked up you position in the standings and these games no longer matter, might make you focus on that.
Another team that has it’s ultimate fate decided for them is the Dallas Fuel. Following three stages worth of drama and a change in head coach the team has no chance of a playoff appearance. Despite being ranked high in the standings when the teams rosters were announced, Dallas failed to deliver across he first three stages. Their only prize is not being the worst team in the league. That is, until they started having their best stage of the season.
Two teams, each with their place at the end of the season already out of their hands. Two teams whose place when the Stage Four matches end in two weeks will find themselves in vastly different places. Two teams that have also had their minds freed by this reality.
Though they’ve long sat at the number ten position on the table many analysts, myself included, had placed Dallas at the absolute bottom. After all the drama and with EFFECT still recovering at home the last thing I expected was them to be one of the best teams this stage.
There’s a few things that could be behind this Texas teams success. They recently had a new head coach. Not just any coach either, but Aero of Fusion University fame and this years Team USA head coach for the World Cup. There’s also a new meta in effect. Dallas has, by far, the most time with Brigitte in the league and are making good use of her. I think though that the biggest factor is mindset.
Dallas is out of the playoffs yes, but they’re also in no danger of being the worst team in the league. Whatever happens in this stage won’t matter and no one is expecting anything, so why not relax? The Fuel have been able to take a step back, reset with a new coach and meta, and then just play the game. Without the pressure to perform as we all expected them to players like Seagull and HarryHook can perform with all the skill we always expected them to. They’ve even in the conversation for Stage Finals. Dallas is playing the game very well and it’s because they are one of the only teams that can just play it.
At the exact opposite end of the spectrum, New York also has nothing to lose, but only because they cannot lose anything. Their playoff seed is set and even if they lose the rest of their matches, they will still finish with the best record of the inaugural season. So while they’ve reached the same place as Dallas, the path they took and the rewards they’ve earned for it are much different. Their performance now reflects this.
Following their win against Seoul NYXL went on to 4-0 both Shanghai and Philadelphia. Their abalitiy to play any comp at any time has been touted multiple times since the new meta hit and they seemed untouchable. Their next match was against the Los Angeles Valiant.
Now I don’t want to take anything away from the Valiant, because this was a tough and well-earned win. I also don’t want to say they were throwing, but…well…. When they reached the end of Watchpoint Gibraltar, the third map in the series, NYXL had a massive amount of time left. Instead of closing out the point their Widowmaker began attempting a massive flanking maneuver. Though Pine was able to complete the acrobatics, he was unable to get anything from it. Then he tried it again. and again. LA went on to hold here and win the map to tie the series 2-2. The Fifth map went to the Valiant for an LA win. Its not a stretch, though, to say that New York was throwing. Why?
Well, maybe the better question is, why should they care? They’ve locked up their season, division, and are most likely going to stage finals as well. Why should they worry about winning these games the way they have other games when they can use the time another way. These matches aren’t important for standings but they can be a great time for them to practice new techniques. Special high-risk moves that they can pull out when they need them during playoffs. They’ve got the best chance at being the champions, but they still have to earn it. Wouldn’t that be the biggest thing on your mind?
At the highest level of play in any sport the smallest things can make a huge difference. This is doubly the case in esports like the Overwatch League where concerns like weather are irrelevant to the digital fields. The right, or wrong, mindset can have a major effect on the performance of a game. We talk about players being tilted but in a way the inverse has come true for these teams. The freedom from the consequences has had a big effect on both teams, and while not in the same way it is changing their performance. This is an important example that all teams, both those in and out of the league, can learn from.
There’s still two weeks let in the regular season, along with Stage Four Finals, All-Star Week, and Playoffs. This means that Dallas and New York will both be playing at least four more times. With their heads where they are right now, anything could happen. The Fuel play next on tonight June 6th at 8 PM PST. The NYXL plays tomorrow on Thursday at 6 PM PST. Burn Blue, Forever Upward.