The first round of the Overwatch League playoffs have concluded, and the semifinals are set. On the upper half of the bracket, No. 1 seed and title favorite New York Excelsior will battle with East Coast rival Philadelphia Fusion for a chance to play at home in Brooklyn, New York, for the inaugural league championship. In the other semifinal match, the lone Pacific Division team remaining in the postseason, No. 2 seed Los Angeles Valiant, will take on the roller coaster of emotions that is the London Spitfire, who is undefeated in its last six maps after beginning the playoffs 0-3.
Only having four teams left does mean we are saying goodbye to two more clubs: Boston Uprising and the Los Angeles Gladiators. Both teams pushed their respective quarterfinal series to the limit. The Gladiators even won the first match of the best-of-three series against the Spitfire, but in the end couldn't get past the line to keep their Brooklyn dreams alive.
Let's send off the pair with a look back at their season and what they should be working toward in 2019.
Los Angeles Gladiators
Finished: fourth (25-15, +24 map differential)
Eliminated by: No. 5 London Spitfire (quarterfinals, 2-1)
Team MVP: Baek "Fissure" Chan-hyung
Well, this is an interesting one, isn't it? Last week, this would have been a no-brainer. Fissure finished second in the league MVP vote and was credited for the Gladiators' emergence from the bottom of the standings to a contender for a championship. His main-tank play on heroes like Winston was heralded, and his leadership was talked about ad nauseam. Fissure became the face of the Gladiators even though he was on the team for only half the season.
For a team with the slogan "Shields Up," there was no better person to represent them than the consensus best main tank in the league. With Fissure at the helm, a fairy-tale run through the playoffs didn't seem so far-fetched. The Gladiators had danced around the London Spitfire in the regular season, and that would lead to a "Battle for LA" semifinal with the Valiant. Anything and everything felt plausible with Fissure in the lineup.
Then, out of nowhere Fissure was gone. He was benched for the quarterfinal series against London, with the public reason from all involved parties that Fissure's aggressive play style wasn't "right" for the current meta. Although this seemed laughable at the time, the Gladiators did open up the playoffs with a 3-0 victory and was on the verge of making the Gladiators vs. Valiant semifinal in Los Angeles a reality.
That reality soon became a mere fantasy, though, as the Spitfire rebounded two days later in the continuation of the series and reverse-swept the Gladiators 6-0 to win the series. Fissure wasn't even in the building when his team was eliminated from the playoffs, saying he decided to "support" the team from home.
There's little question Fissure was the MVP of the Gladiators. At the same time, what is an MVP if he doesn't even show up to cheer for his team in the playoffs, starting or not? In this case, it meant a first-round knockout.
Offseason mood: Pensive
This is going to be a long and interesting offseason for the Gladiators. First, what happens to Fissure? He's your best player, but who cares if there is even a small chance that this can happen again? What if the Gladiators finish as the No. 1 seed next year and then the same issues with Fissure pop up again before the semifinal match? All that hard work will go down the drain in an instant if problems arise, and with Fissure it's a possibility.
From there, the team has an interesting mix of pieces that it could look to upgrade or switch around. The one part of the lineup that shouldn't -- and probably won't -- be touched is the Finnish support back line of Jonas "Shaz" Suovaara and Benjamin "BigGoose" Isohanni. The pair was one of the better support duos in the league this season, and the team would be hard-pressed to find an upgrade during the offseason.
Even the DPS lineup, which was up-and-down in the early stages, has grown into a strong point for the team. When it comes down to it, the Gladiators will need to take a long and hard look at its tank lineup to see if any improvements can be made, with the possibility of adding another DPS for some extra security.
With most players in the Overwatch League having a second-year option in their contracts, the chances of seeing a huge name leave a franchise this offseason is low. Which means a long offseason could stretch nearly half a year, and the focus should be on Fissure and where he's going. Things are about to get very intriguing in Los Angeles.
Finished: third (26-14, +28 map differential)
Eliminated by: No. 6 Philadelphia Fusion (quarterfinals, 2-1)
Team MVP: Kwon "Striker" Nam-joo
A whole lot has changed in the last year for Striker. Formerly of the ROX Orcas in his home country of South Korea, not much was expected from him. He was on a so-so team, and although he showed some skill, there was a question if his performance was only a product of being on a team that made him look good.
After joining the Boston Uprising with little to no fanfare, his stock would rise from stage to stage, evolving to becoming the undisputed ace of Boston. On a team that had constant changes throughout the season, including its other top DPS player and head coach, Striker was the constant that kept the Uprising bus rolling. His Tracer play became feared throughout the league, and in Stage 3 Striker helped carry his team to the first and only perfect stage in the Overwatch League, completing a 10-0 run.
Overall, this season was a turning point in Striker's career. Going into Season 2, he is one of the most prolific attacking players in the league, and the votes he received for MVP only strengthen that fact.
Offseason mood: Prideful
No one wants to go out in the quarterfinals, especially when you're the No. 3 seed in the league, but Boston should be proud of what it accomplished in its first season. It's easy to forget that when the roster for Boston was first shown to the world, the public backlash was immense, with some parts of the community calling for firings right away for "botching" Boston's entrance into the Overwatch League. What would become of the Shanghai Dragons, failing to win a single match en route to 0-40, was the fate some believed Uprising was on the path toward.
Instead, the club time and time again proved the critics wrong, even going undefeated in the third stage and eventually losing to the New York Excelsior in the stage final. It wasn't an easy season for Boston, as it lost important pieces along the way, and yet the team didn't break apart. The club steadied itself whenever it felt like it was about to combust, and Boston became the team best known for its second-half surges, playing better the deeper it got into a stage. With some preparation time, the Uprising was possibly the scariest team to go against in the league besides New York.
So don't fret, Boston. Keep your head up. You did well, and after a bumpy season that saw the Uprising finish top-three in the regular-season standings and barely miss out on the semifinals, the best is probably still yet to come.