At the time of publication, Spitfire were almost down and out. They had been dominated in match one of a best of three by the Los Angeles Gladiators, an esports team they had never beaten.
And yet, I spoke to Jack again yesterday but this time at the Barclays Center in New York, with his team about to compete in the grand final for $1 million. How did London Spitfire turn it around, and how far can they go?
London Spitfire looked down and out but bounced back to reach the Overwatch League finals
After being on excellent form in Stage 1 and 2, Spitfire started to stutter and stall. In Stage 3 they went 5-5, and in Stage 4 they went 4-6. They just about managed to land in the playoffs as the 5th seed off the back of better results earlier in the season.
Etienne told me that he gave the Spitfire players a motivational speech at the end of Stage 3.
‘I said: Hey, the downside is we’re not good right now and it’s really hard, and you had higher expectations. But the good thing is we’re gonna figure out these issues through Stage 4. We’re not gonna come and start winning, but we’re gonna qualify for playoffs, and we’re gonna figure out whatever s*** is not causing us to do well, and we’re gonna peak at the right time.’
And peak they have, in a big way. Since losing that first match against the Gladiators, Spitfire have looked, well, on fire. While Etienne can’t take all the credit just from one speech, it may have had some impact on the players. Although even he admits he wasn’t that confident at the time.
‘That’s what I said, but I was also crossing my fingers and hoping it would happen,’ he smiled. ‘It was really cool that it worked out that way.’
London Spitfire owner Jack Etienne (above) kept faith in his team no matter how they struggled
I asked Etienne how often he gives motivational speeches like this one to his teams.
‘When I need to,’ he said. ‘Generally the times where I can help make an impact is when they’re really sad. I can share with them how much I believe in them and how much I believe in the team.’
As the owner of Cloud9, Etienne has had a lot of experience with both the ups and downs of esports.
‘Every team out there has their rough patches, and they’ve fought through it and they get better because of it. You learn the most when you lose. That’s when you grow and get better as a player. If you’re winning all the time you have no way to gauge how good you really are, and you can’t improve if you’re stomping other people, which is what we were doing in Stage 1.
‘We had that opportunity, it was like ‘okay we’re losing a lot, let’s figure out how to get better. Because we’re losing we can either take this chance to get better or fall on our face and never get up again. They chose the path of getting stronger, and here we are.’
Spitfire’s turnaround looked incredibly sudden. Especially after losing the way they did in the first game against Gladiators, being able to come back and smash the next two games after just a couple of days practice seemed highly unlikely.
Etienne says every team has to have a rough patch as thatt’s the best way to learn and improve
However, according to Etienne, the turnaround had started well before that first match defeat. In fact, he told me the biggest reason they lost that match was because of one man, and he wasn’t even playing. He also happens to have formerly played for the London Spitfire.
The decision by the Los Angeles Gladiators to not play Fissure in the match against London was akin to the New England Patriots’ decision to bench Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl this year, which has recently hit the headlines again.
Fissure came to Gladiators after spending the first part of the season with Spitfire, and he almost single handedly turned their season around. However, he was dropped for their playoff game.
LA fans were shocked, but no one was more shocked than Spitfire, who had been preparing for Fissure to be the centrepiece of their opponent’s strategy.
‘We got smashed because Fissure didn’t show up,’ said Etienne. ‘To start with we were like ‘who is this guy? Fissure’s not here? Easy win!’ And then they played really different to how we expected. They were really cheesy.’
After the first match, Spitfire showed some of the adaptability that Etienne told me last time we spoke that they had really been practicing on. ‘Really once the shock had passed and we evaluated how they play and the surprise things they did, they couldn’t do it anymore.’
Spitfire have shown their adaptability which should help against Fusion in the Barclays Center
He is also thankful for the fortuitous timing of Spitfire’s sudden rise back to the top: ‘if you can figure out problems before playoffs, you’re in a much better place than if you had your first breakdown at the end of the season or god forbid you start running into issues in the middle of preparing for playoffs.’
Unfortunately for New York Excelsior, that’s exactly what has happened to them. Undoubtedly the best team overall throughout the Overwatch League’s regular season, they were unceremoniously dumped out of the playoffs last week by Philadelphia Fusion, Spitfire’s opponents tonight.
It was a surprise to many, however Etienne and the team apparently saw it coming a few weeks back.
‘Going into playoffs, the two teams we scrimmed the most against were New York and Fusion,’ he said. ‘It was really clear through the scrims that Fusion was really playing well, they were playing well together. As for New York, we were scratching our heads because they just didn’t seem to be playing well.
‘We were wondering if they were holding back strategies. But at some point we started thinking ‘actually the Fusion are just really good, and New York isn’t playing well right now.’ Of course that meant we wanted New York to win, but that didn’t happen, so I think the two strongest teams are here, and we’re gonna have a hell of a show.’
Just a few weeks ago, Spitfire and Fusion were technically the weakest teams in the playoffs, coming in as the 5th and 6th seeds. However a switch in meta and newfound form means they’re now competing for the grand prize.
Spitfire knew Philadelphia Fusion (above) were better than New York Excelsior from scrims
‘Personally, this entire league experience was a big bet for me to invest. I believed in Bobby Kotick [CEO of Activision Blizzard], I believed in [Overwatch League commissioner] Nate Nanzer and Blizzard to put together a league and believed I could put together a team that could be successful, and so it’ll feel really good to know that the work it took to put together, not only the team but the financing to make it happen, was worth it.’
As for what it’ll mean for his players, he just wants people to understand how much work they’ve put in.
‘To be honest a lot of the narrative of the league was on Valiant or New York, or Seoul, or Dallas. If you go and look at the content that was made, they were the teams expected to win. We came in as the 5th seed. [The Spitfire players] put in the work to get here, and reaching the final is a validation of the work they’ve put in. If they can win it it’s something they can keep for the rest of their lives. And I hope that’s what they get.’
For Etienne, it will be another highlight of a pretty good year for Cloud9.
‘We won the Boston Major which I think is a highlight of my life, and I think this would basically match it, it would be really cool.’
Etienne burst onto the stage when Cloud9 picked up the Boston Major win to celebrate with his team. Will he do it again?
‘If security lets me, I will. I wanna hoist that trophy, that thing’s epic, it looks good. I want to put that in my bag and take it home with me’
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Os textos, informações e opiniões publicados neste espaço são de total responsabilidade do(a) autor(a). Logo, não correspondem, necessariamente, ao ponto de vista do E-Sports Plus.