It wasn’t supposed to end like this. This was the team that was supposed to dominate the playoffs and run the table all the way to an OWL title. And yet, here we are. The OWL Stage 1 Playoffs are over and the fabled New York Excelsior team of destiny is nowhere in sight. Instead of taking the league by storm and blazing a path directly to the top, the Excelsior couldn’t even sniff the stage finals.
The team had to watch the Vancouver Titans run away with the Stage 1 championship, stomping through Boston and Seoul before finally being tested in finals by…the Shock? No, that’s not how things were supposed to go at all.
Since day number one, the stars had been aligning themselves to allow the NYXL a shot at total dominance. The team breezed through the first stage of the regular season, only being pushed to a game 5 just once – against the LA Valiant of all teams. However, when elimination was dangled in front of their eyes, New York couldn’t bear to stomach a Dynasty team that had barely scraped its way into the playoffs to begin with.
Seoul barely gave the Excelsior any room to breathe at all, as the 3-1 scoreline fails to show how proficiently the Dynasty had dominated the series. Even on the map that the NYXL had won, Volskaya Industries, it took 11 rounds for the team to finally scratch out a 6-5 victory. To make the matter even more perplexing, New York’s had beaten Seoul just three weeks prior in a technical and dynamic 3-1 victory.
For a team that has always prided itself on precision and fortitude, those qualities were absent in a lopsided playoff set which saw the NYXL fail to gain momentum at nearly any point. Throughout nearly the entirety of the stage, New York had looked like the most dominant, sure-shot team in the league, even looking better than Vancouver at some points. And still, when faced with a playoff run, the team couldn’t commit.
This isn’t anything new for the Excelsior, either. During the first stage of last year’s season, New York crumbled at the feet of the London Spitfire, only to exorcise their demons months later by capturing two consecutive stage titles. However, last year’s most dominant force fell apart when it mattered most, dropping the Stage 4 championship to the Valiant, while later suffering an early exit in the league playoffs at the hands of the Philadelphia Fusion. The team couldn’t even make it to the Grand Final at the Barclays’ Center in Brooklyn, a venue that Blizzard had specifically booked in hopes of appealing to a New York market – expecting the Excelsior to headline the event and wrap up the season with ease.
If once is a fluke and twice is a trend, then perhaps it’s time to stop putting the NYXL on a pedestal higher than the rest of the league. If we, as fans, analysts, and all-around OWL savants continue perceive the Excelsior as the strongest team in the league, while the team continues to fall short of expectations, we’ll never escape the endless loop that we’ve seemingly trapped ourselves in. Because now, for the second straight year, we’re quite dangerously lining ourselves for more disappointment from the Excelsior – and so far, they’re 1-for-1 when it comes to not meeting expectations.
At best, the team has performed as a high-tier contender throughout its history rather than the single-best team in the league – it’s time we start setting our expectations appropriately before things get unrealistic (again).
In more ways than one, we’re already seeing the parallels between OWL’s inaugural season and its second run – at least in regards to the NYXL – a shambling hodge-podge of incredible expectations, sheer dominance, and suddenly, utter disappointment.
Nearly every fan of both the Excelsior and Overwatch as a whole expected New York to completely dominate the league – just as they did in 2018. During the first stage of the season, New York proved its worth, rolling through its initial games with ease – just as they did in 2018. However, in that stage’s playoffs, New York fell apart and couldn’t shut the door – just as they did in 2018.
And while one could definitely argue that the NYXL is quite possibly the strongest “on-paper” team in the league, there is obviously a historic gap in mental fortitude that prevents the team from performing in the clutch. Of course, two stage championships last season were immensely impressive, but for a team that probably should have won all four (in addition to the inaugural OWL title), it feels as if last year’s team should have accomplished more.
2019’s iteration of the Excelsior is the team that’s supposed to do more. In the same way that the 2015 Kansas City Royals won the World Series after losing it in 2014, it’s only fair to predict that the NYXL could finish what it started last season. However, it’s going to take a serious shift and a series of fine tunings in order for New York to close the door on a successful year. Still, we’re months away from wrapping things up completely – but at the very least, the preparation for a title run starts now.
Photo Credit: Blizzard Entertainment, The Overwatch League, New York Excelsior