After a season of growth, the Gladiators are reaching their potential
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Kim “Muze” Young-hun went through the gauntlet during his first two matches in the Overwatch League. He played against two main tank extraordinaires in Matthew “super” DeLisi and Lee “Fearless” Eui-Seok.

“I thought of them like I think of any player in ranked play,” Muze said. “I feel like they aren’t special. They’re just normal players.”

Muze did his best to treat two of the best main tanks as normal players, but it didn’t work out in his or his team’s favor. The Gladiators lost 3-1 to both the San Francisco Shock and the Dallas Fuel. It was a trial by fire, and Muze didn’t just get burned. He got roasted.

“I felt like I could be the best main tank in the league,” he said. “But that wasn’t the case for May Melee, especially those first two matches.”

Meeting expectations

Despite being considered one of the best teams during the preseason, they did not qualify for a tournament until the Countdown Cup. | Provided by the Los Angeles Gladiators

The Gladiators were considered a preseason powerhouse before the league kicked off in April. The team, led by head coach David “dpei” Pei, had signed promising talent from Contenders and seasoned veterans like Grant “Moth” Espe.

Their results throughout the season haven’t reflected those expectations, as the Gladiators didn’t make it to Hawaii for the May Melee, June Joust or the Summer Showdown. They had some promising performances in qualifiers for the June Joust but couldn’t capitalize on them.

But throughout that same period, dpei said the Gladiators improved their mentality. This prepared them to go all the way in the Countdown Cup, facing off against the Chengdu Hunters in the grand finals. They had learned to stay on track and not get depressed by the lack of tournament trophies, with teammates urging each other to stay focused on the next map, match and tournament rather than focus on the losses.

“I would describe it as a clear progression, [but] maybe the results haven’t always followed. I think in general it’s been a progression,” dpei said. “We weren’t very good for the May Melee, we weren’t a real team. We weren’t ready for that competition.”

Muze, one of the Gladiators’ star rookies, was the core of that progression. While he was full of nerves during those first two matches, his abilities have grown during the season. He put the proof on display during Los Angeles’ first matchup against the Chengdu Hunters during the Countdown Cup.

MuZe LA Gladiators
Muze competing at the Contenders Gauntlet event in 2020 | Provided by Overwatch League

The Gladiators had just lost on Route 66 and were headed into a Map 5. They got to choose the next map and the coaching staff was ready to make the selection when Muze spoke up.

“I just said go to Oasis and play our Orisa comp,” Muze said. “Against Chengdu the Orisa comp is more of a good fit for us.”

It was a stark difference from the nervous main tank player that faltered against super and Fearless at the beginning of the season, and it gave the coaches enough confidence to go with Muze’s gut. They rolled over Chengdu on Oasis, winning 2-0.

“It made me really happy. I’m one of the best main tanks now,” Muze said before laughing. “Maybe not, but I am really happy.”

Muze isn’t the only Gladiators player contending for the title of best in their position. Dpei said he has seen everyone on the Gladiators come into their own over the course of the season.

Kevin “kevster” Persson went from barely showing his face on screen to coming front and center, and rookie Kim “skewed” Min-seok blossomed into a promising support player. And without the leadership of his Overwatch brother, Indie “SPACE” Halpern, Muze might not have become one of the strongest tanks in the league.

The Countdown Cup was a lot of things for the Los Angeles Gladiators. It was a reward for months of grinding and work. It was a win after so many losses and it was a sign that the Gladiators could keep progressing into the final tournament of the 2021 Overwatch League season.

They could take home the only trophy that matters, and the Gladiators’ biggest challenge is just one five hour flight away on the sandy beaches of Oahu.

Crushing the competition

The Gladiators’ second trip to Hawaii carries much higher stakes. | Provided by the Los Angeles Gladiators

The Gladiators face off against Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, and Muze and company are confident based on their track record against other East Division teams.

“Against Philly, it’s really easy for us,” Muze said. “We already beat Chengdu and they are one of the best in the East. I don’t think Philly is that good.”

The Gladiators are coming off a big high, as their last match was the grand finals of the Countdown Cup. Still, dpei said that won’t impact their playoff performance whatsoever.

“You don’t have time to dwell on the past in a competition like this,” dpei said. “Since we get back to practicing all we’re worried about is playoffs. That’s what you do as a competitor.”

The Overwatch League postseason isn’t just a chance for dpei, Muze and the Gladiators to prove they have the best team in 2021. It’s a way to cement themselves in Overwatch history, as this is the last time they’ll be playing the original Overwatch before the league shifts to an early build of Overwatch 2 next year.

“This tournament is making history,” dpei said. “Whoever wins this tournament is definitely the best. Overwatch has always gotten better and this will be our last chance before Overwatch 2.”

Aron Garst looks at esports from a different point of view by tackling the ways games are molded and broken by players around the world. He covers Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, and everything else for Upcomer. You can read his previous work at WIRED, Rolling Stone, ESPN and elsewhere. Rise up red sea.
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