The Overwatch League Summer Showdown playoffs are upon us and, for the third time in a row, the Dallas Fuel will be in attendance. This week, the team jetted off to Hawaii once again after making it through the knockout stage with an exhilarating win over the Washington Justice.
While other teams might see Hawaii as a coveted prize, though, the Fuel are starting to think of it as routine. As Dallas Fuel’s damage dealer Kim “SP9RK1E” Yeong-han so succinctly puts it, “I’m starting to believe that Hawaii is our second home ground.”
SP9RK1E has always been one of the league’s most colorful personalities, providing an endless source of memes and reaction videos. That was never more clear than when the Fuel held their homestand last week in Arlington, Texas — the first North American homestand in more than a year. Even though the venue was at 50% capacity (and the Fuel were the only team physically present) more than 1,200 fans came out to see the team play against the Houston Outlaws.
For SP9RK1E, it was the first time he’d ever gotten to play on stage in his Overwatch League career. His last appearance in an offline match was in 2019, when he won the Contenders Gauntlet.
“The league is definitely bigger,” SP9RK1E said. “Since it was our homestand where our fans cheered for us and hyped us up, I cannot describe how happy I was.”
The Fuel are an atmosphere-driven team. You can tell their bonds run deep; many of them started their professional careers together, after all. The players’ infectious energy was truly on display in their first live match. It’s hard not to be charmed when they’re clearly having so much fun.
STOPPPP THIS IS ADORABLE pic.twitter.com/9uBiT1r41q
— bonnie qu (@bonniequeue) July 9, 2021
SP9RK1E, especially, is a player who thrives on the energy and pressure of playing in front of a crowd.
“It definitely made me more nervous,” he said. “Because my fans are on the back of my mind, I thought that I had to win 100%. So I think I performed even better.”
The Fuel were victorious over their Texan rivals in their first live appearance, much to the excitement of the home crowd. The team then went on to play the Washington Justice in a tense series that went down to the wire. While it ended with the Fuel punching their tickets to Hawaii once again, the novelty of the trip seems to have worn off. The team’s main interest now is winning despite the quick turnaround.
Third time going to Hawaii but I cannot help but think that it’s such a huge disadvantage to West. We lose a day from travel, have to deal with jetlag, have early morning content shoots, and next thing we know we have to compete without practice.
— OW_Rush (Hee-Won Yun) (@rush_coach) July 12, 2021
Even though they’re past the circumstantial difficulties, the Fuel have their work cut out for them in the Summer Showdown playoffs. They’ll have to play the Chengdu Hunters first. Then, they’ll go on to face either the Atlanta Reign or the Shanghai Dragons. All of these teams are just as hungry to prove themselves as the Fuel.
The Dragons, in particular, are formidable. The Fuel met them in both tournament finals so far this season, with either team taking one title apiece. This time, SP9RK1E said he has his sights set on the Dragons, who are shaping up to be the Fuel’s fiercest rivals.
“We lost against Shanghai so regretfully,” he said, referring to their 4-3 loss against the Dragons during the June Joust. “I want to make sure that we win and become the Summer Showdown champions.”
When it comes to the Fuel’s tournament chances, SP9RK1E said he feels a personal responsibility to perform. Historically, he hasn’t been known for his Tracer. But, with the Fuel down a hitscan player, he has had to step in as the Fuel’s Tracer player. It was enough for them to win the May Melee, but he’ll have to do it again if the Fuel want to become repeat champions.
“[The key player is] probably me, because Tracer is so influential in this tournament,” he said. “I am not an S-tier Tracer, so I think it’ll all come down to how well I perform.”
It’s both an acceptance of responsibility and a tongue-in-cheek reference to when league analyst Scott “Custa” Kennedy called him a “D-tier Tracer” right before the Fuel’s May Melee win. That’s just who SP9RK1E is; someone fully aware of the expectations surrounding him and determined to surpass them anyway.
Ggs @ShanghaiDragons is this D tier tracer? We are the champion !!
— SP9RK1E (@SP9RK1E_OW) May 9, 2021
“This tournament is more difficult than May Melee but it’s doable,” SP9RK1E said. “I feel like we can do well and win.”