The Philadelphia Fusion haven’t played under the best conditions this season.
As one of the three teams based in North America slotted to play in the East region for the 2021 season, the Fusion were faced with a choice. They could, like the Los Angeles Valiant, flip to an all-Chinese roster or maintain their multinational one and adapt. They chose the latter, but the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t make that the easiest path.
The Fusion have navigated player visas in every previous season, and teams based in Asia have fielded players from North America and Europe on their rosters before. But this wasn’t a normal season, so the Fusion found themselves making do with their team spread across the world.
“It’s been difficult since I couldn’t see my teammates for many months,” Israeli Fusion DPS Josh “EQO” Corona said.
Fortunately for EQO, he finally joined his South Korean based teammates midway through the season. Two of the team’s three other European players — Niclas “sHockWave” Jensen of Denmark and Daniel “FunnyAstro” Hathaway of the United Kingdom — also made the journey to South Korea. French off-tank Gael “Poko” Gouzerch was the sole Philadelphia player unable to secure a visa before the regular season ended.
This marked the second time EQO and Poko have faced visa issues since first joining the Fusion for the league’s inaugural season in 2018. The Fusion missed out on the Overwatch League’s first preseason exhibition matches because the team’s roster was still scattered across the world thanks to visa holdups. Back then, the Fusion were able to sort it out in time to field a roster before their first regular season match.
But, this season, those problems were amplified tenfold. The Fusion announced in April that they were struggling to get their western players and coaches to Korea in time for the start of the 2021 season. Before long, the Fusion needed to fill in the gaps by signing players who wouldn’t need visas. They brought on DPS Dong-jun “Rascal” Kim, off-tank Hong-joon “HOTBA” Choi and main support Jin-mo “Tobi” Yang in the final few months before the season started in the European players’ places. This ballooned the team’s roster to 10 players and gave the Fusion a fully-Korean starting six.
While trying to overcome issues of logistics, paperwork and bureaucracy, the Fusion’s Europeans were unable to play with their team. Instead, they were cooped up at home, cheering for teammates competing in matches across the globe.
Naturally, each player shared a sense of excitement when it came to joining up with their teammates, but their journeys were colored by different levels of experience. Most of the Fusion’s European players are experienced in long-term foreign travel, as EQO, Poko and FunnyAstro have all played for the Fusion in the United States in previous seasons. But they could all read and speak in English before joining the team. They’ve learned to survive in a foreign country before, but this one was just a little more daunting for them.
“It’s a completely new experience living in Korea,” FunnyAstro said. “Before, when I lived in the U.S., it was really easy to survive since everything was in English. Moving to Korea, it was hard at first just to do basic things like order food or towels, since none of the western sites like Amazon work. But, once I got over that, life is great.”
FunnyAstro’s Korean has quickly improved since making the move and, according to him, he can now order food with ease. He still occasionally struggles with understanding people around him, but he has his teammates and the Fusion staff to help him out in those situations.
His teammate sHockWave was also coming to South Korea with experience in international travel — but that’s about where the similarities ended between sHockWave’s path to Korea and FunnyAstro’s. When sHockWave’s visa was finally approved, he said he was excited for every aspect of joining his team in South Korea. He was finally going to play side-by-side with teammates for the first time in his career. And he was just as preoccupied with the idea of crossing another destination off of his bucket list.
But sHockWave didn’t get to explore all that South Korea has to offer; at least not immediately. After landing in Seoul, he went straight from the airport to his temporary home to quarantine for two weeks. At least that gave his teammates time to begin easing him into Korean life before he could go out into the world.
In fact, all three of the Fusion’s Europeans rely on their Korean peers to assist them with this transition. In addition to communication, they rely on their teammates to teach them about Korean culture.
“In Denmark, I’m always used to walking around in my shoes, but in Korea you get flamed by everyone as soon as you take one step inside the room with your shoes on,” sHockWave said.
The three European players come from different countries, each with its own distinct culture. That means that each player has had to adapt to life in Korea in their own way, running into problems that may differ from their teammates.
FunnyAstro, for example, found himself tragically unprepared for fending off the South Korean mosquito population.
“When I first came and was getting destroyed by mosquito bites,” FunnyAstro said, “everyone helped to try and get me things that would save me from the mosquitoes.”
But none of those concerns compare to the most pressing matter for anyone getting used to a new country: finding good food. Although some Overwatch League teams, such as the Florida Mayhem, have attempted to help their Korean players acclimate to life in the United States by preparing meals from back home, the Fusion’s European players do not have the safety net of familiarity. They’re eating the same cuisine as their new neighbors.
“Honestly the T1 food is insane,” FunnyAstro said of the three Korean meals cooked by the T1 chefs each day. EQO said he didn’t mind adjusting to new food because Korean cuisine is great. SHockWave, however, says it can “get a little repetitive” to have rice for almost every meal.
There was only one other complaint that the European players had about the food: spiciness. SHockWave said he liked the food “even though sometimes it gets a bit too spicy.”
However, soon after finishing his mandatory quarantine, sHockWave went to try Korean barbecue for the first time and gave it a glowing review.
“It was the best meat I’ve ever tasted,” he said. That sentiment was seconded by FunnyAstro, who said his favorite meal during his time there was beef from Korean barbecue.
While none of the three European players share the same lifestyle as one another back home, they all share the same set of challenges in Korea.
“It’s definitely easier having a couple of people going through the same things,” FunnyAstro said. “Small things like setting up our apartment with everything you need and not feeling like an idiot every time you have to ask weird questions because there is someone else around wondering the same thing.”
The team finds solidarity together, whether it be the European players relating to one another or the Korean players helping the Europeans navigate their surroundings. And they’re all there for the same reason: to win Overwatch matches. Playing in person without worrying about technical malfunctions or internet disconnections only helped them bond with their teammates more.
“It’s nice being in the same room as your teammates,” sHockWave said. “It helps a lot with the atmosphere.”
Finally, despite struggling at times during the season, the Fusion made the most of their new environment. They won their two play-in matches to qualify for the Overwatch League 2021 Playoffs in Hawaii. Now, the Fusion can compete for a title while being closer to each other, both physically and emotionally, than they’ve been throughout the entire 2021 season.