As the Washington Justice change, their championship dreams remain
Roster changes haven't affected their confidence
No one can predict what will happen when the Washington Justice play this year, despite the fact that the 2021 season of the Overwatch League is almost finished. That lines up with their performance every season since joining the league in 2019, making them hard to pin down. However, the franchise’s roster has been in flux since its inception, and they have only started finding stability recently. With that goal achieved, the team said they believe they can win it all and put the past behind them.
The team first ran rosters with players from many different countries of origin, and each iteration had moments of brilliance between those of mediocrity or abject failure. One of the best examples of this was their 2020 season. They finished second last in the entire league yet made a deep run in the final playoffs, finishing third in North America.
Then, in 2021, the Justice switched to an all-Korean lineup. While they fell short of reaching Hawaii for tournaments like the May Melee and Summer Showdown, they did finally qualify for the June Joust (only to bow out early and start the Countdown Cup with an 0-2 record). But, despite the inconsistency, Washington Justice manager Aaron “PRE” Heckman insisted they are striving for nothing less than a championship.
“We were hoping we’d be a bit better at this point, but the peaks of our team have been where we wanted them to be,” PRE said. He attributed the improvement to the players’ increased ability to connect with each other. In the past, their mixed-background roster couldn’t build the synergy they needed to win, PRE said. Now they all spend much more time together outside of practice in order to build a deeper sense of trust.
“For example, on The Fourth of July, we all went out to a local mall and watched fireworks,” PRE said. “Other times, we went out for Korean barbecue or got haircuts. The players have the apartments above the facility so everyone is close together.”
PRE gained this taste for reaching new heights after assembling great talent from across the tiers of competitive Overwatch. But with two key rookie players in Kim “Mag” Tae-sung and Kim “Assassin” Sung-won, the team knew the path to victory wouldn’t be easy.
“One thing I realized was how hard the transition from the contenders level to the Overwatch League level can be,” PRE said. “That was one of our key issues earlier on in the season; building up the synergy with this new team, helping the rookies transition to the league while trying to stay consistent.”
At the same time, the veteran players on the Justice have been performing well. This is especially true for Kim “Fury” Jun-ho, one of Washington Justice’s two former Overwatch League champions.
“Fury is a mechanical freak,” PRE said. “We all know how good he is across the Overwatch League scene, but he’s surprised me with how talented he truly is and his help for the rookies has been crucial.”
Beyond holding it down in game, Fury is also helping rookies like his fellow tank, Mag, adjust to the league. And based on everything Fury has seen of him so far, there was nothing but praise to give.
“About Mag, he’s performing really well,” Fury said. “He does what he has to do, he’s really smart and he tries really hard. His mentality is good, especially for a rookie. When he eventually has to go on stage and get more experience in the league, he’ll get better.”
This is all the more impressive considering Fury has always been partnered with a veteran main tank. However, for Fury, the ability to be in sync with his partner is far more important than their experience. This was a problem on the old, mixed Justice roster, but now he can help this new squad reach the same heights he did with the London Spitfire.
“When I was with London we were all Korean, but the roster’s formation and style was so much different due to it being the inaugural season,” Fury stated. “The Spitfire was an older team and this Justice is a younger team.”
Along with Fury’s determination to win, the coaching and management is on the same path. Despite some setbacks, head Coach Han “Sup7eme” Seung-jun said the team is still on the right trajectory to achieve their long term goals.
“We had a one-year-plan set and, even with the unexpected problems we faced, so far so good,” Sup7eme said. “This new roster with new playstyles does need more time together to work at its best, but also frustration can set in with the random variables throughout the season. Our main goal is to minimize the small mistakes we make.”
One of the biggest curveballs of the 2021 Justice roster involved losing veteran tank player Park “Ria” Seong-Wook. Originally, entering the season, the Justice planned to have both Fury and Ria as off-tank options, but that never came to fruition. Ria had to leave the Justice due to familial reasons before he even got to play a game.
“It wasn’t an easy decision because Fury didn’t want him to leave,” Sup7eme said. “We respect his decision to go, but we also got motivated to make the team we wanted and improve. Now, for our future plans, when I pick up players, I have to help their family situations, too.”
Even with those frustrations and mistakes, multiple members of the team said they could still become champions.
“I always know that if I try my best, I can make it far,” Fury said. “I will always try my best and my mindset of not losing to anyone will help. No matter which team I face, I will win.”
Much like his off-tank, Sup7eme’s confidence in the roster is still high for the season and the team’s future.
“Our players have been only showing about 10% of their abilities due to our mistakes,” Sup7eme said. “We are going to practice hard for the final playoffs. I believe in them.”