Most of the teams participating in the Overwatch League 2021 playoffs are familiar to us. Some, like the Shanghai Dragons or Dallas Fuel, have been exceptional all year. Others, like the San Francisco Shock or Philadelphia Fusion, may not have had the best season, but have a history of performing well in the postseason. And then there’s one Overwatch League team that sticks out like a sore thumb: the Washington Justice.
The Justice are jetting off to Hawaii as the lowest-seeded team with a 9-7 regular season record. They’re definitely the wildcard among the eight remaining. They scored a narrow 3-2 victory over the Houston Outlaws (who were tied for the second best regular season record) to make it to playoffs, and the main question surrounding them now is: how far can they actually go?
Their hot-and-cold performance this year would point to the answer being “not very far at all.” But, if you look at the caliber of players on the roster and the organization’s history, things get much more complicated.
The Justice are known for their late-season surges. In 2019, the team struggled through the first three stages of the regular season but, out of nowhere, went 6-1 in the fourth stage. In 2020, they finished 19th in the regular season but went on a tear through West Division playoffs, making it all the way to the top three in the region. Now, the stage is set for them to do it all again.
More than that, though, the roster is populated with players who are all stars in their own right. There’s Jang “Decay” Gui-un, a legendary damage dealer who has the ability to singlehandedly swing entire maps. There’s Kim “Fury” Jun-ho, a former league champion who’s been in the mix for best flex tank in the world since his league debut. And there’s Kim “Mag” Tae-sung and Kim “Assassin” Sung-won, two rookies who came into the league with immense hype behind them and the Contenders Korea championships to back it up.
On paper, this is a team that could contend as the best in the world. In practice, however, things are rarely so simple.
All year, the Justice were a team with both incredible highs and incredible lows, and they’d oscillate between them with no rhyme or reason. This was a team that would seem unbeatable one week and fairly clueless the next. In play-ins, it was all riding on which Justice would show up that week.
Luckily for them, it was the good one. The Justice’s performance against the Outlaws was heartening to see, especially after their confounding regular season performance. A combination of no set meta and the knowledge that their season could all end here fueled the team to play their best.
“Heading into the play-ins, my mindset was like, ‘my livelihood is on the line,'” said Assassin. “‘This is our last chance.'”
Assassin played a big role in the Justice’s win over the Outlaws. Both teams used Sombra quite heavily in their compositions, and there were some big question marks surrounding Assassin’s Sombra play going into the match. But, he quickly showed why he’s been on the starting roster all season by displaying a masterclass in Sombra play, from manual hacks to EMPs to actively sabotaging the opposing Sombra’s translocators.
THE MEMP IS OFFICIALLY DEAD. 😤
— Washington Justice (@washjustice) September 5, 2021
He and the Justice displayed remarkable reactive play throughout the series, adapting to their opponents until the very end. Along with his teammates, Assassin was able to dominate the lobby, particularly on the tiebreaker map. He credits their teamwork for his own personal success.
“Sombra isn’t as much of an individual hero; she’s better for team play,” he said. “My teammates and I built a synergy heading into the game. That’s how we were able to pick up the win.”
According to Assassin, the Justice’s biggest problem this season has been communication. If the Outlaws match is any indication of what they can do when their communication is good, though, it could bode well for their playoffs success. It’s the sort of thing that the Justice will really have to focus on improving going forward, especially given the fearsome opponents they’re up against in the very first round. The Dallas Fuel selected them, creating an unexpected matchup – though it’s also partially because the San Francisco Shock were the Dragons’ surprise first pick.
“I didn’t expect them to pick us at all,” Assassin said. “But I appreciate that they picked us. I think that we have a pretty similar team playstyle, which means we have similar individual playstyles as well. If I had to pick one player who would be the hardest to play against, I would pick SP9RK1E. He’s really, really good on Tracer, especially her Pulse bomb.”
The Washington Justice are seeming like little fish in a big pond when it comes to the Overwatch League 2021 playoffs. They’ve never played against any East Division teams and have only racked up two wins against the other West Division playoff teams this season. But the players are familiar with high-pressure situations, and they know what their main problems are.
There’s no question about what the Washington Justice can do in the Overwatch League playoffs. The only thing that remains to be seen is if they really will do it.
When we qualified for #OWL2021 Playoffs, there was nothing but hugs and happy cheering! 🥳
— Washington Justice (@washjustice) September 11, 2021