Across the interview room at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, New York Excelsior main tank Kim "Mano" Dong-gyu laughed. His teammate, the charismatic NYXL captain Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol was smiling, leaning back in his chair. The two had just come off a 4-2 playoff victory over the surging Atlanta Reign. As Mano continued chuckling, NYXL interpreter Andrew Kim delivered Saebyeolbe's answer to a question about the NYXL's preparation for the Reign with a smile:
"This might sound a little selfish, but since I wasn't playing when we played them [in the regular season] I didn't really care about that part."
Saebyeolbe continued to smile happily.
The question was whether the Atlanta Reign's dominance over the NYXL in the regular season had any effect on how they prepared for the match. Atlanta were responsible for two of the NYXL's six regular season losses, and aided in the perception that the NYXL were a struggling team on a downward spiral, especially after the meta shifted away from triple tank-triple support (GOATS) compositions. The reputation of the NYXL is of a team that cannot win when it matters most: in the playoffs.
Over two years in the Overwatch League, the NYXL's accomplishments are as follows:
Inaugural season Stage 1 finalists
Inaugural season Stage 2 champions
Inaugural season Stage 3 champions
Inaugural season Stage 4 finalists
Inaugural season Atlantic Division champions
2019 season Stage 1 quarterfinalists
2019 season Stage 2 semifinalists
2019 season Stage 3 quarterfinalists
2019 season Atlantic Division champions
Across two regular seasons, a total of 68 games, they have only 12 losses and an 82 percent win rate. They have not missed a single stage or season playoffs.
Yet, the NYXL's regular-season numbers couldn't be any more different from their playoff results: 7-7 with a 31-29 map record. Their most recent victories over the Atlanta Reign and London Spitfire were what brought the team back to a .500 playoff record and pushed them slightly over a 50 percent win rate for playoff maps.
The NYXL looked shakier in Stage 4 of both seasons, especially the most recent one, in which the team did not adapt as quickly as other teams following the 2-2-2 role lock that was put in place for the start of Stage 4. This was despite helping to bring back Sombra-GOATS compositions in Stage 3 with Saebyeolbe as the meta began to shift ahead of the game-breaking Stage 4 change.
Saebyeolbe spent the majority of the season sidelined and admitted that the greatest thing he learned in their two season playoff series thus far was growing used to being on that stage again. When he's on that stage, playing Reaper or Bastion, he looks like he's having the time of his life.
"Sometimes when I play Bastion, I let go of my keyboard and pick my nose," Saebyeolbe joked. "I've actually done that in a match."
As the NYXL have surged forward in the playoffs, slowly dismantling the perception brought on by playoffs past, players from other teams have recognized that NYXL's outlook on the meta is one of the strongest thus far. After their loss, Atlanta Reign DPS Andrej "babybay" Francisty told Overwatch League interviewer Mica Burton that he thought NYXL had the best read on the meta.
"I think there are other teams that are really good, just like us," Saebyeolbe said. "We are really good at this meta because our tanks are really good. Of course, our DPS players are playing well, but I want to give credit to our tanks, Mano and [Tae-hong] "Meko" [Kim]. Mano's Orisa and Meko's Sigma are the most important parts right now."
He wasn't just saying that because Mano was still in the room, tapping on his phone with a smile while waiting for his turn to be interviewed. The NYXL tank line, and Mano in particular, was one of the key strengths of the team during their formidable performances in Stages 1-2 when tanks were a central part of the meta, and a pivot point when Saebyeolbe first rejoined the starting lineup to play Sombra in Stage 3. In the past, Mano has credited the team's ability to adjust in between maps, which has recently turned into patient regrouping within a specific defense or offense in order to choose their fights more intelligently.
"We were not good at [adjusting] in the beginning, it was actually a thing we struggled with, but now we're really good at it," Saebyeolbe said. "I think we'll continue to be good at it. I credit all of my teammates, but I want to credit [support Jung "Anamo" Tae-sung] the most because he does ult [ultimate] checks and how we're going to use our ults and keeping everyone calm. I want to give that credit to Anamo."
It's a small, incremental change that was built on the team's known strength, which is their strong defense.
"For New York, they're a team that tries many different strats [strategies]," Vancouver Titans DPS player Seo "SeoMinSoo" Min-soo said. "Which could be a good thing or a bad thing."
Earlier in the year, the NYXL's Stage 1 finals appearance against Vancouver was characterized by the South Korean phrase of a sword for offense and a shield for defense. Vancouver, with their aggressive GOATS style around main tank Park "Bumper" Sang-beom, was characterized as having two swords. Both teams have changed significantly since Stage 1, especially with the challenges of having to adapt to the 2-2-2 role lock and now, a new meta dictated by the recently introduced Sigma.
"Vancouver is a really good team obviously," Saebyeolbe said. "Previously, they had a sword and we had a shield, but this time we have both a sword and a shield."
"Everyone's super confident nowadays. The coaches, team staff, we all think this is our year," Saebyeolbe said. "I think this year is the year where we should win the championship. We must win the championship this season."