Sometimes when penning a headline, the writer feels compelled to reword it into softer language. After all, the title is the first thing readers will remember and likely retain. It would be in the writer’s best interest to try and make it as diplomatic as possible.


There comes a time, though, when the diplomat must arrive in a gunboat.


The Florida Mayhem is the real loser of the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. That might seem incorrect when the Mayhem exists in the same universe as the winless Shanghai Dragons, but that is only under the premise that success comes solely from winning in the server.


In the wider context of success, the Florida Mayhem was defeated by every other founding franchise, and it appears to remain the case in 2019.

Competition

Within the context of success as winning, Florida definitively lost. At an overall record of 7-33, the Mayhem finished 11th in the standings, second-to-last, with a -78 map win-loss differential and no appearances in any of the stage playoffs. Its matches were often blowouts, with only four 3-2 losses, one per stage. Thse were, in order, against:

- Philadelphia Fusion, before signing star talent Josue “Eqo” Corona.

- Houston Outlaws, in their post-Mercy Meta slump without an elite Tracer player

- Boston Uprising, during its Stage 3 miracle run when the rapid team restructure meant many wins came on Map 5 with Herculean performances from Nam-joo “Striker” Kwon

- Seoul Dynasty, at its lowest point in Stage 4.


Florida's seven wins were:

- 4-0 over the Shanghai Dragons in Stage 1, the Mayhem’s sole clean sweep against possibly the worst professional team in esports history

- 3-2 over the Dallas Fuel in Stage 2, with Timo “Taimou” Kettunen playing off-role on Main Tank when it was increasingly clear that anything short of an elite player in that position put a team at an enormous disadvantage

- 3-1 over the Los Angeles Valiant in Stage 2, during the Valiant’s worst stage in which internal strife eventually necessitated the transfer of Benjamin “uNKOE” Chevasson and release of Kang-jae “envy” Lee.

- 3-2 over the San Francisco Shock in Stage 2 when the Shock could not field the at-the-time-underage Matthew “super” DeLisi in the Main Tank position

- 3-1 over the Shanghai Dragons in Stage 3, this time the Dragons’ newly-formed mixed-nationality roster

- 3-1 over the Dallas Fuel in Stage 3, which at the time lacked a head coach and its best-performing player in Hyeon “EFFECT” Hwang.

- 3-2 over the Shanghai Dragons in Stage 4, in a close game and a legitimate victory for the Mayhem.

Despite the circumstances, it must be said that a win is still a win, and the Mayhem had its own difficulties throughout the season. But it is telling that the only team Florida defeated when the opponent was at its strongest and in its prime was the Dragons in Stage 4.


From a standpoint of success through competition, the Mayhem did not win.


Popularity

In the context of success through popularity, the Mayhem is near or at the bottom. Similarly dynastic teams were the Dallas Fuel and the Seoul Dynasty, from Team EnVyUs and Lunatic Hai ,respectively. Both teams came into the league with large fan bases owing to their past successes in North America and South Korea.


The Mayhem was also a legacy team, but its origin in Misfits was decidedly less glamorous. After strong performances in 2016, a three way trade with Rogue and Luminosity Gaming built an all-Swedish lineup that never managed to get it going throughout 2017. The team repeatedly failed to win championships or make notable playoff runs, even after roster changes. Its highlight was 2017 EU Contenders in which Misfits was undefeated in the regular season, but even that was fleeting as the team lost in the finals to Team Gigantti.

After a subpar 2017, the transition to Mayhem did not bring with the team hordes of fans as it did with the Fuel or the Dynasty. And though all three teams would struggle in Overwatch League, the decent start from the Dynasty and the promising finish of the Fuel meant both had a period of relevance, and their winning heritage earned them a grace period from believers, a courtesy not afforded to the Mayhem.


Against new rosters, when the Mayhem should've theoretically had the advantage, Florida quickly fell behind in public favor. By simple virtue of winning, all six playoffs teams garnered bigger fanbases than the Mayhem.


Additionally, the London Spitfire and the Philadelphia Fusion were the finalists and both represent Europe by geolocation or roster construction. The New York Excelsior found a dedicated supporting club in the 5 Deadly Venoms Crew. Both LA teams capitalized on their home crowd advantage, smart branding like the Valla mascot, and popular players to build on their initial head start. The Boston Uprising had the best underdog story in the league and despite controversies around the team’s internal structures, its success keeps the team relevant.

As for the other two teams above them, the Houston Outlaws are one of the most popular teams in the League, owing to its roots in the famously-loyal OpTic Gaming fans and then its intelligent content creation that capitalized on the players’ photogenic personalities. That the roster’s core was built from the widely-publicized 2017 Team USA likely didn’t hurt either. The Shock built its identity for the long-term with a plan for success in Season 2, so a slow start is almost expected.


And of course, the Shanghai Dragons, the most popular losing team in all of Overwatch. The fact that Florida’s aforementioned Stage 4 victory was widely bemoaned as the dooming of Shanghai to a winless season should say it all; when it came down to it, almost nobody rooted for the Mayhem over Shanghai. And of those who weren’t cheering on the Dragons, it’s mostly because they wanted Shanghai to fulfill their 0-40 destiny, not because they wanted Florida to win.


“The Shanghai Dragons had such a ridiculous story behind them that it made people flock to them as underdogs,” said Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson, Overwatch League desk analyst. “But you never got that for the Florida Mayhem because they weren’t tragically bad enough for people to cheer for them, but they were tragically bad.”

The team leaderboards on the Overwatch League Twitch channel say it all: in terms of bits cheered in 2018 and thus far into 2019, the Florida Mayhem is dead last, even behind the expansion teams.


From a standpoint of success through popularity, the Mayhem did not win.


Memorability

This battle at the bottom with the Dragons serves only to underscore another Florida loss: the Mayhem is forgettable because any storyline it could try, a different team wrote it better.


Among old teams faltering in the new season, the Fuel and the Dynasty had much more prolific falls from grace. The Fuel further one-upped the Mayhem with constant controversy. While Florida once or twice roused public discourse, barely a week went by without another headline starring the boys in blue.


As an all-European lineup with potential as the continent’s representative, the Mayhem instead scuttled that identity when they signed Jeong-woo “Sayaplayer” Ha and Sung-hoon “SNT” Kim (formerly known as AwesomeGuy) when the only place in LA with a higher concentration of Koreans than the Blizzard Arena is K-town.


Early on, the Mayhem players tried to establish an identity as the fun-loving, jokester team with ​funky player entrances, but that soon faded and, in the end, it was the Philadelphia Fusion with its consistent content that took home the dubious honor of Meme Kings.

As teams with brighter futures, the San Francisco Shock have a better claim as a team looking to the future, with a young roster bolstered with popular players going into 2019 like Striker and Dong-jun “Rascal” Kim. Meanwhile, the Mayhem have decided to board the Korean hype train, but they seem to have crammed themselves into the baggage car because their ​additions are players whom pundits and public alike consider second-string talents. These additions can’t even ignite interest as underdogs with potential like the Boston Uprising since the Mayhem lack the success to inspire trust in their system.


Florida can’t even claim an identity as the worst team. A 7-33 win-loss might seem pitiable in isolation, but it pales before the majestic cataclysm that is the mighty 0-40 of the Shanghai Dragons. When it comes to the more legendary team in red-and-yellow, rest assured that it will not be the Mayhem recorded in sports history.


And as a final kick in the shin, Florida isn’t slated as the worst team in season two; that dubious title and all the comeback potential it carries has been bestowed upon the Washington Justice.

There is something indescribably ironic about losing at losing not once but twice.


From a standpoint of success through memorability, the Mayhem did not win.


Prestige

Even after a bad season, a team can still rally if they remain prestigious. If a team has a venerable history with respected alumni, then it can attract new talent and retain old fans with the organization’s reputation and gravitas. The departing players are quickly snapped up by other teams willing to take a chance on what this esteemed influencer might have missed.


The Florida Mayhem are not one of those teams.


Of the nine players who played for the Mayhem in 2018, only three remain for the 2019 roster. They are Kevyn “TviQ” Lindström, Sayaplayer and SNT.


The ​other six have generally found homes in Overwatch Contenders. Tim “Manneten” Bylund remains with the Florida franchise on Mayhem Academy. Andreas “Logix” Berghmans made his way to XL2 Academy. ​Johan “CWoosH” Klingestedt, Aleksi “Zuppeh” Kuntsi and Joonas “zappis” Alakurtti joined former rivals Team Gigantti, august leaders of the European scene. The whereabouts of Sebastian “Zebbosai” Olsson are unknown.


Some of these individuals may find their way back to OWL, but if they do then it will be off their achievements in new teams. A return to the League will be in spite of their time on Mayhem rather than because of it. A foreshadowing of this scenario is Andreas “Nevix” Karlsson, who left the Misfits team and joined Cloud9 in late 2017 and has had a renaissance in 2018 on the San Francisco Shock.


This historic inability to foster or develop talent continues in the Mayhem; Logix and Sayaplayer stood out as the bright spots of the 2018 roster, but they did so on Tracer and Widowmaker, two heroes able to make big, easily-noticed impact through individual ability. Further, Sayaplayer was already known to be excellent and demonstrated it in his debut game. Contrastingly, the more unknown SNT started and ended the season as mediocre. Meanwhile, many of the departing have found new success in their Contenders teams. 

“A consistent thread in that [European] roster has been players who take team decisions based on simply never refusing to admit mistakes, making other players in the roster feel unmotivated and depressed because they feel like they never get to have a say and feel like they’re constantly in the wrong, which really hampered the team atmosphere,” said Jonathon “Reinforce” Larsson, game producer for the Overwatch League and former player for Misfits.


The players were also not fully supported logistically, with cases such as the ​infamous situation in which Tviq was required to chauffeur the team for the hour-long trip to and from the arena. The harsh rebuke of Cwoosh towards former Mayhem coach Hyun-jin “r2der” Choi upon the latter’s release in January implies some disconnect between the players and the staff.

These factors feed into an image of a team unlikely to draw promising or top-tier talent. Unsurprisingly, the new players recruited for 2019 are near-all players unlikely to find starting spots on other teams. In some cases, this implies a gamble on an unknown rookie who could become a star talent, such as Philadelphia's Eqo.


This is not the case with the Mayhem, whose players are all known quantities that played for many months if not years without establishing themselves as long-lasting star talent. It would be extremely improbable for all of these players to suddenly, this late in their careers, reach new heights.


With players ​dropped/​traded from ​other OWL teams, brought up as unassuming ​Contenders talent, and even some most remembered for their OGN Overwatch Apex Season 2 heydays, there is a distinct aura of have-been or never-were around the Mayhem roster, and they’ll have to work miracles in 2019 to show themselves as are-now.

Contrast how many players were willing to go to completely new, unknown franchises rather than gamble their careers playing under Florida. With a new year and an ocean of talent, the Mayhem bait could only fish out some minnows and anchovies. While possible to make a tasty dinner, it’ll take quite a bit of culinary wizardry.


From a standpoint of success through prestige, the Mayhem did not win.


Looking Forward

It’s not all doom and gloom for Florida Mayhem. 2019 is a fresh start for many teams, and the franchise is making an effort to improve from the previous year.


The Mayhem’s content creators are attempting to build a cohesive brand and identity, and seems to have returned to the jokester shtick, with a roster reveal casting TviQ as a bus driver in reference to the aforementioned memetic chauffeuring incident. But as stated, a similar early appeal to comedy fizzled out in the later stages of 2018.

More intriguing is the expanded management and coaching staff, when historically a lack of oversight had been a glaring weakness in the organization. In hindsight, Reinforce wondered if the lighter grip of the management’s guiding hand in favor of player autonomy had been a factor in the team’s struggles.


“I think first and foremost a head coach implementing a good team environment… would be the most important thing,” said the former Main Tank player. “I believe [Vytis “Mineral” Lasaitis] is a fantastic analyst when it comes to breaking down the game… but I think there needed to be a father-figure leader who would take decisions rather than giving the players themselves too much say in how things should be done.”


"Early on in Misfits, we were in a very fortunate place as players. We were privileged to have one of the top salaries in Europe, when at the time Overwatch esports simply wasn't much to brag about... While the organization was occasionally hesitant to offer support staff that could have helped us in the long-term like say a full-time head coach, that largely came down to us players already making excessive money and I think from a business perspective Misfits were in the right to decline us further funds until they saw results that the investment was worth it."

"I believe it was up to us players to build the proper structure for what an Overwatch practice environment could look like, and then when results started to come in we could prove a working concept to Misfits. For example, prior to TakeOver 2 we were refused a bootcamp from Misfits due to the expenses and the relatively small prize pool and viewership the esports had to offer (completely understandable from a business perspective), so instead I organized a bootcamp at the house I lived at the time," said Reinforce. "We needed to take more initiatives like that s players and prove we were worthy of further resources."


The player-driven structure looks to be one that will be in the past. For 2019, they have brought together a respectable support staff around head coach Mineral such as assistant coach ​Marvin "Promise" Schröder, analyst Albert "yeHHH" Yeh, and head of scouting ​Scott "BEARHANDS" Tester formerly of the NYXL. The addition of ​Caleb "McGravy" McGarvey demonstrates that Florida are willing to make fast changes if necessary to bolster their roster with good scouting. 

All that said, much work remains to be done. Thus far in the second season, Florida continue to be swept up in stories featuring its foes, be it the potential of Atlanta Reign, the struggling Philadelphia Fusion, or the chaotic Chengdu Hunters.


And that trend was ultimately what bestowed the Florida Mayhem this ignoble title. Throughout 2018, the Mayhem won when they were supposed to, lost when expected to, and any upsets were contextualized in history as their opponent losing, not them winning. They were the most forgettable team of the year. 


The Florida Mayhem lost the inaugural season of the Overwatch League because in 2018, they were akin to C9 capturing an objective. In the end, kinda pointless.


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment, Robert Paul and Florida Mayhem. 

Interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.