One of the most incredible stories of the Overwatch League's inaugural season has been the successful turnaround of the Los Angeles Gladiators. After spending most of the first half of the season mired with a below-.500 record, the team caught fire in the second half and rode all the way to the Overwatch League playoffs as the #5 seed. The stage was set for an epic clash between the Gladiators and the London Spitfire to close the first day of the playoffs.
But just hours before the two teams met, something strange happened. Chan-Hyung "Fissure" Baek, the Gladiators tank player, was suddenly benched, with the team citing "effective practice and preparation."
The sudden change was puzzling. Fissure was considered one of the major catalysts of the Gladiators' turnaround. He was picked up in the middle of the season via a trade with the London Spitfire, where Fissure spent a majority of the time on the bench. With a new lease on life, Fissure paid his old team back in spades, shining on the Gladiators and even going on to finish runner-up in the MVP voting. Fans were anticipating Fissure getting to take the ultimate shot at his old team on the playoff stage.
But for reasons unknown, this is not going to happen. And so far, there is no indicator that Fissure will be back. A late report by esports guru Rod "Slasher" Breslau indicated that Fissure is unhappy with the team, going so far as to quote an anonymous source saying he's been unhappy with the team for the whole season.
Source: Fissure has been unhappy on the Gladiators since joining and his own commitment/practice to the team has waned going into playoffs, prompting his benching by LAG not that his teammates aren’t trying. Wants out of LAG to an all-Korean team.https://t.co/S0DZ26Y1j7— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) July 12, 2018
For his part, Fissure shot back hours after the Gladiators/Spitfire match, sending an angry emoji on Twitter addressed to Slasher, later followed by a statement in which he stands by his current team.
Gladiators are the best of the teams I've been to and they always make the best choice for victory I do not doubt that our team will go to the finals.— Fissure () (@Fissure) July 12, 2018
so stop blame my team chill
Fissure later went on his Twitch channel to further explain his side, with Korean Overwatch translator Robin311 helping summarize. In short, Fissure's claim is that he was simply out of sorts during scrims.
Fissure explained a bit about the 'controversy' regarding his absence in the OWL playoffs (summary): pic.twitter.com/GUusf6uDyi— Robin311 (@tisrobin311) July 12, 2018
Shacknews reached out to the Los Angeles Gladiators for comment, with the team yet to respond. (Update 7/13: The Gladiators declined to comment on the situation.) Whatever the circumstances of Fissure's benching are, the issue is something that could have easily put a cloud over the Gladiators' playoff run. However, "could have" are the operative words, because Los Angeles appears to have taken this issue in stride.
For the first match with London, the Gladiators subbed in Luis "iRemiix" Galarza Figueroa and haven't missed a beat. In fact, the L.A. squad crushed the Spitfire 3-0. Lane "Surefour" Roberts systematically picked off the Spitfire opposition, while Jonas "Shaz" Samuel Suovaara and Jun Woo "Void" Kang shredded the London defense with their Basion and Zarya, respectively. As for iRemiix, he played an exceptional Reinhardt game, putting together a solid 11.9 elimination average.
The perceived drama surrounding Fissure has come at both the worst and best possible times for the Gladiators. On the one hand, controversy with a top player is never welcome, especially during the postseason. The potential for distraction is too great, with players (like Fissure himself) having to endure endless speculation from fans on social media and people in the press, myself included.
On the other hand, if this was going to happen against anybody, at least it happened against the London Spitfire. The Gladiators have had London's number all season, having won each of their regular season meetings in commanding fashion. Much of that was credited to Fissure, who walked into those games wanting a degree of revenge against his former team. However, the new-look Gladiators had little to no trouble with the Spitfire, showing an admirable poise in the midst of an unenviable situation.
In the end, all of this could be much ado about nothing. There could very well have been a disciplinary issue in-house between the Gladiators, Fissure, and the rest of the team and there's a good chance the matter is being dealt with internally. "Keep it in the family," as the saying goes. There's just as much chance that Fissure's back in the saddle for a potential semifinal match against the New York Excelsior, though Fissure indicated on stream that because of iRemiix's better handle on the current meta, Fissure may simply ride the bench for the entirety of the playoffs.
But the sudden benching of an MVP and the mystery behind the move is what makes this such an interesting story. Even if Fissure and the Gladiators ultimately dismiss the juicy drama and proceed with life as normal, it's hard not to be curious over the whole story and every minor detail within. Fortunately for the Gladiators, they appear more than able to tune out the outside noise and simply take care of business.