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How Dallas Fuel broke the cycle to win the 2021 May Melee

Aaron Alford

In May of 2019, the young, scrappy roster for Korean Contenders team Element Mystic claimed their first championship at Korean Contenders Season 1. After that victory, they all went their separate ways, many following Hee-won “Rush” Yun to Paris, while others landed on Dallas Fuel, Seoul Dynasty, and Shanghai Dragons. Almost two years later, that same roster under the banner of Dallas Fuel lifted the May Melee 2021 trophy after defeating Shanghai Dragons not once, but twice in two days.

May Melee

The Dallas Fuel has broken the cycle. Photo courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

The victory was Dallas’ first OWL tournament win and a testament to the power of Dallas’ latest all-Korean roster. Adding to the hype of the win, Fuel played without a hitscan DPS player because their hitscan DPS player Ki-hyo “Xzi” Jung retired right before the season began. Many fans and analysts bemoaned the loss of Xzi as another instance in the Fuel’s fatalistic “cycle of misery,” but the team refused to give up so easily. In the face of great adversity, they forged their own meta to earn the May Melee title in a stunning display of skill and strategy.

Dallas Fuel’s “Cycle of misery” 

The Dallas Fuel organization has had a rough go of it over the past few Overwatch League seasons. Despite controlling several highly talented players at various points in its history, it has consistently placed in the bottom half of Overwatch League teams. Fuel’s repeated failures to live up to its potential even earned the team a meme of their own — The Dallas Fuel “cycle of misery” meme.

Dallas Cycle of Misery

While Overwatch fans have used the “cycle of misery” meme to describe many Overwatch League teams, the earliest rendition of the format focused on Fuel. The meme goes something like this:

  1. Fuel makes promising roster moves leading up to a new OWL season 
  2. The team opens the new season with a disappointing start 
  3. Fuel finally get things going in the middle of the season with a small burst of wins
  4. Fuel implodes and misses playoffs
  5. Fans call for new, promising roster moves for the next season 
  6. The cycle starts again

This cycle played out very literally in 2020. In the offseason in 2019, Fuel signed Gui-un “Decay” Jang to lead the team to unprecedented heights. It kicked off its 2020 season with an extended series of losses, despite Decay showing off world-class plays on Tracer. When the team finally started to bring in some wins in the second half of the season, their superstar Decay benched himself and then left right before the playoffs. Unsurprisingly, the team lost very early in the 2020 NA playoff.

Just as the cycle predicted, following the 2020 season, Dallas kicked much of its roster and made some promising roster moves for the 2021 season. But it would be different this time. This time, the rebuild would actually work.

Element Mystic reunites with Dallas Fuel in the Lone Star state

After the disappointing completion of the 2020 season, Dallas went back to the drawing board for 2021. The organization cut all of its players except Dong-ha “Doha” Kim and signed Hee-won “Rush” Yun to be their new Head Coach. Rush formerly coached for Paris Eternal in 2020 when it won its first OWL title at the Summer Showdown. Before that, he was the head coach of the Korean Contenders team Element Mystic when the team won its first Contenders title. Considering his history of success, the proposition of Rush’s move to Dallas was intriguing, to say the least.

Once he was hired, Rush set about reunifying his former squad from Element Mystic, tapping players from across the globe to move to Dallas. Several former Mystic players followed him from Paris, including Joon “Fielder” Kwon, Yeong-han “Sp9rk1e” Kim, Han-been “Hanbin” Choi, and Ki-hyo “Xzi” Jung. Most notably, Fuel signed former Element Mystic player Eui-Seok “Fearless” Lee. Fearless is a championship-caliber tank who nearly won the OWL 2020 Season championship while playing with Shanghai Dragons. When Rush was done revamping Fuel, every single member of the team formerly competed with Element Mystic.

With the gang back together, Rush and Fuel set about breaking the foretold cycle of misery.

Dallas Fuel overcome the loss of Xzi to qualify to May Melee

Just as the season was about to start, Dallas hit a bump in the road. Its hitscan player Xzi was forced to retire due to an injury. Xzi left on April 14th, only two days before Fuel was scheduled to kick off the season against Houston Outlaws. His retirement not only meant Dallas would be losing one of its most talented players, but it also left no time to find a replacement for his hitscan position before the start of the season. 

Absent a Hitscan DPS, Dallas struggled in the season opener against Houston, losing in a 2-3 battle. But the next day, the team claimed their first win of the season against the heavily touted 2021 Gladiators roster, which was a step in the right direction. Overall, Dallas ended up 2-2 in the May Melee qualifiers. But for Dallas, it was less important to win and more important to figure out how to play without Xzi.

The conversation about Dallas started to shift during the May Melee NA knockout stage. The team resoundingly swept Houston Outlaws in their first match. In their second match, they swept the San Francisco Shock to earn one of the two NA slots in the May Melee, set to take place in Hawaii. The victories brought Dallas some serious props. But its reputation of choking continued to haunt the team, and the specter of the cycle of misery remained. As a result, most analysts still predicted Florida Mayhem and Shanghai Dragons as the favorites to win the 2021 May Melee.

But Dallas wasn’t done shattering expectations quite yet.

Dallas Fuel forge their own meta to claim May Melee title

The May Melee main bracket kicked off on May 7th, 2021. An eager Dallas team showed up to Hawaii, ready to throw down, and throw down they did. They easily rolled over the surging Chengdu Hunters on Thursday of the tournament. Dallas then defeated the Shanghai Dragons in both the Winner’s Final and the Grand Final to win its first-ever OWL title. The team accomplished all of this while playing on the backfoot, with no hitscan DPS to speak of. 

Absent a reliable hitscan, Dallas turned to some unconventional strategies during its May Melee run, defining its own non-hitscan meta. At various times the team ran a Sombra + Tracer dive combination, a Sombra + Mei double shield composition,  and an Echo +Tracer double bubble composition.  Against all odds, they figured out how to win against one of the best teams in the world without using long-range hitscan characters.

Fearless was undoubtedly the most valuable player in Dallas’ matches against Fearless former team, Shanghai. His aggressive dive playstyle on Winston and Reinhardt made the difference in Dallas’ matches against Dragons. During the Winner’s Final, Fearless averaged a monstrous 7,500 damage per 10 minutes as Winston, and it was his individual prowess that allowed Fuel to clinch that series. 

The tank difference was the most important aspect of the victory. But the entire Dallas team stepped up in commendable ways. Since they didn’t have a hit scan DPS, support players Jesce and Fielder adapted to deal more damage than usual. At the same time, Sp9rk1e showed tremendous flexibility by jumping on Soldier 76 multiple times throughout the match, surprising the Dragons, who expected no hitscan heroes.

Dallas’ victory at the May Melee is without a doubt one of the most exciting and unexpected tournament runs in Overwatch League history. If it can continue to play to this caliber, it may very well have a shot at winning the Overwatch League 2021 championship later this year. Dallas Fuel is burning brighter than ever before with the former roster of Element Mystic.