With Nothing to Lose, Paris Eternal Have Defied Expectations
The Overwatch League in 2021 is brimming with pleasant surprises. This season’s meta has been varied and balanced, and the league is more competitive than ever. Gone are the days of one or two teams dominating while the rest of the league plays for pride. Teams like Boston, Houston, and Atlanta have ascended to become serious contenders or at least teams capable of mixing it up with the top squads.
Of all the teams outperforming expectations, the Paris Eternal are the biggest shock. While the rest of the league was building super teams stuffed with star talent, the Eternal plotted an entirely different course. They banked on their ability to scout and develop endemic talent from the European continent, and, so far, that gamble is paying off.
Building Paris Eternal From the Ground Up
Last year’s Paris Eternal was a truly special team. Their core of rookies imported from Korea successfully incorporated the team’s existing EU veterans into a cohesive machine. “Even I was shocked at how our cultures or the way we interact are similar,” explains Paris GM Kyoung Ey “AVALLA” Kim, then an assistant GM with the team.
That unlikely alchemy took the league by storm, claiming the Summer Showdown title behind an otherworldly Genji performance from Yeonghan “SP9RK1E” Kim. Thanks to that promising young core, the Eternal finished third in the West and seemed assured of success for years to come.
Then, in an instant, it vanished. Faced with rising costs and a difficult financial situation, the team’s ownership group moved on from the entire roster, many of whom would move to the Dallas Fuel. The move has shaped the path of both teams and the Overwatch League as a whole ever since. Dallas has been the biggest story in the league this year, and Paris was left to start from scratch with fans questioning the direction of the franchise.
That was the situation facing AVALLA as she stepped into her role as the Paris Eternal GM. “By the time I came to deal with these things, there was no one on the team and I had to rebuild as a whole,” she explains. For a time, she was the sole architect of the new Eternal roster. She began a tryout process that was shaped by her experience scouting NA and EU talent the previous year.
Her guiding philosophy was to search for players with tremendous mechanical skill on a range of heroes. With a smaller roster, there would be little room for specialists, so flexibility was paramount. AVALLA conducted tryouts with hero bans that mirrored what players might face in OWL. Players like Daniel “Daan” Scheltema and Nikolai “Naga” Dereli were chosen for their large hero pools and room for growth.
By the end of the tryouts, the Eternal had seven hungry players. For the most part, they weren’t big names. Even their OWL veterans, Alberto “NeptuNo” Molinillo, Elliot “Ellivote” Vaneryd and Stefan “Onigod” Fiskerstrand, weren’t exactly superstars. The prevailing sentiment was that they would be lucky to punch into the middle of the pack in OWL.
Slow Out of the Gates
At the outset of the season, it seemed like the Paris Eternal might just be the team that everyone expected. An opening win against Vancouver gave way to a string of losses in which the Eternal let winnable situations slip through their grasp. “I think we considered ourselves chokers for a while because we weren’t able to keep cool even in situations where we had the advantage,” explains Naga.
The challenges the team faced were many. Unlike many of their counterparts in North America and Asia, the Paris Eternal were scattered across a continent. Building camaraderie and a functioning team system are always difficult, but doing that over Discord is another task entirely.
Paris head coach Zouheir “GetAmazed” Baba stressed the importance of creating a family environment despite the distance separating the team. He even managed to turn their less-than-ideal situation into a unifying force: “Because it’s hard and you are all suffering together, you create a link between each other.”
Even as the team was coming together and starting to see the fruits of their labor, they were dealt a huge blow when two of the team’s veterans, NeptuNo and Ellivote, retired from professional play. The team was forced in both cases to scramble for replacements on a condensed schedule. In the case of their new off-tank Ilari “Vestola” Vestola, they had just two days to incorporate him into the team before their match against Boston.
Still, the Eternal persisted, never giving in to a sense of dread. “We all still believed we could turn the team around for the better,” says Naga. Paris started to show signs of life during the June Joust, but their real breakthrough would come in the Summer Showdown.
Finding Their Footing
The June Joust ended for Paris with a 3-1 loss to the LA Gladiators. Against one of the league’s super teams, it was a promising performance for a young Paris Eternal team still integrating its two new additions. When they came back in the Summer Showdown and reverse swept those same Gladiators, the Eternal declared themselves a serious threat to upset the league’s elite.
Throughout their three Summer Showdown wins, the Eternal have shown an incredible aptitude for making adjustments mid-series or even mid-map. During matches, those decisions often stem from calls made by Daan, the team’s rookie main tank.
On the final map against the Gladiators, his suggestion of a Pharah-Wrecking Ball comp made the difference. “We understand that it’s important to make massive decisions during games,” says Naga. “Otherwise you won’t really manage to win. We are willing to take risks and we believe in the risk every time.”
Already the newcomers Vestola and Arthur “dirdro” Szanto were making their presence felt. Vestola’s Sigma was instantly among the league’s most mechanically polished and dridro proved to be the perfect fit next to the Eternal’s standout flex support Emir “Kaan” Okumus. “My style is actually really good with Kaan because he is a very aggressive player so having someone that will back him up as main support is really good,” says dridro.
When she was conducting trials, AVALLA immediately saw Kaan’s star potential: “I was so shocked because we were the last team to do tryouts, that Kaan wasn’t picked up.” Unleashing him on the league has been one of the secrets to Paris’s success so far.
Kaan’s mechanical prowess is obvious to anyone that’s ever seen him beaming down enemies from behind an Amplification Matrix, but it’s his intelligence in game that separates him from others at his position. He always seems to position himself in the ideal spot to avoid damage and keep his teammates alive. “He is able to set up his team around him and set himself up for carry potential,” says Naga. “You definitely always feel his presence.”
Kaan’s emergence as a star has given Paris a centerpiece to play around, but the team has grown tremendously across the board. The nerves have faded as the team gains experience on the OWL stage, and individuals like Naga and Vestola are proving they can hang with the best in the league.
Paris Eternal: Defying Expectations
After going 3-1 in the Summer Showdown Qualifiers, the Eternal made their first Knockouts of the season. The five map series against the Justice was a microcosm of Paris’s season. They were creative, leaning heavily on Wrecking Ball comps throughout. They got big performances from players like Onigod, Kaan, and Naga. Ultimately, however, they fell short down the stretch against a seasoned and star-studded Washington squad. They acquitted themselves extremely well, but there’s still clearly room for improvement.
Originally, this team has thrived on being doubted. “Being underdogs allows you to have that mindset where you don’t have anything to lose,” posits GetAmazed. “In my opinion, when a competitor has nothing to lose, he becomes extremely dangerous because he can do whatever he wants.”
Now, it’s hard to think anyone could overlook the Eternal. They’ve put themselves on the league’s collective radar by proving capable of an upset at any time. “After every single win, we get more and more respect so I have to work even harder because people are gonna put more effort in to beat you,” says Get Amazed.
According to Naga, Paris never really saw themselves in that light anyway: “ I think it’s important to understand that even though the public opinion on us is that we’re underdogs and supposed to be a pretty bad team, that doesn’t change the fact that we have had insane expectations of each other and ourselves the entire time.”
Still, given where they started the season, Paris must be commended for their progress to this point. This is not the most talented team in the league. Nor do they have the resources afforded to many of the teams they compete against. What they do have is a limitless belief in their own potential and the drive to reach it.
“Confidence is extremely important. You can see the teams that don’t believe in their own skills anymore. They just show up and play the game,” says Naga. “But we are not one of those teams. We still believe and we still think we can reach the top.”
The Eternal are also well aware that they cannot fall into the trap of contentment and complacency. Paris must maintain their top 9 position if they want a shot at making the playoffs, so they cannot afford to relax. They celebrate what they have accomplished, but know there is so much more yet to do. As Naga puts it: “It doesn’t matter what you have done. All that matters is how well you play the next time.”
The Overwatch League returns to action in the Summer Showdown. Matches start Friday, July 16th at 3 PM ET on the OWL Youtube channel.