When I look back at some of my posts from when the Atlanta Reign were first announced, I was hopeful that we would have a good team. On paper, with the GOATS meta at hand, we looked strong. But with any expansion team, there is always a shred of doubt. Not knowing if the team will mesh well or how they will stack up to teams from the last season who have experience. Those thoughts always lingers in the back of your head. But until the first match would come, all our thoughts were positive. We were ready to prove ourselves, not only to ourselves, but to the rest of the league.
The amount of hype that was surrounding this team because of Daniel “Dafran” Francesca was immense and our first match against the Florida Mayhem lived up to the hype. One of the biggest cheers I have heard from watching the streams was when Dafran opened up his OWL career on Torbjorn. The crowd went absolutely nuts and Dafran didn’t disappoint. Though his Torbjorn wouldn’t last the whole map, he definitely left his mark. The Reign ended up taking the series 4-0 but it set the tone for the rest of the stage.
Over the next matches, the Reign had their ups and downs. They took wins against the Mayhem, Defiant, Eternal and Outlaws. With their losses coming against the Fusion, Gladiators and Hunters, the Reign earned their first stage playoff birth in franchise history. Unfortunately, the Reign fell to the Fusion in the first round of the stage playoffs, cutting their playoff run short. But, for the new team from Atlanta, this was more than people were expecting. Even though they had an early exit, you could see the fire in the team’s eyes. They could feel that they could hang with the rest of the league and become a very powerful team in the stages to come.
But the amount of hype surrounding the team would be stifled a bit because in between stage one and two, the Reign lost their star, Dafran, to early retirement. This took the Reign fans by surprise. Who wants to see their star step back from the league? This wasn’t unheard of though. Last season, the Dallas Fuel lost their star, Seagull, to early retirement. The league can be excruciating and isn’t for everyone. But, for the time he was with the Reign, he will always be remembered. Dafran is still a part of the Reign as a streamer and he would make a return at the Homestand representing the team in spirit. More on that shortly.
But, with Dafran out of the picture, the Reign needed to fill the gap he left. Enter the new star DPS player, Andrej “Babybay” Francisty. Babybay never really got his chance to shine with his time with the San Fransisco Shock, but the Reign were going to give him his shot to shine.
Stage 2 was rocky for the Reign. With losses against the Boston Uprising, London Spitfire, Los Angeles Valiant and Guangzhou Charge, the team seemed to be lacking an identity and they were still trying to find the chemistry they had been developing with Dafran. But that would begin to change within the team. The highlight of this stage for the team was taking two big wins off of the New York Excelsior. This stunned the league. The NYXL were one of the top teams dating back to the inaugural season. While they always came up short during the playoffs, they were still a team to be reckoned with. Those two match wins really showed the team (and the league) that they too were a strong team and could hang with the best teams in the league.
The Reign missed the playoffs in stage 2 but they didn’t let that get them down. They were starting to get their chemistry together and were starting to get in to a rhythm. But Stage 3 would prove to be not only one of the most difficult stages for any team to play, but also the turning point of the team’s season.
Stage 3 began with losses to Stage 2 champions San Francisco Shock, Stage 1 champions Vancouver Titans, and soon to be stage 3 champions Shanghai Dragons. The losses in their following matches against the Seoul Dynasty and Philadelphia Fusion started to make the league think that the team was starting to crumble. But the week off before the Atlanta Homestand gave the team more life, let them reset, and get ready for their end of season run.
The Atlanta Homestand brought the team back to form. Not only did it rejuvenate the team, but it gave them a new identity. The team saw how passionate their fans were and they wanted to show their fanbase that they could come back from their tough stage 3 schedule and be the team they knew they could be. The Homestand weekend brought the Reign two dominant wins against the Toronto Defiant and the Florida Mayhem. These two matches propelled the team into a strong season finish. The team took the energy from their home crowd and it fueled them the rest of the season.
The Reign were sitting far out of even the play in tournament for the end of the season playoffs. But they took the fuel they gained from the Homestand and that rocketed them up the standings. The Reign took stage 4 and went 7-0. While the stage may have not been a very difficult one on paper, they took each map and learned from it. Their confidence was growing with each game and it jettisoned them from being ranked 15th to moving into the sixth seed in the overall playoffs. This let them bypass the play in tournament and begin to prepare for the playoffs.
Their first match for the season playoffs would be against the San Francisco Shock. Not only were the Shock one of the best teams in the league and stage 2 champions, but they were the team that was adjusting to the new meta strongly. In the match it went back and forth, but the Reign didn’t let that deter them. The Reign won the match after a C9 from the Shock, completely shocking the league and moving ahead in the bracket, sending the Shock into the loser’s bracket.
Their next match was against the New York Excelsior. While the Reign had the Excelsior’s number during the regular season, the Reign fell to the Excelsior 4-2. As tough of a loss as it was, the Reign still had one shot to keep their playoff hopes alive against the Hangzhou Spark. Sadly, the Spark had the Reign’s number that match and ended the Reign’s post season hopes.
Looking back at the season and after everything the Reign has gone through, it is hard not be upset with the outcome. As any expansion team will know, getting your footing in the league can be very difficult, especially with rookie players that aren’t as used to a big stage like the returning teams. The Reign had a phenomenal run all season. Highs and lows will always be there, but the Reign showed their metal and continued to grow and get better with each passing week. The 2020 season will be a big year for the team coming up. They don’t look to make any major roster changes and will continue to build their synergy within their ranks. One thing is for sure, the Reign will be a team to be reckoned with and the league will know that they won’t go down without a fight. They will Let It Reign.
A big thank you to the Atlanta Reign for allowing me to include their videos in our posts.
NOTE: all images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment