The Washington Justice faced one of the more daunting foes in its Feb. 16 Overwatch League debut, matching up with the New York Excelsior — the winningest team in the league’s inaugural season. And though it ultimately ended with a 3-1 series loss, Washington showcased the potential the staff’s been touting all offseason — though after enduring a brutal start.

In the first two maps, Illios and King’s Row, New York made quick work of Washington. New York’s experience was on display as it played patiently and methodically, shutting down all attacks from Washington. Justice was only able to amass six kills total across the first two maps, which left Overwatch League caster Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles wondering whether the team would take a single point. With other pundits questioning the strength of the Justice roster coming into the season, it was an ominous beginning that the team believes stemmed largely from inexperience on the big stage.

For the majority of the Washington roster, it was their first time playing in Blizzard Arena, the 500-seat venue that held all of the regular season’s matches in the league’s first season. From the Justice, only Song “Janus” Jun-Hwa, Chon “Ado” Gi-hyeon and Mun “Gido” Gi-do played in the Overwatch League’s inaugural season. Washington pulled its rookie players — Corey “Corey” Nigra, Ethan “Stratus” Yankel, Kim “Sansam” Hyang-Ki, Riley “Fahzix” Taylor and Chon “Hyeonu” Hyeon-woo — from Overwatch Contenders teams around the globe. With assistant general manager Kate Mitchell, Coach Kim “WizardHyeong” Hyeong-seok and the Washington Justice staff trialed more than 150 players and opted to lean on player potential rather than Overwatch League stage experience.

“This was my first time playing on the stage and I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Nigra, Washington Justice’s DPS player, said in a phone interview with The Washington Post following the match. “But going forward I’ll definitely have a stronger start.”

Despite the rough matches before halftime, Washington returned for the third map in more sure-footed fashion and displayed some of that potential touted by the team’s management. Led by stellar tank play from Janus, Washington managed to keep New York from scoring a single point on Horizon Lunar Colony to grab its first map win of the season.

“That’s our potential,” assistant general manager Mitchell told The Post. “We’ve worked hard on that map and it shows. We’re going to look to exploit enemies weaknesses better in the weeks ahead.”

Ultimately, Washington Justice reverted back to the overly passive play that marked its first two maps for the final round on Overwatch’s Rialto map. After some huge plays from New York Excelsior, including a brilliant quad kill D.Va bomb from Kim “MekO” Tae-hong, the New York roster won Rialto and the day’s matchup.

Featuring a former coach and player from the Excelsior on its own roster, the Justice were familiar with its first foe. Kim and tank player Janus left New York over the summer to join Washington, but the knowledge was not enough to fuel an upset.

The Excelsior was just the start for the Justice’s challenging first stretch to the 2019 season. Washington has less than a week before its next match, in which it will play the London Spitfire, the Overwatch League’s inaugural season champions. Exactly a week later, Washington will take on the Season 1 runners-up, Philadelphia Fusion.

“We probably have the hardest schedule you can imagine, facing the league powerhouses in the first three matches,” Justice team owner Mark Ein said ahead of the match. “Even if we were a seasoned, veteran team, it would be a tough start of the season. I’m feeling good about our prospects over the course of the season. I feel good about the mind-set of the team.”

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