But despite the less-than optimal record, there were glimpses the Justice could improve its standing as the league’s second season continues. Consider that in Stage 1, the Justice faced the two teams that battled for the Season 1 title, as well as the Season 1 regular season champions and the ultimate runners-up from Season 2′s first stage. And even within those matches, the Justice came close to pulling an upset. The addition of New York Excelsior support player Hong “ArK” Yeon-jun ahead of Stage 2 figures to bolster its roster as well.
For Justice Owner Mark Ein, the focus remains on the big picture, one that stretches well into future seasons and includes the team’s first home matches, to be played in Washington, D.C. in a year’s time. Ein sat down with The Washington Post earlier this week to share his thoughts and experiences from his initial taste of Overwatch League action, and to explain his hopes for the road ahead. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Post: Generally, looking back at the past two months, since the start of the Justice’s first season in the Overwatch League, how do you think it’s going so far?
Ein: I mean, there’s a ton of positives. I think we have a really energetic and vibrant fan base, as evidenced by the response at our watch party [for the first match] and the interaction on social [media]. It’s pretty extraordinary, the size and energy around this community. So that’s a huge positive.
I feel like our brand and what we stand for is being well received. That starts with the name, but I think we’re very much a values-based organization. And I feel like that’s getting out there and people like that. So that’s all positive.
Obviously, you know, in the games, matches didn’t go as we had hoped. It was disappointing. We ended up 1-6, but we were up in three of the games where we could have won, for sure, two or three of them. And we win two or three of those and we could’ve been in the playoffs. So we obviously would hope to have done better. And because we hope to do better and think our fans deserve better than we did, we went and did this big trade for ArK from the Excelsior who was a teammate of Janus and played with Wizard at the [New York] Excelsior. That was [Justice management’s] number one person that they wanted. We paid a reasonably steep price to get him, but we thought that was the right move to make and we’re really excited about the impact that he’s going to have.
The Post: It seemed like you guys may have had one of, if not the, most challenging schedules to start the season, no?
Ein: We had a ridiculously brutal schedule. Playing the two finalists [Philadelphia Fusion and London Spitfire] and New York. We played San Francisco, who was a finalist for this stage, so it was a really tough, tough schedule.
Look, the first season of the [Washington] Kastles [Ein’s World Team Tennis franchise] we did not do well, then we ended up winning the championship the next year. I feel a little bit similar. We actually really felt good about our chances at the beginning of the season, and even the first match where we won a map off New York, felt like a good victory. And we came close against London. We really thought we had a bunch of chances and we did. So we’re in this for the long term and I think things will definitely be better the rest of the season and the future seasons to come.
The Post: What was the most encouraging thing from your perspective from Stage 1?
Ein: I mean, what’s really the most encouraging thing is just the energy of our fan base, by far. Just the energy and passion and commitment of our fan base is really fantastic. It’s very strong locally, as we saw by the people who came in person, and there’s fan clubs that have viewing parties on their own, so it’s a really vibrant community who’s really excited about the team. That’s for sure the best the best part of it.
Competitively, I think our coach and team have the right mind-set, which is continuous improvement. I got a long note today from our coach [Wizard] about reflections after the first stage. It was extremely thoughtful, extremely long and detailed, a self reflection on the team and what we can do better. And that’s all you can ask. If you’re always getting better you’re gonna get better outcomes, and so I feel good about the leadership of the team, too.
The Post: If you knew then what you know now and were going back and starting Stage 1 over again, what would you do differently?
Ein: I thought a lot about the moves we made on the team. I think we hired a great coach and we hired a really good general manager. We gave them leeway to make their decisions. They knew that our goal was to be competitive. And I think they made very reasonable choices.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Vancouver just pulling a whole Contenders team was going to go undefeated and win. That was not an obvious thing. And that was one of the things that Wizard told me, he said in Season 1 the people who were predicted to be at the bottom, a lot of them finished at the top. This isn’t something that is easily predicted. It’s not easy to figure out the next LeBron [James] or Zion Williamson or Alex Ovechkin or Venus Williams. It’s not that easy. There are some big personalities, big names, but they’re not going to single-handedly win the way they can in other sports. And obviously we had Janus, which was a big signing. So I think we did everything, and we really did a lot of soul searching, and there weren’t decisions along the way that we didn’t make that we wish we made. The chips fell where they did.
We’re really long-term focused here. It’s just the beginning of the first season and we’re trying to learn every day but we’re just at the very beginning of this journey.
The Post: Flash forward now. It’s the home opener in 2020. What is your ideal vision for that?
Ein: A fantastic venue, packed crowd, unbelievable energy and people having an amazing time: The hardcore Overwatch fans and players, the Justice League fan club, but then all kinds of new people who’ve never been to an esports match and maybe don’t even know anything but want to check it out.
The match starts and people are just mesmerized, like they were, frankly, at the watch party. Just to see that group of people watching it together as a communal experience and seeing how they were totally engaged by the experience and cheering and being disappointed at the same time. Just thinking about that, with a couple thousand people doing that together, is really exciting.
And that’s kind of what I see so vividly in my mind.