The Australian scene, in almost every esport, tends to fall by the wayside. Geographically isolated, Australia has a low population density, poor internet infrastructure, and few opportunities for players to go professional. Australia creates locally dominant teams; their small talent pool and slim hopes of escaping the metaphorical esports prison breeds titans. Big fish, small pond.

The issue comes when these fish find themselves constrained by their small habitat and without a route to the sea. There is only so far a team can improve by obliterating their closest domestic rivals. There’s only so much potential they can show when given one tournament a year, if that, to showcase it. Overwatch has a team like this in Australia: their name is Fusion Girls.

Fusion Girls have been crushing Oceanic competition since the autumn of 2016, winning every tournament they’ve entered since then: their gold medals count 14 so far. They are currently on a 33 match winstreak, undefeated since early December when they dropped a best-of-three in the upper bracket of a local ESL cup and came back to win with ease. They are a distance ahead of the next best teams, effortlessly outpacing them.

That in itself is not too interesting. Smaller scenes often produce these dominant teams, those that crush locally but fail to perform when given the stage. What caught my attention about Fusion Girls is that they have already taken that next step; for the last four months they have been exclusively scrimming Korean teams, to reasonable success despite their latency disadvantage.

This step would have been impossible for top Australian teams in CS:GO, TF2, or a wide variety of other esports that have failed to penetrate the Asian playerbase. For Fusion Girls, this is the next logical move to step outside their comfort zone and truly attempt to become a world-class team.

To find out more about Fusion Girls - to find out whether they do possess a spark that makes them differ from the promising, but eventually underwhelming, Australian teams we’ve seen in other esports, I sat down with their captain and shotcaller, Rqt.

(The following interview was conducted verbally and transcribed at a later date, with minor editing for clarity.)

Latency masochists

Immediately, clarification was required on how Fusion Girls plays against the Koreans. Latency is a strange beast in Overwatch, with its 'favour the shooter' netcoding, but understanding how bad the ping difference is for Fusion Girls is necessary to provide context for their results.

Fusion Girls scrim on Japanese servers, though this does not provide much of a middle ground: the average Korean ping is 30-50 according to Rqt, while his team are sat on 120-200. One of the issues is that Fusion Girls are quite spread out across Australia, a country with almost 2,500 miles between its western and eastern extremities. While their DPS players get only 120 ping from Sydney, the tanks and support players get anywhere between 150-200. This is esports with training weights.

For reference, I asked Rqt about their latency to Europe and North America. “Europe is unplayable,” he said, as is US East, though US West sees them hit around 150ms. Playing the Korean teams isn’t just about the ping though, it’s also about the challenge. “We think they’re better than America,” Rqt explained, “which I think APEX has also shown. For our sake, it’s better for us to play the Korean teams.”

Origin story

Fusion Girls are clearly the best team in Australia. They competed recently in the Oceanic Summer Series, a $10,000 tournament and the biggest so far for OCE Overwatch, and came first after dropping only two maps in the whole tournament. They have also been winning SEA tournaments in the Taiwanese scene, adding to their trophy cabinet.

The second best team in their region is Scylla, who Rqt said have “good potential, but they’re at their peak at the moment and we’re still pushing forward.” He continued; “Even between us and them there’s a gap, and then after them there’s another big gap between them and the next teams really.”

Back in the summer of 2016 however, they did have competition. At that point Fusion Girls were playing under JAM Gaming, contesting and just about to overtake the previously top team Untitled Spreadsheet, who would go on to be signed by Tempo Storm.

At that point in time, Rqt and Gnb, current supports for Fusion Girls, both played for Untitled Spreadsheet. The team was quite similar to Fusion Girls in their dominance but without the same drive and attitude to grind; after a patch hit that ruined their 20-match winstreak, the team kicked Rqt and Gnb, merging with another team and signing with Tempo Storm.

The loss of Rqt and Gnb hit them hard, as both joined JAM Gaming and brought that roster into relevance. “The reality is, for that team,” Rqt said, referencing Untitled Spreadsheet, “we were the two brains that developed strategy and did all the communication. So when they lost both of us, they kinda fell apart at the seams. Even with Yuki, who is an incredible, world-class player, they fell behind.”

JAM Gaming started playing more, developing more strategies, and - with the injection of their new supports - overtook Tempo Storm to become the best team in Oceania. After their contracts expired with JAM, the players chose not to re-sign, hoping for new opportunities and determined to push themselves out into the world.

Fusion Girls’ strengths

I endeavoured to find out what makes Fusion Girls so much better than their competition, from Rqt’s perspective. What skills do they possess that separate them from the pack and give them hope to compete against the best in the world?

“I’ve known [Gnb] for a long time, and our attitudes and our strategic depth is unmatched by another Australian team,” he said, “and in addition to that, the dps players on our team are world-class. ieatuup is a phenomenal hitscan player, and Aetar can just about match him as well and plays an incredible Genji. I think we just outskill the competition a bit in the crucial roles, and the supports on our team are better thinkers and communicators than the rest of our country as well.”

Does that make Fusion Girls a superteam, simply stacked with the most talented Australian player on each role?

“I wouldn’t say each player is the best in the region necessarily, it depends how you try to compare them to others. For instance, our Zarya/D.Va player is incredible at shielding on Zarya, matrixing on D.Va, being in the right positions - but his tracking aim on Zarya for instance isn’t as good as another Zarya in the region.” Rqt explained; “It’s hard to really compare like that, but I think we do have hands down the two best dps players - except for maybe Yuki, I think Yuki is the best of both worlds of Aetar and ieatuup, but outside of him - our supports are the best and as I said it’s hard to compare tanks.”

“I’d say, just based off the time we’ve spent against Koreans, it’s made us mechanically better anyway. So I would say there’s a strong chance we do have almost the six best players in the region.” This isn’t to say, however, that they are relying on their individual skill to carry them through games and shore up weaknesses in teamplay. Their team attitude is always to be the best, to put in as much effort as possible, and Rqt particularly highlighted their communication as being equal or better than renowned teams on a global level.

“Communication in this game is so pivotal, and that’s why Koreans shine. Even if you look at their language, it’s so efficient in the way they can communicate with each other and get to the point so quickly. In a team game where you need to juggle ult economy, deal with enemy ults, deal with enemy positioning, and literally map out a set plan or guideline of what you want to do every time a fight is coming - it’s so important to have the edge over the other team.”

Rqt is the in-game leader for Fusion Girls, but some responsibilities are shared with Gnb. Ideas are bounced off each other and strategies are devised together, and it’s obvious from talking to Rqt that neither of them live in a bubble of the Australian meta. Everybody on the team is expected to communicate and feed information to Rqt, but in the match, the buck stops with him.

While the players are aware and keep up with meta shifts and team styles outside of their region, Fusion Girls are only able to experience that directly through their high latency channel of communication to Asia. I was interested to learn how that had affected which compositions they liked to run, and how their team feels about different playstyles.

“We’ve really had triple tank as our staple...with Roadhog, hitscan Soldier that can be rotated to McCree or Tracer, and the triple tank became our staple not only on payloads but also koth. That’s not to say we don’t, if we feel there’s a reason to, or we wanna change something, run a double dps 2-2-2 comp just as well. It depends on what we need in the situation. I feel like just recently Roadhog’s been so strong that it’s really hard to justify dropping him.”

Superstar teams, particularly from regions with less players, can often fall prey to a lack of flexibility. It’s easy to dominate a region if you pick up the best players on each ‘meta’ hero for that patch, even if they may be one-tricks. Fusion Girls does not appear to be built in that way, feeling comfortable on triple tank and 2-2-2, with a variety of hitscan heroes, Roadhog and Genji at their disposal, along with experience playing solo support. When that composition is viable, Rqt will switch off the Lucio to play Mei for his team. There are holes, however, which the team is aware of; main tank Trill sometimes goes Genji when Aetar is occupied elsewhere in the comp - occasionally a boon for the team, but Trill is also their only real Pharah player, which limits their compositions somewhat. They also seem to prefer to keep Aetar and ieatuup on impact DPS roles, meaning they will only pull out the Mei when Rqt is open to it.

Complacency is a killer

It’s easy to rest on your laurels when you’re winning. For teams dominating smaller regions that’s doubly dangerous, as their win records are inflated by the reduced level of competition. For a team to break through that ceiling and keep improving, despite not being pushed from the outside, they need a strong desire to beat their former selves. For Fusion Girls, they had a glimmer of that motivation that was magnified when they realised the level of Korean competition.

“We tried to handle losing better, which we clearly have done, and - everyone says don’t get complacent but we were winning everything at the time, in JAM, and we weren’t used to losing because we were winning everything. In fact, we entered Taiwanese tournaments on 150 ping and we were still winning those tournaments; but at that point we had pushed so hard in terms of wanting to take it to the next level, we were sick of just playing against Australian teams and beating them. Nobody could even punish us for our mistakes at that time, so it was really easy to get complacent.”

“Then when we started scrimming Korean teams, we realised very quickly that we had so many flaws and after that point we started working on them. Since being able to scrim such well-organised teams, which really is the fundamental aspect behind Korean teams, we learned from them where to improve.”

“Our attitude to be the best has always propelled us. We started to hear about Taiwanese tournaments, and there was one called Los Muertos which ran weekly for five weeks on Taiwanese servers. We signed up instantly for that; we got a translator and sorted it all out to make sure we could enter it. From there, we wanted to enter anything we could with a reasonable ping, and we did. That’s when we realised, ‘hang on a second, if we can win tournaments on this ping, can we get away with scrimming Koreans on this ping?’ And that’s what’s transitioned into exclusively being able to scrim Koreans; we’ve built up a reasonable enough reputation within the Korean scrim discord so we can get good scrims.”

Korea vs. Australia

It was apparently easy enough to navigate the language barrier, despite playing against Taiwanese, Chinese, and Korean teams at different times. They brought in a team manager who could speak Mandarin, SereNity, to work as their translator when playing in SEA or China, and found that almost every Korean team had a player capable of communicating with them in English.

The difficulty was in persuading good Korean teams from APEX and Challenger to play an unknown Australian side on high ping. Given the depth of the talent pool in Korea, where even middling Challenger teams can upset world-class sides and give them excellent training practice, why should the Korean teams play high-ping foreigners on Japanese servers?

“The proving ourselves was the annoying part,” confirmed Rqt; “There was one night Lunatic-Hai were desperate for a scrim, somebody probably cancelled on them. We jumped on that opportunity to scrim them, and fortunately they were desperate enough to want to scrim some idiot Australian team. They took every map off us, but it was competitive enough for us to get a second scrim with them - and then we didn’t lose every map. So outside of that, over the four months we’ve been scrimming Koreans, we’ve clearly been able to play against teams and they’ve realised we’re not just Australian idiots - we can actually play this game well enough to justify them playing us.”

“Tempo Storm got into the scrim server as well, before us, and I feel like they kinda damaged the Australian reputation a bit. Obviously Tempo Storm is a big name anywhere you go, so they were able to - just because of their name - get good scrims against MVP at the time, who were doing pretty well, teams like that, and they were just getting demolished by them. So at that point, we thought to ourselves, ‘we don’t wanna do that, we don’t wanna burn that bridge in case we get to the level where we could continuously play those teams’, so we’ve aimed a bit lower: middle of the pack to high end.”

“Since I’ve started tracking our scrim results, it’s pretty positive in terms of winning more than we lose...there’s not a team that demolishes us, we seem to go pretty even with almost everyone. Obviously we’re aiming to get more consistent, but it is pretty hard when your Reinhardt has 220 ping sometimes because his routing is terrible sometimes.”

Stepping into the wider world

It’s almost impossible to get a good read on whether Fusion Girls really could be a world-class team. They have never played a match against any other team in that category, they scrim with 120-200 ping on each player, and the Overwatch scene seems unlikely to shower them with LAN opportunities in the Northern Hemisphere any time soon. Nevertheless they show true potential, both with their domestic dominance and their attitude to improve by playing Koreans.

I asked Rqt a difficult question. Being as objective as possible, how does he think Fusion Girls would perform in Korean tournaments online? What about at international LANs?

“At the end of the day, when a tier one Korean team is at their peak,” he said, weighing up the variables, “which is obviously what they’re going to try and do in a tournament - it’s much more serious than a scrim even for them - the ping is really hard, I’ll be honest. We struggle against Lunatic-Hai in scrims, let alone when they’re trying their hardest in a tournament. So I think on that ping, I don’t think we’d do too great. But if we were playing on 5 ping, and LAN, I think we’d have a much more respectable chance. I think we would do pretty well through the Challenger Series for APEX for instance, I think we could do pretty well on that.”

“Against Western teams I think we could do pretty well. The scrims against Misfits were all really close, we didn’t lose every map. Obviously our ping was high but they also had been used to playing on five ping, so they had to deal with Japanese servers where they were getting 50. I think one of them had 70 as well. So that’s clearly a shock for them as well, to go from five ping for a month of scrimming and playing in a tournament back to that horrible ping. But I’d say Misfits are one of the best Western teams clearly, due to their results and the players on their team, and if we can play competently against them, I think we could beat a lot of North American teams.”

“In terms of Korean ones, again, really hard to say. I don’t think we can realistically beat Lunatic-Hai for instance consistently, I don’t think we could beat RunAway consistently. As I said, I think we could get into the bottom of APEX if we were on LAN ping through Challenger. It’d be a grind but if that was our sole focus, I think we could do it. You’ve gotta keep in mind, for us right now it’s just 16 hours a week at most. Some of us have full-time jobs. This game, we want it to be our job but it isn’t. So right now, it’s hard to really say how far we could take it against Korean teams.”

Rqt highlights another challenge of playing in a small region for esports. The team has been without an organisation for three months, and without bigger opportunities they cannot afford to pursue Overwatch full-time. The players have to balance playing with work, but in a sense that makes their results all the more promising.

“We’ve dabbled in playing Overwatch compared to how much other orgs and teams are able to play this game. The fact that we’ve had the results we’ve had has given us the motivation that we do want to take this seriously,” he told me, “we’re actively looking for an organisation that can support us, that can allow us to play this game as much as other teams in other regions. But it’s understandable why people aren’t willing to take the chance, with how the Overwatch League stuff is panning out, let alone picking up an Australian team that unfortunately not many people know about. So if the opportunity arises we’re gonna take it. Our recent results in that $10,000 tournament [Oceanic Summer Series] has actually given us a few opportunities, and I’m talking to people but we’re always gonna be looking for the best opportunity we can take as a team, and we are willing to quit our jobs and we’re willing to relocate if that’s what it takes for us to reach this height.”

Fusion Girls are trying to enter any tournaments they can, using their results as evidence that they could perform on the world stage if only given the chance. The team apparently looked into OWPS, the Chinese Overwatch Premier Series, but the rules were too strict, due to region restrictions and APAC being invite-only for foreigners.

“We’re far ahead of where the scene is for our country. That $10,000 tournament is the biggest tournament we’ve ever had in Australia and I think it peaked at 1,000 viewers - which is really sad, because the production alone was fantastic, it could rival international tournaments. The reality is, I don’t think many people know who we are because we’re from Australia and we can’t enter all the North American tournaments. We’d like to if we could, and obviously we can’t. I don’t think APEX is viable right now for us to be able to play in; if we could, we’d try it, but once again - rules ‘n’ stuff.”

Fusion Girls are a potentially excellent investment for an organisation. It’s a risk - Australian teams have shown promise before but were unable to keep growing once taken to the West. Without relocation, it’s also unlikely that OCE will receive enough investment to make an early sponsorship viable.

Crucially though, Rqt and his team have taken one step further than the strong Aussie teams before them, demonstrating that they have the drive and potential to get even better. They are currently scrimming, with the added training weights of latency, in the most competitive region for Overwatch just to improve themselves.

Fusion Girls are waiting for a stage to showcase their ability, and they believe they have the talent to become a globally renowned team. “If you have any ideas of how to branch out even further,” Rqt said to me, laughing, “I’d love to know. It’s something we really want to do.”

If you’re interested in watching Fusion Girls play, they will be competing in the recently announced ESL AU & NZ Championship, a $12,000 tournament with four-team LAN finals. The tournament features two qualifying cups, one in March and one in April, with Fusion Girls being the strong favourite for the whole event.

The roster for Fusion Girls is:

  • Jason ”ieatuup” Ho (DPS)
  • Ajay ”Aetar” Umasankar (DPS)
  • Marcus ”Kiki” Jacob (Flex)
  • Ashley ”Trill” Powell (Tank)
  • Jordan ”Gnb” Graham (Support)
  • Andrew ”Rqt” Haws (Support)