Washing Justice players before their match against Florida Mayhem Credit: Stewart Volland

After going 1-6 in Stage 1 of the Overwatch League (OWL), Washington Justice is looking forward to returning to Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California for Stage 2 of the four-stage regular season competition next week. The D.C. esports team finally broke through for its first franchise win on March 17 against the Florida Mayhem in its final match of the stage.

Washington currently sits in 18th place out of 20 teams.

The fledgling franchise had more lowlights than highlights in its first seven matches, but it did have to navigate one of the league’s toughest Stage 1 schedules. The Justice’s first five opponents included the defending OWL champions and four teams that ended up making the Stage 1 playoffs.

Assistant general manager Kate Mitchell admits that the team faced a lot of adversity, but she adds that she is proud the team kept improving over the course of the stage. One of the things that stands out to Mitchell has been enthusiasm from the team’s supporters.

“The most incredible thing [from Stage 1] has been meeting and saying hello to the fans,” she says. “The fan support has been absolutely inspiring.”

(Washington Justice owner Mark Ein also owns City Paper.)

For Corey “Corey” Nigra, one of Justice’s most valuable players, the first stage proved to be a learning experience for the majority of the team, which includes several first-year players. Despite the slow start, Nigra says the team’s confidence hasn’t been shaken.

“As a team, we’re working really hard to show our growth,” he says. “I have a really good feeling about this upcoming stage.”

Nigra adds that his goal is to really shine in the second stage. Before the Stage 1 playoffs started, he was ranked 15th in the league in damage dealt per 10 minutes. But he isn’t satisfied. “I want to be even better and I will be better,” he says.

The Justice made headlines after Stage 1 play by acquiring Hong “ArK” Yeon-jun, a support player, from the New York Excelsior (NYXL). It isn’t entirely clear what the Excelsior are really receiving in return besides getting his contract off the books and clearing a roster spot. NYXL, which had the best regular season record in the first season of OWL and went 7-0 in Stage 1, already has a stacked roster with some of the best support players in the world.

Mitchell is effusive about Yeon-jun and his skill set, stating that he’s one of the hardest workers and best leaders in professional Overwatch and that they’re incredibly excited to work with him. “I think we have the best main support in the league,” she says.

Further personnel moves could still be in the works, Mitchell has hinted, but she declined to comment on what they might be.

The Stage 2 schedule is more favorable for Washington than Stage 1. The team will face three of the Stage 1 playoff teams in their first four matches, but then play two of its final three against teams that failed to make the playoffs, including the winless LA Valiant, the only team without a win in the OWL.

Mitchell says her personal goals going into Stage 2 are to continue to learn, stay humble and motivated, and not be afraid to confront mistakes. She expects the team to fight for every stage playoff that’s remaining.

Teams only needed a 4-3 record to qualify for the Stage 1 playoffs, and Mitchell is confident that the Justice will compete for one of those eight coveted playoff spots in future stages.

“Nobody was satisfied [after the win against Florida],” she says. “We want to show the full potential of this team for the rest of the season. We’re not satisfied and we’re not done.”