Last week, the best Contenders teams from across the globe convened in Seoul for the Overwatch Contenders Gauntlet. It was the culmination and celebration of a year of Tier 2 Overwatch. On the final day of the event, Element Mystic triumphed over ATL Academy to claim the first-ever Gauntlet title. The champions weren’t the only winners in Korea – fans, players, teams and regions made their mark. However, where there are winners, there are also losers. Let’s review the weekend and look at who won and lost at the Gauntlet.
Winners: Old School Overwatch Fans
Overwatch made its triumphant return to the Giga Arena for the first time in two years. The spiritual home of professional Overwatch, the venue was the home of OGN APEX, the premier international competition during the pre-OWL days. For five days, the Gig Arena again played host to teams from around the world as they vyed for Overwatch glory.
For APEX fans, it was a nostalgia trip and a half. The player booths were the same, converted from League of Legends so the team captain sits behind the rest of the team. The production was classic Korean, with face cams revealing player reactions to big moments. With Seth ”Achilios” King and Wolf “proxywolf” Schröder in the casters booth, it was almost possible to pretend that APEX was back.
For newer fans, there was still so much to love. New names from around the world filled the spaces originally held by names like Runner, INTERNETHULK and Miro (who took the stage as a host and interviewer). The trash talk segments were back and saw the new blood throwing shots at the competition, all in good fun. After all, that’s what this event was for fans – good fun. From Gauntlet cat to the APEX booths to the international competition, the Gauntlet was a beautiful mix of the old and the new. The only thing missing was an “I get it” for old times’ sake.
Loser: LGE Huya
It wasn’t the strongest showing for the Chinese Contenders champ and their record only tells part of the story. A quick group stage exit and an 0-6 map score are worse than even a Chinese pessimist would have predicted but history makes this loss sting all the more.
After a winning Chinese Contenders Season 1 this year, LGE.Huya disappointed at the Pacific Showdown, bowing out after two matches again and losing China one of its two spots at the Gauntlet. They again won the domestic league in Season 2, but underwhelmed on the international stage for the second time in 2019.
Winner: South Korea
Playing on home soil Korea reasserted its status as the best region in Overwatch. Not only did Element Mystic come away with the hardware, but three of the top four spots went to Korean teams. Gen.G acquited themselves nicely with a 4th place finish and have established themselves as one of the most consistent teams in Korea. Runaway’s 3rd place exit may be a disappointment for the top seed coming out of Korea, but they still only lost to the two finalists. It was a worthy finish in their final competition in Korea.
Korea’s reach extended beyond the three teams it sent to the Gauntlet. The other teams were stuffed with Korean talent – seven of the ten teams played at least one Korean player. The region is overflowing with talent and continues to help populate the best teams around the world. Expect to see much of that talent making its way to the Overwatch League in 2020.
Loser: South America and Australia
Thanks to the format and the tying of Gauntlet spots to a region’s performance at the Atlantic or Pacific Showdown, South America and Australia were left out of the festivities. At an event where Talon esports represented Pacific Contenders so well, it was a shame to see two of the smaller regions sitting at home. Gauntlet is the one international competition of the year in Tier 2, and it would be nice to feature at least one team from every region. Hopefully, with big changes coming to Path To Pro in 2020, the Gauntlet will expand to reflect the global nature of Contenders.
Winners: Talon Esports
Arguably no team had a bigger breakout at the Gauntlet than Talon. Led by World Cup star Patiphan “Patiphan” Chaiwong, Talon came into the Gauntlet with a chip on their shoulder. They were out to prove that the Pacific region could stand toe to toe with the best from around the world.
Mission accomplished for Talon. Not only did Patiphan show off one of the tournament’s best Doomfists, but Talon as a whole didn’t disappoint. They took both Element Mystic and Gen.G to five games, pushing two of Korea’s best to the brink in some of the most exciting games of the tournament. They took down XL2 and Gladiators Legion, two academy squads with OWL backing. It was a coming-out party for the lone representative of one of Overwatch’s overlooked regions, and Talon made the most of it.
The story here is much the same as with China. HSL Esports, Europe’s only participant, exited unceremoniously after two 3-0 losses. They certainly had the harder group, but it’s not the performance expected out of one of the strongest regions in Overwatch. Another victim of poor performance at the Atlantic Showdown, Europe was missing many of their strongest teams historically. The Gauntlet felt incomplete without another European slot, which would have gone to its most consistent powerhouse in Gigantti.
One silver lining for Europe: its talent made an impact on other teams. Three of the four NA teams had at least two European players. Of particular note were Steven “Kodak” Rosenberger and Daniel “FunnyAstro” Hathaway of ATL Academy. The superstar support duo were a huge part of Atlanta’s run to the Grand Finals and gave European fans something to root for long after HSL was eliminated.
No one stole the show quite like the young stars at the Gauntlet. Patiphan, Kamden “Sugarfree” Hijada, So-myung “Bliss” Kim and Nicholas “Speedily” Zou all played beyond their years. Sugarfree and Bliss especially stood out. Currently 14 years old, they won’t be eligible for OWL contracts until 2023. That’s not even mentioning Yeong-han “Sp9rk1e” Kim, the Element Mystic superstar playing his final Contenders event before OWL teams launch a bidding war for his services.
The Gauntlet was filled with so many young players that it’s impossible to mention them all. Many will make their way to the OWL in 2020. Others will continue their Contenders journeys, maybe even making it back to next year’s Gauntlet. Either way, this event was a reminder of the talent in the pipeline for Overwatch. With stars like Sp9rk1e making their way to the OWL and prodigies like Sugarfree and Bliss holding down the fort in Contenders, the future it certainly bright in Overwatch.
Featured image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
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