The Hangzhou Spark used Stage 3 to lock in the improvements they had made during Stage 2. They finished out the stage with a stellar 6-1 record, matching the Vancouver Titans in both record and map differential and earning the third seed in stage playoffs. Though they fell earlier than expected with a quarterfinal loss to the Los Angeles Valiant, they still put on an impressive show over these past few weeks. Many now consider the Spark to be among the best teams in the league, and it’s a perfect time to look back at how they earned that reputation.
Stage 3 Review
Weeks 1 and 2
The Spark started the stage off with a dominant showing against the Philadelphia Fusion. Many were surprised at just how easily Hangzhou breezed through the match, shutting down their opponents with ease for three maps. Although Philadelphia regrouped once more and made a good effort on Watchpoint: Gibraltar, their bright pink opponents, still shut down the attack. The Spark came out on top with an easy 4-0 victory.
The Spark kicked off Week 2 with a rematch against the Vancouver Titans. After their 0-4 loss to the Titans in Stage 2, Hangzhou looked to put up a better fight this time, and they certainly did. They won Horizon Lunar Colony, and proceeded to battle hard on Numbani and Havana, nearly forcing the game to a fifth map. However, the Titans’ dominance and clutch ability continued to reign supreme. In an exciting series that got fans of both teams talking, Vancouver took a 3-1 victory.
Moving on, the Spark returned to form against the Washington Justice. The Justice put up a good fight themselves, forcing Paris into a draw. However, Hangzhou looked organized and aggressive throughout the series. They completed the series with a 3-0 victory, putting them in a strong position for the rest of the stage.
Hangzhou powered on into Week 3, this time taking on the Dallas Fuel. They continued to struggle to assert themselves on assault maps, ending Horizon Lunar Colony in a draw. Besides that, however, they took the remaining maps with ease. With aggressive offenses and airtight defenses throughout the match, the Spark shut down their opponents at every turn. They took the series with another 3-0 victory.
Closing out the week with a match against the Seoul Dynasty kept Hangzhou on their toes. The Spark started out strong, taking decisive wins on Ilios and Horizon Lunar Colony. However, the Dynasty swapped out their entire roster for the second half of the game, which caught Hangzhou off guard. By the time the Spark fought back, Seoul had claimed the second two maps, forcing the game into a fifth map. Ultimately, Hangzhou rallied for a tough fight on Oasis, claiming the series with a 3-2 win.
As Hangzhou didn’t travel to Atlanta for the homestand event there, they closed out the stage with two Week 4 matches. They started off by facing down the new and improved Los Angeles Valiant, who had taken them to map five when they last fought in Stage 1. The match proved a testament to how much both teams had improved since then, and they battled it out just as hard this time around. Once again, the game went to a fifth map, before the Spark pulled out a decisive win on Oasis. With their second 3-2 victory against the Valiant, it seemed that this could be the beginning of a beautiful rivalry.
The Spark moved on to finish up against the Florida Mayhem. Between Hangzhou’s consistent improvements and Florida’s continuing struggle to lock in their roster changes, the resulting match was fairly one-sided. The Spark cleared each map with ease, ending the night with a 4-0 victory. With that, they finished up the stage with an impressive 6-1 record and ultimately secured the third seed in stage playoffs, right behind the New York Excelsior and the Vancouver Titans.
The Playoffs Run
As the third seed, Hangzhou started off stage playoffs with a rematch against the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Valiant. This time, however, the Valiant came prepared in full. Once again, the two teams battled it out on every map they played, forcing the game to a fifth map once again. However, Los Angeles dominated on Oasis this time, taking the series with a 3-2 victory. With the Spark’s journey towards finals cut off before it could really begin, it was time for them to head home, regroup, and start thinking ahead to Stage 4.
The Road to Season Playoffs
The next few weeks bring up some question marks for the Spark. Most notably, the confirmation of 2-2-2 role lock for the stage ahead forces in some big changes. Considering how much of Hangzhou’s improvements came when they mastered the 3-3 composition, they could potentially struggle with the transition back away from it. However, they still have a strong support line, a powerhouse of a main tank, and a solid rotation of DPS players to bring in. Role lock may put a dent in the Spark’s progress, but it likely won’t kill their chances at playoffs completely.
Hangzhou’s stage schedule, meanwhile, provides some challenges of its own. Notable opponents this stage include the New York Excelsior and the Los Angeles Gladiators, who will both provide unique challenges. Besides those, the Spark’s Week 2 matchup against the Guangzhou Charge should be especially interesting. The Charge recently made waves by picking up Joona “fragi” Laine and Aaron “Bischu” Kim, giving them a fresh new set of tanks to take on Stage 4 with. Considering how close Guangzhou came to pulling off the win the last time they played the Spark, they’re no doubt itching to get it right this time.
In Week 5, Hangzhou hits the road again, traveling a whopping sixteen miles to the Los Angeles Valiant’s Kit Kat Rivalry Weekend. There, they close out their season with a match against the reigning stage champions, the Shanghai Dragons. Notably, the Spark and the Dragons last played in their very first match of the season, back in February. Watching the two face off again both gives the two teams to showcase how much they’ve grown and allows their journeys to truly come full circle.
Ending with a Bang
With all the preseason hype once surrounding the Spark, it’s been exciting to watch them become the team everyone thought they would be. Stage 4 presents a new series of challenges, but it’s the perfect time for Hangzhou to cement themselves in the top tier, and lock in a season playoffs spot while they’re at it. Be sure to tune in on July 27, when the last leg of their season 2 journey begins with their match against the Atlanta Reign.
Follow Darby on Twitter @soundchecck! She is happy to talk about anything she’s written! You can also get in touch with her on Discord (soundchecck#7242).
Featured image courtesy of Stewart Volland for Blizzard Entertainment.
Follow The Game Haus for the latest on all things sports and esports:
Want to show off how much you like TGH? Check out our merch shop here!