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Overwatch League: Hangzhou Spark’s Stage One Matchups

With the full schedule for season two available, Overwatch League fans can start looking forward to the matches ahead. Despite the league reducing the season’s games from forty to twenty-eight, there’s still plenty to look forward to once February rolls around. Among the season’s more exciting changes is the addition of eight new expansion teams, all looking to represent their cities well when they take the stage.

Among these new teams is the Hangzhou Spark. The Spark is one of three expansion teams representing China in the league, joining the Guangzhou Charge and the Chengdu Hunters. Their bright color scheme initially turned heads, but the team has since revealed a roster that should attract just as much attention.

Hangzhou’s players have shown their skills on China’s 2018 World Cup team and on Chinese Contenders powerhouse Lucky Future Zenith. When the season’s first stage begins, they have the opportunity to prove that those skills can stand up to some of the Overwatch League’s more seasoned talent. With that in mind, we explore some of the Stage One matchups – both individual and team-based – that Hangzhou fans won’t want to miss.

Shanghai Dragons (February 14, 8:30PM PT)

The Spark make their Overwatch League debut on opening day, when they take on the Shanghai Dragons. With a near-complete roster and staff overhaul during the off-season, a very unfamiliar Shanghai will take the stage. Even with these changes, however, no team will want to be the first to fall to the Dragons, and Hangzhou will especially feel that pressure as the first team to face them this season. Both teams have a lot to prove here. Shanghai has a chance to begin redeeming itself after a disastrous first season, while Hangzhou has its first opportunity to set expectations for how the team will perform.

This match also marks the first Overwatch League face-off between former teammates Min-seong “diem” Bae and Ho-jin “iDK” Park. The two played together on Lucky Future Zenith from February until October, when diem was officially signed to the Dragons. Though the two fill different roles – diem is known for his DPS play, while iDK plays support – they are familiar with each other’s playstyles, and seeing how they use that knowledge to their advantage should prove interesting.

London Spitfire (February 24, 12:00PM PT)

Jun-ho “Fury” Kim and Jae-hee “Gesture” Hong. Courtesy of Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for Blizzard Entertainment.

Going into season two, the London Spitfire are the Overwatch League’s gold standard. The season one champions made few changes to their roster during the off-season, and their stage one opponents can expect a challenge. By the time the Spark take them on in Week 2, they’ll have a few matches under their belt. Without seeing how they perform against the Los Angeles Valiant or the Houston Outlaws, it’s difficult to predict how Hangzhou will fare against the Spitfire. A solid performance in this particular matchup, however, would do wonders for the Spark’s reputation. At this point in the season, any team that can bring down London gains attention, and that attention is all the more valuable to an expansion team like Hangzhou.

The match also gives both teams a chance to pit their powerful tank lines against each other. Jae-hee “Gesture” Hong and Jun-ho “Fury” Kim are well-established as one of the strongest tank duos in the league, and they’ll likely prove just as fearsome as ever this season. Hangzhou, however, boasts the talents of Xu “guxue” Qiulin.

Team China’s performance in this year’s Overwatch World Cup gave guxue a chance to shine, and his addition to the Hangzhou roster left fans excited for the team’s future. Backed up by fellow tank players Da-un “NoSmite” Jeong and Sung-wook “Ria” Park, guxue has the chance to flex his skills against one of the most renowned tank lines in the Overwatch League. The resulting showdown is sure to be a must-watch.

Los Angeles Gladiators (March 3, 1:30PM PT)

We’ll be well into the season by the time the Spark face the Gladiators for the first time. Both teams will have solid season two experience under their belts, making it that much easier to predict who will come out of this match victorious. Still, many early predictions have the Gladiators performing well. The team boasts a talented and experienced roster primarily made up of returning Overwatch League players. They’ll prove a good bar for the Spark to measure themselves against – an established talent, if not one as intimidating as the New York Excelsior or the London Spitfire. If Hangzhou can take them down, they’ll be that much closer to confirming their place in the team lineup and making their mark as more than just “the new team”.

Cai “Krystal” Shilong. Courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.

On the individual level, a DPS showdown between Lane “Surefour” Roberts and Cai “Krystal” Shilong should prove entertaining. Surefour and Krystal last faced off at the Overwatch World Cup, where Team China surprised many by pulling a 3-0 victory over Team Canada. Though they’ll be meeting again with very different lineups at their backs, Krystal has already proven his skills against one of the league’s most renowned DPS players. Seeing what’s changed since the two last squared off makes this matchup especially notable.

Toronto Defiant (March 9, 4:30PM PT)

Barring a potential playoffs run, both the Spark and the Toronto Defiant make their last stage appearance in this match. For both teams, Stage One is vital to establishing a reputation for the rest of the season, and this match is the perfect time to demonstrate their growth. If the Spark can close out the stage with a victory over another expansion team, they can cement their place at the top of the new team pack, which is a useful place to be moving into Stage Two. For all eight expansion teams, Stage One is a chance to prove that they have earned their place in the Overwatch League, and with so much unproven talent on both the Spark and the Defiant, ending the stage on a high note is all the more important.

For this match, it’s worth keeping an eye on the backline. Both the Spark and the Defiant have seasoned support players in their lineup; Se-hyeon “Neko” Park joins Toronto after a season with the Boston Uprising, while the previously mentioned Ho-jin “iDK” Park picked up experience on Lucky Future Zenith, a team which powered its way through the first two seasons of Chinese Contenders. Neko’s knowledge of the Overwatch League and iDK’s successful Contenders run will both prove extremely valuable, but when the two meet on stage, we’ll find out which proves more valuable.

 

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Featured image courtesy of the Hangzhou Spark on Twitter. 

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