With Stage 2 in the books and the midseason break in full swing, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the past few weeks of games. For the Hangzhou Spark, the stage served as a solid turning point; after landing firmly in the middle of the pack during Stage 1, it seems that they’ve finally made enough changes to trend upwards. With seven more games under their belts, the Spark seem to be getting the hang of the Overwatch League, though they still have plenty to work on.
Stage 2 Review
Weeks 1 and 2
The Spark hit the ground running from the beginning, starting off the stage by facing down the Vancouver Titans. After taking the crown in Stage 1 finals, the Vancouver Titans looked nearly unstoppable, and they clearly hoped to remind the league of their spot at the top of the pack. Sure enough, the Titans took a clear 4-0 victory over the Spark. However, Hangzhou didn’t go down without a fight, giving their opponents some trouble on most of the maps. As Vancouver continued on their warpath, the Spark regrouped for Week 2.
There, they faced off against a new and improved Boston Uprising. After trading Lucas “NotE” Meissner to the Dallas Fuel and gaining Richard “rCk” Kanerva in return, the Uprising seemed to have settled in with their new roster. In the days leading up to the game, rumors also swirled that Boston was looking to pick up Cai “Krystal” Shilong. Oddly enough, the Friday night game marked Krystal’s Overwatch League debut. In a close five-map series, the Spark came out on top with a 3-2 score. From then on, Krystal would see much more playtime, often playing two maps a game before swapping with Jae-hwan “Adora” Kang.
The Spark went on to face the Guangzhou Charge, who had struggled with a ridiculously difficult schedule. Finally breaking their map loss streak, the Charge fought hard, hoping to put a much-needed win on the board. Though the series came to a fifth map, the Spark managed to pull it off with a 3-2 victory.
Their win streak was promptly crushed, however, when they took on the San Francisco Shock. By then, the Shock looked no less than dominant, rolling over every opponent they faced. The Spark put up a good fight nonetheless, making San Francisco work for their wins on Lijiang Tower and Paris. However, there was no denying the Shock’s strength, and they continued their perfect stage with a 4-0 victory.
The Spark hit the road in Week 4, joining the Dallas Fuel at the first home-stand event of the season. With a roaring Texas crowd watching, they started off by taking on the Chengdu Hunters. Though the Hunters put up a good fight and brought out the unusual compositions fans know and love them for, Hangzhou found their groove early. After a series of fairly close maps, the Spark ended up with a 3-1 victory.
Keeping up the momentum, they closed out the weekend with a hard-fought series against the Paris Eternal. The two teams brought fights down to the wire on nearly every map, forcing the game into a tiebreaker on Busan. There, however, the Spark brought their best and clinched the map, taking a 3-2 victory and leaving Dallas undefeated.
In the last game of the regular stage, the Spark faced off against the Seoul Dynasty in a tense match. With one playoffs spot remaining and both teams on the cusp of claiming it, the stakes were high. However, the Spark surprised many fans by pulling out a decisive victory. After struggling to find footing on Lijiang Tower, they came back looking organized and focused. They proceeded to clear every map and win 3-1, securing their first stage playoffs appearance.
The Playoffs Run
As the seventh seeded team, the Spark had an uphill battle if they wanted a chance at finals. They started off against the London Spitfire, who had secured second seed after taking the top spot in the Atlantic Division. In what many considered to be a major upset, Hangzhou looked outright dominant. Though the Spitfire took the control map, the Spark proceeded to shut them out on every other map in the series, taking a decisive 3-1 victory and moving on to semifinals.
Unfortunately, they failed to keep up the momentum. In semifinals, they faced off against the San Francisco Shock, who proceeded to take them to task in a disappointingly one-sided series. Although the Spark showed some signs of life on Watchpoint: Gibraltar, it was far too late by then. San Francisco won the series 4-0, breezing past the Spark to the finals and ultimately becoming Stage 2’s champions.
Roster Shifts and Building Strengths
Despite a difficult ending to the stage, the Spark can still be very proud of their growth this stage. After ending Stage 1 in 13th place, a 5-2 record and a playoffs run are nothing to scoff at. Several factors came into play to help Hangzhou improve, but perhaps the most obvious is their willingness to experiment with their roster. Most notably, Xu “guxue” Qiulin now serves as the team’s starting main tank after splitting time with Da-un “NoSmite” Jeong during Stage 1. Between relying on guxue and giving Krystal more play time, it seems that the Spark have finally made strides integrating their Chinese players into the fold. The results that guxue and Krystal often bring speak to that success.
Beyond that, the Spark have developed a knack for working around their major playmakers and giving them the space they need to do what they do best. This stage saw a definite uptick in the team making the most of guxue, Krystal and support player Ho-jin “iDK” Park. By recognizing their rising stars and playing around them, they’ve clearly gotten a better feel for what’s working, as well as what they still need to work on. If they can learn from this stage as much as they learned from Stage 1, they could very well lay the groundwork for an even stronger future.
Hangzhou is currently ranked eighth overall in season standings, leaving them poised to contend for a spot in season playoffs. If they want to climb higher and secure that spot, they’ll need another strong showing in Stage 3. Fortunately, taking a look at their schedule reveals that they could certainly pull it off. Early-stage matches against the Philadelphia Fusion and Vancouver Titans will give them trouble, and they’ll likely need to fight hard against the consistently improving Dallas Fuel. However, their schedule evens out with matches against the Washington Justice, Florida Mayhem and Los Angeles Valiant. Combined with a rematch against the Seoul Dynasty, who they handily defeated before, the Spark could very well contend for a top spot in the standings again.
The Hangzhou Spark play their first game of Stage 3 on June 8, against the Philadelphia Fusion. In the meantime, enjoy the break!
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 Robert Paul 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!