For many Overwatch League teams, the Countdown Cup is the most important part of the season. The tournament serves as a clear barrier to entry for the playoffs and play-ins. Teams who perform well in the Countdown Cup punch their ticket to the playoffs. Teams who dish out a middling performance can make it to the play-ins, provided they performed at least decently in the three prior tournament cycles. And teams who perform poorly will likely lose their chance to make the play-ins, ending the season empty-handed. Though skill can carry you through the tournament, it won’t save you from a cage match with the Shanghai Dragons. That’s why, for many teams, a lucky or unlucky schedule can be the biggest factor in determining their place in the standings.
But which Overwatch League teams lucked out with their Countdown Cup schedules? Which teams have four matches worth of beatdowns in their imminent future? And what insights do these schedules give to how the Overwatch League standings may look come the playoffs?
Who Received The Best Countdown Cup Schedule?
Of all the teams competing in the Countdown Cup, the Chengdu Hunters have received what is arguably the best possible schedule. The Hunters are already an incredible team, soaring to new heights over the course of the tournament. But even juggernauts can benefit from an easy schedule- and it’s likely that Chengdu will benifit far more than anybody else.
Of the four matches that the Hunters will play leading up to the APAC knockouts, three seem like cut-and-dry wins. The Hunters are sure to dominate the Los Angeles Valiant and the Guangzhou Charge, two consistently underperforming teams who have failed to take down the Hunters time and time again. The Hunters are also sure to defeat the New York Excelsior. However, it’s still up in the air how close the match will be. The NYXL have had a notoriously up-and-down season. One week, they’re flying out to Hawaii to compete in the June Joust. The next, they’re taking a loss to the floundering Guangzhou Charge. It’s entirely possible that the Hunters sweep the NYXL, and it’s entirely possible that they somehow lose to this middling team. But if the NYXL’s record is anything to go off of, fortune favours the Hunters, and they’ll likely take the match relatively handily.
However, three likely wins against underperforming opponents doesn’t guarantee the Hunters a 4-0 victory lap this stage. They’ll still have to play the formidable (if inconsistent) Hangzhou Spark, with whom they share an identical record. The Spark have proven themselves to be fantastic competition for the Hunters, defeating them 3-1 in the June Joust qualifiers.
But fans of the Spark should avoid getting their hopes up. Hangzhou has suffered frequent coaching changes during the 2021 season- an early sign of disaster in the Overwatch League. Inconsistency in tactics, discipline, and team environment is likely to negatively affect the Spark’s Countdown Cup performance. But with the amount of raw talent on the Spark, failure is never a guarantee. The Hangzhou Spark may pull through, taking the Hunters down in a repeat of their June Joust performance. But even if Hangzhou fail to bounce back from their coaching woes, the clash of these two Chinese juggernauts is sure to be a joy to watch, no matter who wins.
Who Received The Worst Countdown Cup Schedule?
The Houston Outlaws are a monstrous team. Since the start of the season, they’ve taken down the Dallas Fuel. They’ve taken down the San Francisco Shock. And they’re set to run amuck in the playoffs. But despite Houston’s status as one of the best teams in the League, they may have received the worst possible Countdown Cup schedule.
If there’s one word than can effectively describe the Outlaws’ unfortunate Countdown Cup schedule, it’s unfamiliarity. Across the course of the 2021 season, the Houston Outlaws have played a vast number of teams (some more than others). They’ve traded blows with rosters of all shapes and sizes. But somehow, they’ve never encountered the Los Angeles Gladiators or the Washington Justice. This inexperience could be a death sentence for Houston, especially after their lukewarm Summer Showdown run. The Washington Justice and the Los Angeles Gladiators are both incredibly dominant teams, despite repeatedly failing to reach Hawaii. They’ve proven time and time again that they can take games off of the best teams in the League. And the Houston Outlaws haven’t played them once.
The Outlaws will be going into these matches blind. This is a damning disadvantage even without the Countdown Cup’s choice of hero bans, a factor which has already put them on the back foot. It’s entirely possible that the Outlaws lose both of these games, putting them at an easy two game deficit. And that isn’t even considering the other two games that the Outlaws will have to play to make any sort of progress in the Countdown Cup. The Houston Outlaws are all too familiar with the Atlanta Reign, who beat them 3-1 in the June Joust qualifiers. And they’re only partially familiar with the new and unimproved Florida Mayhem, whose unpredictable main tank took the team to five maps against the Dallas Fuel.
When all is said and done, it’s likely that the Houston Outlaws will go 1-3 in the Countdown Cup. This would be a shocking failure for such a talented team, and could put a possibly dominant playoff run at risk. However, failure isn’t guaranteed- in fact, it’s entirely possible for the Outlaws to overcome unfamiliarity and achieve victory. But no matter how you spin it, the odds won’t be on their side, verifying their ownership of the most unfortunate schedule in the Countdown Cup.