Earlier this week, Element Mystic pulled off an unthinkable upset. They knocked off RunAway, ending a 25-game winning streak that dated back to July of last year – and avenging their Contenders Season 3 Grand Finals loss in the process.
One of the most impressive runs in Overwatch history has ended. It spanned six different tournaments, three Contenders Seasons and two dominant rosters. It now stands as an iconic achievement, up there with the 57-game streak by Envy, Rogue’s 35-match run and, possibly, Vancouver’s ongoing 15-bout romp through the Overwatch League.
The giant killers were unlikely. It’s been a rocky season for Element Mystic after balance changes rendered Yeong Han “SP9RK1E” Kim’s Doomfist toothless and deprived EM of the strategy they rode to the Grand Finals in January.
This season, they struggled to find their identity in what is still the most competitive region in the world. Eventually, they coalesced around Kim “Doha” Dongha and his superb Sombra, replacing one standout DPS with another. On Wednesday, they leaned on him more than ever and came up with an upset no one saw coming.
All In on Sombra
Last season, EM placed their trust in SP9RK1E – pouring their resources into his Doomfist and letting him define their fortunes. His prowess made it a viable strategy even as GOATs reigned supreme. The player and hero receiving those resources have changed, but not much else has.
Now instead of relying on SP9K1E to find value with his abilities, they play around the Sombra. That inherently means playing around EMP, Sombra’s ultimate, one of the strongest in the game.
For Element Mystic, that means enabling Doha and his uncanny ability to build his ultimate quickly. Most teams in the current meta commit their key abilities – Zarya bubbles, Defense Matrix, Armor Packs, etc – to the frontline contest. Reinhardt’s are the most common recipient, escorting their team into the fray and trying to control space.
Element Mystic, on the other hand, recognized their win condition. Knowing they couldn’t beat RunAway in the GOATs mirror match, EM chose to maximize their odds with Sombra. Resources were spent setting Doha up to poke at their opponents. Element Mystic was willing to commit Zarya bubbles and Armor Packs to the cause of Doha’s ultimate charge, allowing him to get hyper-aggressive.
The plan was a massive success. Doha used 33 EMPs during the five-game series – 65 fights in total. That means, more often than not, RunAway was staring down the barrel of an EMP in any given fight. To put that in perspective, over the last three months, the average Sombra in OWL has used EMP in just 32% of fights.
Beyond setting Doha up for success, Element Mystic also managed to bail him out of tricky situations. Early on in the series, RunAway was successful in isolating Doha when his Translocator was on cooldown. By the end though, EM caught on and started peeling aggressively. That shift produced the defining fight of the series on Oasis when they turned a desperate retreat from Doha into a fight win and a massive ultimate advantage.
The Bet Pays Off
The central calculus of running a Sombra composition lies in the comp’s power spikes in fights where EMP is used. To make the pick worth it, teams need to win nearly every fight in which Sombra ults.
It makes sense. EMP is the most consistently effective ultimate in the game, with teams winning 72% of fights in which it is used. Executing that part of the game is essential – fight wins without EMP are hard to come by, even for a team as skilled as EM.
Of the 33 EMPs Doha unleashed against RunAway, his team capitalized on 26 of them – a rate of 79%. That figure is even more impressive considering that three of those seven failures came in fights EM had basically lost by the time the EMP came out.
Element Mystic improved over the course of the series in that regard as well. On the three maps they won, they lost just a single EMP fight, a desperate attempt on King’s Row. With their backs against the wall, they won every single EMP fight on Junkertown and Oasis. With how fast Doha was charging his ultimate, that was enough to pull off the upset.
What happened to RunAway?
RunAway this season looked as strong as ever. Entering Wednesday’s match, they had lost just five maps on the season. They continued to be the best team on the dominant meta, and had even easily dealt with other Sombra-led teams like GC Busan Wave.
For any team going up against a Sombra, the approach has to be aggressive above all else. In fights without EMP, a normal team can expect to win 58% of the time. RunAway did one better, bumping that percentage to 68% against EM.
The problem was Doha’s otherworldly ultimate charge rate – if half the fights included EMPs, RunAway needed to find a way to win fights with the ultimate and limit his charge afterward. At times, they did it brilliantly, like during the clinching fight on Horizon. Knowing EMP was coming, RunAway used the stairway as cover while they engaged with a Nanoboost on Kim “MAG” Taesung.
That was RunAway at their best – going all out and trusting themselves to win in the trenches. At their worst, they played passively and handed Doha easy EMPs. It cost them on King’s Row when they backed themselves into a corner during their last defensive stand.
RunAway really lost their way in the closing maps, especially on Junkertown. During their attack round, they were indecisive in their approach. They took a full minute before they made the rotation to challenge EM on the high ground, by which time Doha had the EMP ready and waiting. Those moments of hesitation cost RunAway their streak but hopefully serve as a lesson for Korea’s best team.
RunAway’s streak is over. It was a singular achievement of team-building and should be celebrated as such. To rebuild after losing a championship roster and not miss a beat is nothing short of remarkable.
For Element Mystic, it is both an act of revenge by last season’s runner-up and a huge boon to their confidence with playoffs on the horizon. Next, a Grand Finals rubber match with RunAway is in the cards – provided both teams make it through the bracket. For now, EM basks in the glow of an unlikely upset.
Featured image courtesy of Overwatch Contenders.
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