The last stage of the 2019 season is upon us, and the Houston Outlaws are saddling up for a challenge. They’re a mere three places from qualifying from the postseason, but their schedule isn’t easy, and their map differential is low. However, the new role lock rules are shaking things up, and many teams are looking stronger or weaker than they were last stage. Every win counts in these last weeks of the regular season, and everything can come down to a single teamfight or kill.
Week 1 in Review
The Outlaws played the first match of Stage 4 versus the Paris Eternal. While Busan was a solid 2-0 win, that map was about as long as it took Terence “SoOn” Tarlier to warm up. Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin subbed in for map 2, promising a thrilling Widowmaker duel. But once the French marksman hit his stride, the remaining three maps were little more than a shooting gallery. Flex tank Finnbjorn “Finnsi” Jonasson also had a stellar performance on Roadhog, a hero new to the meta that Matt “coolmatt” Iorio seemed to struggle with. The Eternal wrapped up the 3-1 victory with little trouble.
On Saturday, Houston faced the Los Angeles Gladiators in front of an exuberant crowd for their Team Day. Many fans’ hopes weren’t high, considering the previous loss and the Gladiators’ unexpected defeat of the New York Excelsior. But between lessons taken from the Paris loss and sheer fan energy, the Outlaws came out in dominant form. Notably, Dante “Danteh” Cruz and Alexandre “SPREE” Vanhomwegen were in for most of the match. Both had stellar performances, with Danteh’s fabled Tracer finally coming out to play. In fact, the only map the Outlaws lost in this match was Hollywood — the only one where Danteh was subbed out.
Philadelphia Fusion (12-11)
Anyone who watched the Fusion during the 2018 season would worry about facing them in a DPS-required world. But while perennial playmakers Jae-hyeok “Carpe” Lee and Josue “eqo” Corona were back on DPS last week, Philly just couldn’t seem to recapture the magic. Houston at least managed to turn it around for their second match of the week, but the Fusion took two losses. These are two teams both known for both winning and losing when it seemed impossible to, so anything could happen. But the Outlaws’ head start on finding a working roster may give them the upper hand.
Prediction: Outlaws 3-2 Fusion
Atlanta Reign (10-12)
The Reign have only played one game this stage, a 3-1 victory over the Hangzhou Spark. But where Philadelphia’s tried-and-true roster couldn’t find success, Atlanta shuffled in multiple DPS and tank lineups, all of which performed well. Much like the Outlaws, the Reign are a team full of big personalities with chemistry (and swagger) to spare. If Houston manages to improve — especially if they take the W from Philly — they may stand a chance, but for now, Atlanta seems to have a better grasp on the Stage 4 meta.
Prediction: Reign 3-1 Outlaws
Player to Watch: Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin
Widowmaker players agree that she’s a streaky hero to play. If you’re in the zone, you can dominate; if you’re not, you’re dead weight. But if there was ever a bad time for one of the League’s best counter-snipers to be “off,” a game against Paris was it. We’re only a week into the stage, but the numbers are stark: the Outlaws have lost every map that LiNkzr has played, and won every map that he hasn’t. His legendary Widow is the only advantage he holds over Danteh; if he can’t play her to expectation, there’s little reason for him to play. For the Outlaws to succeed this week, he needs to either warm back up or warm the bench.
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