Over the weekend, four of the best teams in Asia converged on Guangzhou, China for NeXT Winter 2018. Runaway, fresh off their Season 3 victory in Overwatch Contenders, imposed their will on the top three teams from China. After a 3-0 win over Flag Gaming in the semifinals, Runaway stumbled out of the gates against LGD Gaming in the finals before rallying to a 4-1 victory.
Korea Remains Top Dog
Korea has long been considered the best region in the world when it comes to Overwatch. Still, the region has been significantly weakened after the OWL offseason pilfered their best players. Runaway, at least, has proven it can succeed even with new talent. Despite replacing their entire roster, they have now lifted two consecutive trophies.
Runaway’s ability to find success so soon with an inexperienced roster is a testament both to the org and to the depth of the region’s talent pool. Star players like Yu “QoQ” Sung-jun and Jeong “Heesu” Hee-su languished on benches for top Korean teams before they got their chance to prove themselves.
Others must leave the region in order to find their spots on a Contenders roster. Lee “Schwi” Dong-jae and Lee “Leejaegon” Jae-gon joined Runaway after competing in the Pacific region. Kim “Mag” Tae-sung played main tank for a Chinese team before dominating the most recent season of Contenders Korea.
No region can match Korea when it comes to the cultural and structural factors that make it so dominant. A population of avid players on low ping means Korea will always have a fresh supply of potential talent. A history of esports means they have the infrastructure and backing to foster success at all levels. Regular LAN events serve as an intense training ground for upcoming talent, ensuring that they get to test themselves in the best possible environment.
If a challenge does come in the near future, it will certainly be from China and may come sooner than you expect. Even though the match results indicate an easy victory for Runaway, their win was hard fought. LGD Gaming was up 1-0 after the opening map, and they kept it close even as Runaway ran off four straight maps to claim the title. For now Korea reigns over the Overwatch world, but NeXT showed that the Chinese threat is looming.
Parity in China
The results from Guangzhou speak to the health of the Chinese scene as a whole. Neither of the finalists from Contenders Season 3 – Flag Gaming and T1w – made the finals. Despite T1w winning Season 3 with a near perfect map record, they fell to LGD in the semifinals after a tough five-map series.
It was the best showing for LGD since they lost much of their former roster to the Overwatch League. Like Runaway, they have bounced back quickly. Their emergence as a legitimate challenger to T1w is vital for China if they want to continue developing elite talent. That LGD were competitive with the best team in Korea gives hope to those who wonder if Korea will stay on top forever.
LGD’s success in Guangzhou was largely fueled by their flexibility. Both Wang “Rookie” Jundong and Zhao “secret” Xu pick up damage dealers when LGD plays its four-DPS compositions. Their ability to play multiple roles gives LGD nearly limitless options, a valuable skill in the Chinese region. However, it was the meta that helped separate them from T1w here. Their GOATs composition has progressed rapidly in just weeks, and Cheng “Showcheng” Yu’s Zarya was particularly sharp in the semifinals.
A Taste of What’s to Come
One of the problems that comes with trying to compare regions in Overwatch is the dire lack of cross region LAN events. Even a small tournament like NeXT is a crucial measuring stick for China.
Earlier this month, Blizzard announced that it will be hosting three international LAN events in 2019. The first, the Pacific Showdown, is scheduled for May 24-26 and will feature two teams from both China and Korea alongside one each from the Australian and Pacific regions. It will be Blizzard’s first attempt at bringing together more than two Contenders regions.
The Atlantic Showdown a week later will feature teams from Europe and the Americas. The culmination of the 2019 Contenders calendar will come in October, when top teams from every region compete in The Gauntlet, a showcase for the very best that Tier 2 Overwatch has to offer. It will be the first chance for eastern teams to test themselves against the best of the West. If NeXT was any indication, China and Korea will be up for the challenge.
Featured image courtesy of NetEase.
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