There were 319 Overwatch League matches in 2019 – 280 in the regular season, 21 in Stage Playoffs and 18 in the Season Playoffs. But which one was the best? To answer that question, you would need a rubric with which to measure the candidates (see the following paragraph) and a neutral arbiter to take on the task (see the byline of this piece).
Like the grading system for an intro-level university class, the completely scientific rubric used here was assembled with much consideration and is also completely meaningless. As always, it all comes down to how much the grader likes you. So if your favorite game of the year doesn’t wind up on this list, blame math but also blame this author’s leaky memory (seriously, 319 games is a lot). With that in mind, here are the five components of a game’s Overall Game Rating, each rated on a 10-point scale.
Stakes: How much did this game matter? What was on the line for both teams? Obviously playoff matches will score highly here, as will important regular-season games.
Storylines: How did the match affect and play into the narrative arc of the 2019 season? How vital was this game to the story of the year in Overwatch?
Iconic Moments: What will this game be remembered for? What kind of standout highlights were produced? The platonic ideal of an iconic moment is Junyoung “Profit” Park’s Grand Finals pop-off or the Great Bamboozle.
Entertainment Value: How fun was the match to watch in the moment? How intense was the series? Was there anything interesting stylistically or strategically? Bonus points for big upsets.
Quality of Play: Definitely the most nebulous scoring category, QoP is essentially a combo of two things. First, how close was the match really, even beyond the map score? Second, are the teams performing at their best? Are sloppy mistakes being made, or is everyone firing on all cylinders?
10. LA Valiant vs LA Gladiators (Stage 4, Week 5)
Iconic Moments: 6
Entertainment Value: 6
Quality of Play: 7
Overall Game Rating: 33
After starting their season 0-8, the Los Angeles Valiant entered the final week of the season with a shot at the postseason. Their task was simple – win one of their final two games at their Homestand – but it was far from easy. They would have to face down both of their in-state rivals. The San Francisco Shock had been a juggernaut all year, so the Valiant’s best hope was against their cross-town foe.
Instead of completing an epic redemption arc, the Valiant had their playoff hopes cut down in front of their Homestand crowd. The series was close throughout, but the Valiant flubbed a golden opportunity on Blizzard World and couldn’t recover. It was a heartbreaking end for a team that willed itself back into contention after a dismal beginning.
For the Gladiators, it ultimately didn’t mean much beyond seeding and the chance to end a rival’s season. Had the Valiant gotten the win, this match would be much higher on the list. Still, the drama of the moment and the intensity of the Battle for LA makes it worthy of the top 10.
9. Hangzhou Spark vs LA Gladiators (Season Playoffs, First Round)
Iconic Moments: 7
Entertainment Value: 8
Quality of Play: 7
Overall Game Rating: 34
Just two weeks after taking down the Valiant to close out the regular season, the Gladiators found themselves in another dogfight, this time with considerably more on the line. Again LA came away with the victory, a 4-3 win that vaulted them into the upper bracket and away from potential elimination.
The match itself was scrappy, with both teams trading the upper-hand as they adjusted to the playoff meta and the new hero, Sigma. The Doomfist battle between JunKi “Bazzi” Park and João “Hydration” Telles was excruciatingly close despite Bazzi’s relative inexperience. The biggest play of the game came on Rialto, when the Gladiators held point B with a frenzied retake just before the checkpoint.
This match suffers from the lack of narrative surrounding this game. Beyond the playoff setting, there was no additional drama. As the two middle seeds in the playoffs, there was no real favorite or underdog. The result was a game that delighted but didn’t change how we thought about either team or the larger playoff picture.
8. Vancouver Titans vs Chengdu Hunters (Stage 1, Week 4)
Iconic Moments: 9
Entertainment Value: 10
Quality of Play: 6
Overall Game Rating: 34
Where were you when the Yottachad was born? In what can only be described as the strangest game of the year, the Chengdu Hunters nearly took down the best team in the league, the undefeated Vancouver Titans. But it was the way they did it that broke the OWL internet.
Until that match, the Chengdu Hunters were just that weird Chinese team with the Wrecking Ball one-trick. Playing largely around Menghan “Ameng” Ding and his signature hero, the Hunters had crafted a style that confounded opponents and let them punch above their weight class. Through two maps against Vancouver, they had followed that template to a 1-1 tie. Then, Chengdu started to match Vancouver in the conventional 3-3 meta composition. Then, the world turned upside down.
Ameng, the Wrecking Ball specialist who hadn’t shown anything resembling a competent Reinhardt, was suddenly going toe to toe with Sangbeom “Bumper” Park, one of the best Reins in the league. And he wasn’t just matching Bumper, Ameng was dominating the brash Vancouver star. Across Temple of Anubis and Route 66, Ameng ascended to a higher tier of main tank, landing basically every Earthshatter to devastating effect. He won the mind games with Bumper so resoundingly it defied belief. Vancouver managed to scrap by on Route 66, and Chengdu would ultimately collapse spectacularly on Map 5.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world in the UK, OWL analyst Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson, alongside Connor “Avast” Prince, Andrew “ZP” Rush and Matthew “super” DeLisi, broadcasted a companion stream of analysis, reactions and (mostly) memes. Super’s personality shined through as he gushed over Ameng, the newly anointed Yottachad of the Overwatch League. It was the peak of OWL companion streams and an instant classic.
7. Seoul Dynasty vs NYXL (Stage 1, Quarterfinal)
Iconic Moments: 10
Entertainment Value: 8
Quality of Play:7
Overall Game Rating: 39
The Nenne Grav Game. That’s what this match will always be. But it was so much more than that. It was also the game where Volskaya nearly went to a fourth round of attacks for each team. It was the game where Seoul almost swept the top seed out of the Stage 1 playoffs. It was the game where Dynasty fans had hope that ChanHyoeng “Fissure” Baek would lead them to glory.
Still, this match will mostly be remembered for one of the highest-profile mistakes in OWL history. As they approached their final fight on Rialto, NYXL rookie Yeon-Gwan “Nenne” Jeong launched an early Graviton Surge that came up empty. No enemies caught, ult wasted, fight lost, series over. In hindsight, the idea – to catch Seoul’s Min Hyuk “Michelle” Choi before he could use his EMP – was solid. Unfortunately, he whiffed and added the Nenne Grav to the infamous list of Overwatch blunders such as the c9 or the aKm Blade. It didn’t help that it was another failure under pressure for NYXL. The squad already carried the reputation as chokers, but this match took it to another level.
6. Vancouver Titans vs NYXL (Season Playoffs, Upper Bracket Final)
Iconic Moments: 8
Entertainment Value: 9
Quality of Play: 8
Overall Game Rating: 41
If any evidence is needed to dismiss the NYXL choking argument, let it be their performance against the Vancouver Titans. In the biggest game of their career, the Excelsior showed up ready to battle. They pushed Vancouver right to the brink, and just barely came up short.
The match itself was spectacular, a breathtaking clash that lived up to and exceeded expectations, unlike the previous two NYXL vs Titans meetings. The marquee matchup in this series was definitely the Doomfists, Hyojong “Haksal” Kim and Haeseong “Libero” Kim. They both excelled for their teams on Doomfist, but in vastly different ways. As per usual, Libero played more around his team, waiting for opportunities to counterstrike and punish mistakes from the Titans. For his part, Haksal was the playmaker in many cases. The Titans relied on him to find openings and manipulate opponents.
Ultimately, Haksal got the better of Libero, if only barely. His Titans moved on to the Grand Finals, and New York was eliminated within two days. Neither team finished how they wanted in 2019, but they teamed up to give us one of the best matches of Overwatch ever.
Part 2 Can Be Found HERE.
Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
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