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Overwatch

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: OWL Play-Ins Edition

OWL Play-Ins

The Overwatch League postseason kicked off with a bang last weekend. Four matches whittled the field of six hopefuls down to two – the London Spitfire and Seoul Dynasty – who earned their spot. Sigma made his debut in professional play, and fans got their first look at the postseason meta. It was a weekend packed with memorable moments, excruciating and brilliant in equal measures. 

OWL Play-Ins
Image Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

The Good: The Sigma Shakeup

The newest addition to the Overwatch lineup made a big splash all weekend long. Sigma was featured in a healthy majority of compositions from every team. Some of the league’s biggest names showed off his potential. Hong-Jun “HOTBA” Choi, Gael “Poko” Gouzerch, Jaehui “Gesture” Hong and Min Seo “Marve1” Hwang all picked up the new hero like it was nothing. 

Ultimately it was Marve1 and Gesture who helped lead their teams to the promised land on Saturday. Both Seoul and London decided to have their main tanks pick up Sigma while the flex tanks landed on Orissa. It was a gutsy call in a single-elimination game that could have been their only shot with Sigma. It paid off here, but whether the rest of the playoff field follows suit remains to be seen. Either way, expect a lot of Sigma going forward. Between his high damage output, the high impact stuns from Accretion and the defensive power of the Experimental Barrier, Sigma isn’t going anywhere. 

The Bad: The End of the Road

Photo: Ben Pursell For Blizzard Entertainment

This weekend saw the elimination of three of the four Chinese franchises from contention. Even though only the Chengdu Hunters fielded a full Chinese roster, they were all carrying the flag for the unique style of play from one of Overwatch’s most exciting regions. Shanghai won the Stage 3 title by bucking the 3-3 trend and playing triple DPS. Guangzhou played Yiliang “Eileen” Ou on Doomfist long before it became the near-must-pick it is today.

Chengdu’s place amongst the league’s most entertaining teams is uncontested. Menghan “Ameng” Ding’s Wrecking Ball, initially a necessity for a team without a traditional main tank, became the calling card for the most unpredictable team of 2019. They spent the year surprising everyone, eventually bowing out after a postseason birth few saw coming. Now the mantle of Chinese Overwatch falls to the Hangzhou Spark, a team with just one active Chinese player and a decidedly more orthodox style. 

The Ugly: Playing Maps Twice

When Friday’s match between the Philadelphia Fusion and Shanghai Dragons loaded into King’s Row for Map 6, fans were hit with a sense of deja vu. No, this wasn’t a trick of the mind. These two teams had played this map just two hours previously, way back in Map 2 of the series. Thanks to a bug preventing Numbani from being played, Philadelphia was allowed to choose King’s Row again rather than playing the remaining hybrid map, Eichenwalde, despite repeat maps being explicitly outlawed in league rules. 

The Fusion reversed their fate from the previous attempt and took King’s Row to force the match to Map 7. Their comeback attempt sputtered out on Dorado, and the double King’s Row game will ultimately go down in history as an interesting piece of OWL trivia. For a minute though, it seemed like the Dragons’ postseason chances could be ended in part by a map bug. The league dodged a bullet it fired at itself, but it’s one that never should have been an issue at all.

The Good: The London vs Shanghai Spectacle

There were so many storylines coming into Saturday’s first decider match. The Season 1 champions taking on the franchise that went winless in 2018. Shanghai looking to bounce back after the rollercoaster run from the Stage 3 Playoffs through their 1-6 Stage 4. London having to fight for their lives after letting a top-six spot slip through their grasp on the last day of the season.

OWL Play-Ins
Photo: Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment

All of that kind of faded away as the two teams settled into what can only be described as an instant classic. It wasn’t the cleanest Overwatch these teams have ever played, but it delivered the thrills in a big way. Early on, London looked dominant. They ran away with the first two maps, and Junyoung “Profit” Park was in vintage form – even popping off on Tracer – as the Spitfire looked to run away. 

Shanghai, of course, had more fight in them than that, and ultimately took the series to the distance and beyond. By the time the teams rolled into Ilios for Map 8, London hadn’t won a map in nearly an hour and a half. They went all the way to the brink on Ilios, but managed to pull it back from 99-0 on Ruins. Ultimately Profit and Seungtae “Bdosin” Choi put the team on their backs, and they finished off Shanghai to save their season.

The Bad: Philadelphia’s Uninspired Approach

Before diving in here, one thing must be clear. This was the first week of a new meta, with a brand new hero. In a league where competitive integrity was the priority, that probably wouldn’t happen. With just a week between the end of the regular season and the play-ins, every team was trying to figure things out on the fly. 

OWL Play-Ins
Photo: Ben Pursell For Blizzard Entertainment

That being said, the Fusion were the only team to stick heavily to the Mei-Reaper DPS duo that dominated the Stage 4 meta. Sure, they added Sigma to their lineups – and Poko’s Sigma was a bright spot for Philly – but overall, it felt like they were trying to change as little as possible. 

In a meta that let damage dealers run wild, Philadelphia lost the plot despite their tremendous DPS talent. They never really touched Doomfist, the hero that lit up the kill feed more than any other. They stuck with what they knew, and the meta left them behind. Shanghai was ideally suited for the Doomfist-Pharah combo that took down the Fusion and exposed some holes in the Philly roster. Now comes an offseason of difficult choices for maybe the most disappointing team of 2019.

The Good: The APEX History Lesson to Come

With both Seoul and London moving on to face Vancouver and New York respectively, longtime Overwatch fans are going to get a blast from the past this week. The Spitfire and Excelsior might be the OWL’s premier rivalry, one that dates back to the pre-OWL days. Though both teams are now grabbags of Korean stars, they both formed initially from cores brought over from APEX, the top pre-OWL Overwatch competition. 

Alarm OWL
Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

The history between Seoul and Vancouver goes back even further. Seoul may have mostly moved on from the Lunatic-Hai core that they fielded last year, but Jehong “ryujehong” Ryu and Jinmo “tobi” Yang remain. The storied support duo has been together since 2016. In that time, they claimed two APEX titles, the first of which came against Runaway, the team that would become the Vancouver Titans eventually.  

The top two seeds are going to have their hands full this weekend. Both of their opponents are proven in the current meta and both are intimately familiar. That history, plus the pressure these teams are facing, should yield some explosive matches. 


Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.

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