This is the second part of a complete Top 10 list. Part 1 can be found here.
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). 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?
5. London Spitfire vs Shanghai Dragons (Play-In, Round 2)
Iconic Moments: 7
Entertainment Value: 10
Quality of Play: 7
Overall Game Rating: 42
The addition of the Play-Ins to the OWL calendar was designed to do two things: expand the playoff field to give an underdog a shot and generate drama in a high stakes, single-elimination bracket. While it ultimately failed on the first count as the two highest seeds emerged unscathed, the Play-In certainly fostered a spectacle to kickoff the postseason.
The highlight of it all was the clash between London and Shanghai, the defending champions against the most recent stage winner. Both teams had a rough Stage 4 to thank for their predicament – win and move on to the double-elimination playoffs or leave Blizzard arena as a loser. The Dragons had seemed to right the ship in their opening round win over Philadelphia, but London was playing their first match on the playoff patch.
Combined with Shanghai’s stylistic quirks and DPS reliant style, the meta uncertainty made an explosive cocktail that led to one of the most entertaining series in league history. In a chaotic dogfight, both teams were content to let their DPS steal the show, with Doomfist and Pharah dominating the playtime. When the dust settled, it was London who came out on top after the first and only 8-map series in OWL history. In the end, the London had the superior tank line and Junyoung “Profit” Park put up a vintage performance as he outplayed Jinhyeok “DDing” Yang on his signature hero. Simply put, this was the most entertaining game of the entire postseason, but it’s held back by the unsettled meta and the lack of a defining play.
4. Atlanta Reign vs San Francisco Shock (Playoffs, Round 1)
This series is notable for a number of reasons. For starters, it was the only true upset of the entire postseason. The Reign, for all their underdog spirit and despite their epic Stage 4 run, were massive underdogs against the consensus best team in the league and eventual champions. Those expectations made what followed even more remarkable.
Over the course of seven grueling maps, these two traded blows, neither able to wrestle momentum away for very long. By the time the Shock won King’s Row to force Map 7, it felt as if they were ready to snuff out the upstart challenger that had pushed them to their limit. Instead, the usually unflappable Shock committed the ultimate Overwatch taboo. They stepped off the cart in the critical moment on Rialto and handed Atlanta an expectation-shattering win.
Of course, what follows is nearly as important as the match itself. That would be the last map the Shock would lose all season. Losing in the first round lit a fire underneath the best team in the league, and they used it to fuel a legendary lower bracket run. They railed off five straight 4-0 series to end the year, and that eventual triumph was sweeter for having tasted the sting of defeat here against Atlanta.
3. San Francisco Shock vs Vancouver Titans (Stage 2 Final)
Iconic Moments: 8
Entertainment Value: 9
Quality of Play: 9
Overall Game Rating: 44
The Stage 2 Final came nearly two months after the Stage 1 Final (more on that later) but it felt like a lifetime had passed since the Titans claimed the title. Neither team had lost in Stage 2, and the whole time, a rematch felt inevitable. They rolled through the playoff competition with ease, setting up the Shock’s chance at redemption and their opportunity to cap their Golden Stage with a trophy.
When Vancouver jumped out to a 2-1 lead to start the series, fans settled in for another mud fight between the two behemoths. Instead, the Shock flipped the switch and rattled off three straight to close the series and take over as the league’s top team, a title they wouldn’t relinquish again. Their unabashed joy in celebration was juxtaposed with shots of Sangbeom “Bumper” Park with his head in his hands, devastated by Vancouver’s first loss on the OWL stage.
This series was the biggest turning point in the 2019 season. It was when San Francisco first lived up to their superteam label. It was the changing of the guard between the Shock and Titans. It was the peak of GOATs, both in its iron hold on the meta and in the
refinement of the style. It was the ultimate revenge game. It was the second chapter in the defining rivalry of the 2019 season and the coronation of the best team Overwatch has ever seen.
2. Shanghai Dragons vs San Francisco Shock (Stage 3 Final)
Iconic Moments: 8
Entertainment Value: 10
Quality of Play: 9
Overall Game Rating: 45
From a theatrical standpoint, it’s hard to find a series better than the Stage 3 Final. On one side, the San Francisco Shock were in their third Stage Final of the year. After ascending in Stage 2, they were the overwhelming favorites once again. On the other, Shanghai were attempting to finish a miracle run with style. They squeaked into the Stage Playoffs as the eighth seed before quickly dispatching the top two teams, New York and Vancouver, with relative ease thanks to their off-meta triple-DPS approach.
Still, taking on Shock was another thing entirely. Where NYXL and Vancouver especially had been slow to adapt to subtle meta shifts, San Francisco was innovating with GOATs variants. They were more prepared to handle the Dragons’ unique compositions but still found themselves down 3-0 to start the series. The combo of DDing’s Pharah, Min Sung “diem” Bae’s Widowmaker and YoungJin “YOUNGJIN” Jin’s Doomfist was simply too deadly for traditional GOATs compositions to handle effectively.
Of course, the Shock weren’t dethroned so easily. They adapted magnificently over the course of the series, sprinkling in DPS picks and adjusting their GOATs play to bring the series back and force a decisive Map 7. On Dorado, DDing and diem kicked into high gear, pushing Shanghai over the line to claim the Stage 3 title. For a franchise that didn’t win a game in 2018, it was a spectacular change of fortune. For the rest of the league, it was a sign that the meta isn’t as set in stone as it appears. The arrival of role-lock in Stage 4 means that most of the compositions played in this series are no longer possible, but for one shining moment, triple DPS had slain GOATs.
1. Vancouver Titans vs San Francisco Shock (Stage 1 Final)
Iconic Moments: 9
Quality of Play:10
Overall Game Rating: 46
The greatest match of 2019 and arguably the greatest of all time, the Stage 1 Final was everything a fan could dream of. It pitted the plucky upstarts, the expansion team formerly known as Runaway, against the Shock, a team that had taken its lumps in Season 1 with this in mind – the opportunity to be the best. The atmosphere for the first Stage Final of the year was electric, the excitement of a new season still coursing through the Blizzard Arena.
The ensuing match can only be described as an absolute slugfest. In the first of three finals matchups, the Shock and Titans traded haymakers for seven maps. There was Vancouver’s full-hold on Numbani, followed by Hyobin “Choihyobin” Choi’s epic performance on Anubis. King’s Row was a tour de force punctuated by game-saving plays from Hyojong “Haksal” Kim (denying Grant “moth” Espe’s Sound Barrier) and Seong jun “SLIME” Kim (sending Minki “Viol2t” Park over the edge mid-Transcendence).
— Overwatch League (@overwatchleague) March 24, 2019
It all culminated on Rialto, where the Titans followed Shock’s impressive attack with a record time on their own offense. This time it would be Vancouver celebrating their triumph while San Francisco waited their turn. For the Titans, it was a validation of their commitment to each other. From their struggles to breakthrough in Korea, to questions about their OWL-readiness, nothing had come easy for this team. In that moment, they stood alone as the best team in the world, their triumph sweeter for the obstacles they overcame and the classic they had just delivered.
Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
You can also follow Bradley @shyguyow.