Everyone loves an underdog story. Fans love to see the little guy unseat the champions, rattle the power rankings and show that they can run with the big dogs too. The second season of the Overwatch League saw a shift in storylines, from new teams showing their dominance to the Shanghai Dragons achieving their first-ever victory.
Many of the shocking victories came in Stage 4, after the league implemented role-lock. This allowed the teams that had not been strong in the 3-3 GOATs meta to compete and catch the best teams unaware. In Stages 1 and 2 this meta was firmly set, so big upsets were infrequent. But with a slight shift in Stage 3 and an overhaul in Stage 4, the field belonged to the underdogs.
Here is a run-down of the top five upsets of 2019.
5: Chengdu Hunters beat New York Excelsior 4-0 (Stage 4)
In 2018, the Excelsior were the paragon of excellence. They finished with a regular season record of 34-6, a full seven wins higher than the second-best team. The champions of both Stage 2 and 3, they reached the finals of Stage 4, but were knocked out in the semifinals of the Season Playoffs. This success continued this into 2019, going undefeated in Stages 1 and 3. But the role-lock shift seemed to knock them off their game, as they were trying puzzling compositions to poor effect.
The most notable loss of theirs came against the volatile Hunters, whose highly-skilled but unconventional style had them losing to teams they should have beaten and beating teams they should have lost to. In the third match of Stage 4, they squared off against the Excelsior and came out victors in a 4-0 stomp. New York could not find an answer to Ji “Jinmu” Hu’s Pharah and their traditional defensive style did not hold up.
Not only was this a shocking victory, but it was the first time New York had ever been beaten 4-0 in league history. It may be the caster’s curse as they noted earlier in the broadcast that they were the only remaining team that this had not happened to.
4: Atlanta Reign beat San Francisco Shock 4-3 (Season Playoffs Round 1)
While several of the other top GOATs teams stumbled when role lock came around, the Shock took in in stride and proved that they would be the top team no matter what the meta looked like. After a golden Stage 2 and an undefeated Stage 4, they seem poised to cruise through the playoffs to at least the semifinals or even finals. But Atlanta had other plans.
The Reign appeared fairly middling throughout the first three stages, finding a handful of victories but finding a record of 9-12. But role lock allowed Joon “Erster” Jeong to flourish on his signature DPS heroes. With new life breathed into the team, they did not drop a match and finished Stage 4 at 7-0 and won their last nine matches of the regular season. Yet many expected the Shock to plow right through them.
Their playoff bout was neck-and-neck, with each team alternating map wins to force the final map seven on Rialto. In a now-infamous moment, Myeong-hwan “Smurf” Yoo was eliminated first while the rest of the Shock was away from the payload, allowing Atlanta to push it to the finish in a cheeky victory. While the double-elimination format meant that the Shock still got a chance to fight to the finals, an opening-round loss surely shocked everyone.
3: Los Angeles Valiant beat Vancouver Titans 3-1 (Stage 3)
Stage 3 saw the introduction of Sombra into the GOATs meta. This change required teams to adjust to it, with varying levels of success. The most notable match with this composition was Young-seo “KariV” Park’s insane performance against the Titans.
The Titans were undefeated in the regular season through Stage 2, with their only loss coming in the Stage 2 playoffs against the golden-stage Shock. As formidable beast as any, their odds of victory grew in this matchup given the fact that the Valiant had only three wins going into Stage 3. However, Johannes “Shax” Nielsen’s Sombra play had elevated the Valiant in this stage, garnering a record of 3-1 headed into this matchup.
Many athletes have a ‘signature game’, and this match was just that for KariV. His biotic grenades were masterful, negating any healing from the Titans, and crucial sleep darts cancelled key ultimates and allowed easy eliminations. His performance helped to stuff the Titans in their tracks and stamp the Valiant’s ticket to a 3-1 victory, awarding Vancouver their first loss of the regular season.
2: Houston Outlaws beat San Francisco Shock 3-2 (Stage 3)
It is hard to find adequate words to describe the Shock’s performance in Stage 2. They call it a golden stage – going 7-0 with a 28-0 map differential. This performance is unprecedented and placed them clearly at the top of the power rankings going into Stage 3. Houston on the other hand, was floundering. After a middling Stage 1, they were unable to find a single win in Stage 2. This match had a clear victor, right?
Wrong. While the Outlaws were unable to match the Shock in the GOATs mirror matchup, they decided to get funky with the compositions and lean to their strengths. After all, it’s hard to do worse than a winless stage. Their strategy mainly revolved around Dante “Danteh” Cruz’s Sombra and Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty’s Ana, with Jake “Jake” Lyon additionally on Pharah. In a down-to-the-wire match, Houston pulled out the victory in the tiebreaker map.
When asked how they did it, many of the Outlaws were shocked and confused themselves, yet their confidence in each other and their hero picks were able to propel them to a top upset of the year.
1: Washington Justice beats Vancouver Titans 4-0 (Stage 4)
This was the first match of Stage 4 that really turned people’s heads. Still having lost only one regular-season match at this point, the Titans were a daunting team. Washington’s season had gone the route of stereotypical D.C. sports – they had but two wins on the season. While role lock brought a new meta, and both teams won their first two matches of the new stage. But the Justice’s wins were against bottom-of-the-barrel Toronto and Florida, so no one expected what was about to happen.
While Corey “Corey” Nigra struggled on Zarya during GOATs, Stage 4 allowed him to flex his muscles on aim-intensive damage heroes. His Hanzo play, especially on Hollywood, left the Titans with no game plan and nowhere to go. His insane stat line included a 16% critical hit accuracy with Hanzo, which is the new league record. While all the maps of the match were close, the Justice found the upper hand each time and got the biggest upset of the year on a day that included the Chengdu vs New York upset just hours later.
Honorable Mentions: Atlanta Beats NYXL Twice
3-1 April 19 (Stage 2) & 3-2 May 9 (Stage 2)
The Excelsior continued their Season One success into the first stages of Season Two, and while Atlanta did not seem bad, they did not have the gravitas that New York did. Headed into the first match, they were heavily regarded as underdogs.
Yet they clawed their way to a surprise 2-1 victory with Dong-hyung “Daco” Seo back in the lineup. This was the Excelsior’s first loss of the season, but their second was soon to follow. Their next match was just two weeks later again against the Reign where they found a second loss.
Featured Image Courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
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