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Stage 3 Will Be the Best Stage Yet. Here’s Why

There’s no denying that stage 2 of the Overwatch League was fantastic. Many teams that struggled in stage 1 started to turn things around, and their step up in performance made for some close games all stage long. The Big Two, New York and London, have kept the pressure on as they push towards a seemingly inevitable season playoff berth. A select few teams rose to that challenge and gave us some impressive showings, win or lose. Some teams that looked dominant early got picked apart, some teams rallied to an impressive finish overall, and some… well, some still need a bit of work.

Overwatch League
Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

But that’s okay! Because we’re approaching a new peak in the Overwatch League- Stage 3. More teams are approaching their full strength, the trade window is closing, and rosters are gelling together more and more as they rack up the hours. All of those factors will help stage 3 blow its predecessor out of the water. And no matter what these teams look like now, I have a feeling we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Even the lowest teams in the league are a few good days away from the rest of the pack. That’s what makes this stage so great! We could very well see those good days in the coming weeks. There’s always a chance that certain things will stay the same- New York will probably continue slapping the taste out of everyone’s mouths, Shanghai will need a lot of work to challenge anyone, Dallas will still play Custa on Lucio… and so on. (Please, Dallas, prove us wrong? We hear his Zenyatta is pretty good!)

No matter what sort of state these teams are in now, the name of the game is parity. Low-ranked teams need to push into the middle of the pack, the guys in the middle want to push towards a potential playoff spot, and more established playoff teams need to keep an eye on anyone trying to knock them from their perch.

So what will it take for all of these teams to reach an equal plane? Less than you think, honestly. Let’s take a look at how all these teams are stacking up as we go into the stage.

The Iron grip loosens

The Big Two are losing their stranglehold on the podium, and it’s not about to get any easier for them.

2018-03-25 / Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

The New York XL and the London Spitfire are the gatekeepers to the upper echelons of the Overwatch League. They consistently hold the top spots in the league’s overall standings, and they’ve given us some of the most dominant performances in the league’s short history. Just below them, though, sits the most contested rank in the League.

Third place trades hands often, and more teams are within its reach every day. And once you’re in third, what’s to stop you from aiming higher? London has been consistently good, but never perfect. The stage 1 champions lost immediately to Houston in S2W1, to the Gladiators in week 3, and to Philly in the semi-final bout. They can be beaten.

So can New York. That’s a much more dubious proposition, but it’s still happened a time or two. There have been a few close games, including the title bout vs. Philadelphia on Sunday. New York needs to buckle down if they want to hold the same level of dominance they’ve been used to over the teams just below them. 

The Constant Contenders

The LA Gladiators, Philadelphia Fusion, Seoul Dynasty and Houston Outlaws have shown they have what it takes to make the playoffs, or at least come awfully close. No matter how close they’ve been, though, they’ll need to give it their all if they want another shot.  

The LA Gladiators have thrown their Stage 1 doldrums out the window. I wrote a bit more on that here, and I’ll add that they don’t look like they’re gonna start slowing down anytime soon. They might have missed playoffs this stage, but they will still be a team to watch for the rest of the season, especially with Void joining soon. I love Bischu, but Void… he’s an animal. It’s gonna be interesting to see his progress this stage.

Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

The Fusion are easily the strongest team in this group after their win against London and their insanely close match against New York in the stage 2 finals. They’ll have to fight to keep their spot at the top of this pile, but their strength of schedule is decent, and it’s clear that they’re getting things nailed down in Philly. Their almost random mix-and-match DPS strategy isn’t poor planning, it’s controlled chaos- and it’s working. How can you prepare for a team that can have 6 equally scary DPS lineups? AND Fragi? Be still, my beating heart…

Seoul are another team with a lot of possible roster combinations, though they haven’t quite locked it down like the Fusion have. I respect that Seoul will play their B-team against tough opponents (and their B-team is still ridiculously good,) but they’ve lost some winnable games that have cost them a place in both of the stage playoffs so far. Seoul needs to turn these late stage slumps around if they want to have any hope of getting into any playoffs. Playing well the first half of a stage means nothing if you drop the ball past week three. If they could just maintain their early momentum… this article wouldn’t exist. 

Houston also struggled with momentum this stage. Their Tracer players have been the hot topic, though that was hardly the only problem Houston faced this stage. The Outlaws struggled with communication and coordination, too, but even that can be tied to their Tracer play- many teams use her as a key scout and communicator to judge the viability of certain engagements, or to make key picks on the flank. When they could get that utility from their Tracer player, the Outlaws did quite well. But when up against a better Tracer like Terence “SoOn” Tarlier or Jong-Ryeol “Saebyolbe” Park, Houston crumbled no matter who they sent out in the role. (Then again, who doesn’t struggle against those two?)

Jacob “Jake” Lyon has been the Outlaws’ go-to guy, and he hasn’t been a bad Tracer player by any means- other teams just know he’s still learning, and abuse it when they can. If I had to trust anyone to learn a core hero like Tracer and play them at an OWL-caliber level, though, it’d be Jake. While he learns the hero, Houston just needs to perfect their comms and flexibility. The addition of Lucas “Mendokusaii” Håkansson might help, too. Also: more Junkrat! You know it works!!

The up-and-comings

The last two weeks of stage 2 have shown us that the middle of the pack teams are not out of this yet. Some might not challenge the top dogs for now, but their improvement has been causing some problems for the established hierarchy. 

The Gladiators have been having a whale of a time this stage, but across town, the Valiant have struggled to find consistency. In the last three weeks of the stage, the Valiant won five maps. They’ll have to bump that number up significantly if they want to actually win a game every now and then. I don’t quite know what’s going on with the DPS lineup in LA, either. Soon is rock solid, and Kariv has stepped up. But where are Agilities and Grimreality? The former hasn’t seen much play since stage 1, and the latter has yet to see play this stage at all. There’s plenty I don’t know about their dugout, but if I had to make a suggestion, I’d look to mix things up there if they need a change.

Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Speaking of copious changes, San Fran will be a whole different team in stage 3 with Matthew “Super” DeLisi and Min-ho “Architect” Park joining the squad. If the Shock’s headfirst approach to introducing new players holds after the success of introducing Jay “Sinatraa” Won and Grant “moth” Espe to the roster, I expect the Shock to keep things flexible and gain some ground in the standings. They’ll have to acclimate those players quickly if they want to have a hope of making playoffs, though- their current record (6-14 with a -15 differential) needs a real makeover for them to enter the playoff conversation.

And speaking of makeovers… let’s talk about the Florida Mayhem, right? There’s a team that’s really clicked lately. Their additions to the roster and coaching staff have paid dividends already, and I expect that improvement to continue with time. Joonas “zappis” Alakurtti, Jung-woo “Sayaplayer” Ha and Sung-hoon “aWesomeGuy” Kim will add some depth- but the starting six have stepped up, too, with 3 wins in their last 5 tilts, all against opponents ranked higher than them (Dallas, San Francisco, and the Valiant.) That said, they haven’t been able to win any games against the bigger teams in the league, Yet.

The last team on this list has had an interesting time of it. Towards the end of Stage 1, the Uprising could not be stopped, taking down just about everybody on their way to the playoffs before losing to Houston in a nail biter of a game. In stage 2, Boston lost against teams they had previously decimated, often in 0-4 sweeps. Most of that can be attributed to those teams simply improving, but many of those games felt like they could have been a bit closer than they were. Flashes of brilliance, but not much more. If Boston can get things back on track coming into stage 3, they could easily re-enter the playoff conversation. Until then? Prepare for rain in New England.

Still a ways to go

There are some teams that still have a lot to prove this season, though their chances to make any playoffs are slim to none. No matter what, every map counts, and these teams need to approach every game seriously if they ever want to find success. 

Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Oh, Dallas. How I love you. You frustrating, hot mess of a team. The Fuel have at last shown some signs of life thanks to Taimou’s extended bathroom breaks- no, seriously– and nearly took down the top team in the League. We won’t get a chance to see if that progress will stick until stage 3, but it’s something! And something is what Dallas needs to get back into it. With Taimou swapping back to DPS with Mickie and Seagull taking over tanking duties, we might see something yet, provided whoever’s in charge of the roster keeps things consistent. #KeepCusta

Shanghai is another team in an interesting spot right now- perhaps the most interesting spot in the entire league. You have new players and new coaches coming in. There’s nowhere to go but up. Play loose! Have fun! Learn! Ado and Fearless already looked pretty good in their last game, even if they were pretty tough on themselves after the fact. Geguri also just arrived in town, and I’m really excited to see what she can do. A tank overhaul will do the Dragons good, provided they get their heads on straight and just learn. They have to learn the languages, the playstyles, the calls… it’s gonna take awhile. But I can wait.

 

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Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul and Blizzard Entertainment

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