The Overwatch League might be in its off season, but competitive Overwatch rumbles on with the Contenders tier entering its playoff stages. Controversially, these playoffs have been taking place on an updated patch, introducing huge changes for players to adapt to, including the newest hero, Wrecking Ball, and the new version of Symmetra.
Teams haven’t had a lot of time to practice with the new patch, but its influence can still be felt in the meta. In particular, meched-up hamster Hammond has been swinging his way into games – though not with the greatest results.
It was Fusion University that first pulled out the hero, with main tank player Adam “Beasthalo” Denton choosing him over his previously favoured Reinhardt or Winston. Until he pulled out the chubby-cheeked rodent, his team was unbeaten on first map Oasis, and well favoured in their matchup against Toronto Esports. But their experimental composition fell down against their opponents’ well-practised picks, and they eventually abandoned the hamster hero after going 0-2 down in a best of five. Then they reverse swept, winning 3-2.
Host Mica Burton summarised: “I think that Fusion University has learned their lesson here. Yes, it is great to try new things, always branch out, new patches are great - but maybe not when the playoffs are on the line.”
In the second North America division playoffs, it was Last Night’s Leftovers that chose to try out the hamster hero, first slotting him into their three tanks and three healers composition as a replacement for the other mech-based character, D.Va. The fights were scrappy and drawn out, but Last Night’s Leftovers eventually lost the first map.
But they persevered, and it was in their third map that Wrecking Ball was given a chance to shine, with Jørgen "Decod" Myrlund beginning to show the hamster's potential. Early in the game, he hooked the mobile hero onto a building near the choke point for early scouting, using the third person perspective to tell his team what their opponents were playing, and then to dive in for the early initiation.
Later, even after falling off the map during the countdown for the tiebreak round (hey, everyone makes mistakes, especially on a new hero), Decod was able to use the fact that the tank is the fastest character in the game to return to the fight in time to ensure that his team could hold the point. His minefield, boosted by support hero Ana’s ultimate, was also crucial for blocking opposing team Envy’s access to the crucial area. Last Night’s Leftovers won the map, though lost the overall game 2-3.
Several other teams tried out the new hero, but he increasingly seemed like a losing pick. In the Pacific division, Monster Shield KR knocked out Blank Esports when the latter committed to the new tank in all three maps. Where other teams experimented, they usually defaulted back to more practised compositions after things began to unravel.
One anticipated game, though, was the Gladiators Legion against NRG Esports. The Legion’s main tank player, Byung-ho "Panker" Lee, is well known for his aggressive, movement-based Winston play, a style that should transfer well to Wrecking Ball. And his performance was noticeably more impactful and exciting to watch than the earlier attempts – but it still couldn’t lead his team to victory. Casters Andrew “ZP” Rush and James “Jamerson” Lee echoed Burton’s earlier sentiments: seeing Wrecking Ball played well is fun and Panker undoubtedly had a good handle on his playstyle – but he likely would have been more effective on his usual hero, Winston.
Not only is Wrecking Ball new and largely untested, he generally requires more coordination within teams to be effective. So far, most teams have chosen to play him in the main tank position, meaning that there are no shields available like those provided by Reinhardt, Winston, and Orisa. Wrecking Ball is instead expected to dive in, soften up enemy heroes, and escape with his life, but that requires follow up from other dive characters. Teams have been bringing in damage dealers who play similarly, like Doomfist and Genji, to back up the hamster’s initiation, but the timing doesn’t seem to be there quite yet.
As the playoffs continued, teams began to revert to older compositions, both for safety and as teams who had taken the risk were knocked out. In the Korean division, this patch was only available for the very finals, between Kongdoo Panthera and Runaway, and Runaway off-tank Hyeon-Woo "Jjanu" Choi chose Wrecking Ball on the second map, replacing his usual D.Va. But they soon reverted to the older option after losing the first point. Caster Wolf Schröder summarised: “[Wrecking Ball] could have been viable but it’s too risky, it’s just not that figured out yet.” On the other hand, Jjanu did later pull off the risk to great effect on the defence of sixth map King’s Row, however, suggesting there is a lot of potential in store as teams begin to better understand Hammond’s position in the meta.
One other change that came with this patch has been more immediately impactful. Sneaky hacker Sombra can now stay invisible indefinitely, and teams have been using this to great effect, sending her way out into enemy lines to destroy an unsuspecting support character and scatter a once-coordinated push. It also allows her to catch entire teams unaware with her area of effect ultimate ability, which prevents enemies from using any of their own special skills, letting the Sombra’s team clean up with ease. As such, she’s currently a pretty popular pick, especially on certain maps, though perhaps teams will begin to adapt to always needing to check over their shoulder.
And poor old Symmetra, who was completely rebuilt for the second time, in part because she was never seen in the competitive tiers of Overwatch? She did, in fact, see just a few minutes of play by Xavier Esports when they were already winning 2:0, who promptly lost the first point on Temple of Anubis and switched to something different. She just can't catch a break.
It’s still early in the patch’s life, and the changes will keep coming. Radically altering the game between the main season and the playoffs wasn’t popular with everyone, but it’s been fascinating to watch teams adapt, stumble, or simply forge ahead with something close to business as usual.