We're just a few matches away from the end of the Overwatch League’s first stage, and we're finally beginning to see which teams will make playoffs and which are truly struggling. But in between the high-level stories are the smaller moments, many of which took place outside the game itself: a kindly text from a player's mum, a motivational speech by Symmetra's voice actress Anjali Bhimani, and a quirky edit by the production crew that reminds us to be grateful for those working behind the scenes.
OWL is much more than just teamfights, metas, or even results. And that should help to comfort fans of the Los Angeles Valiant, who have lost all seven of their stage one matches despite winning last season’s stage four playoffs. Still, you have my sympathies. As a Dragons supporter, I feel your pain.
When I interviewed the founder of the Valiant’s parent company, Immortals, last year, Noah Whinston told me that “no team wins forever.” But the team’s issues seem to go deeper than a few off games or struggling to adapt to the meta. Their main support player and captain Scott "Custa" Kennedy has been benched pretty much all season, swapped out for Kim “Kuki” Daekuk despite the latter usually playing tank. Their reasoning was that Custa’s play and shotcalling (i.e. telling his team what to do in the game) outstripped that of his teammates. “The other five players didn’t have the level of understanding that could properly utilise Custa’s plays,” said Coach Moon Byungchul.
Reactions to this were split, though none were especially positive. Some thought it was a nice way of saying that Custa’s calling was too complicated, while others thought it was simply an excuse for some other unknown issue. Then there were those who viewed it as a botched coaching decision, especially considering that Coach Moon was let go this weekend.
The Valiant have a month before their next game to find themselves a new head coach and decide who’s in the starting roster, but they can find some solace in the fact that their fanbase continues to rally behind them. They also received the support of Hunger Games actor Josh Hutcherson who visited the arena to cheer them on.
Having covered trash talk last week, it was nice for some wholesome moments to break through this week, too. When the Houston Outlaws narrowly beat the Valiant, Dante “Danteh” Cruz’s mother texted him to congratulate him – but also to commiserate for his friends on the opposing team. “You should take [Indy “Space” Halpern] out for ice cream,” she wrote. “Text him lots of love!”
On International Women's Day, Anjali Bhimani was interviewed by Mica Burton, and while it's fair to say that Overwatch and the League have a ways to go when it comes to diversity and representation, Bhimani is an excellent speaker and it's worth watching the whole thing.
Returning to the top of the table, we find, once again, the New York Excelsior. There’s little to add about NYXL here: they’re good, they’ve been good, and they will likely continue to be good. We’ll see them in the playoffs in two weeks, along with the Toronto Defiant and the Vancouver Titans, both of whom have already confirmed their places.
The Titans can’t rest easy, however. They have a match still left to play (unlike the Excelsior or Defiant), and they ran into trouble this week facing the Chengdu Hunters. While they emerged victorious in the end, the Hunters took them to a close five-map series. Not only did the Titans look inflexible against the Hunters’ now infamous strange off-meta strategies, they even struggled against their triple-tank triple-support, a rare occurrence for the usually stellar Canadian team. And next week they face the Guangzhou Charge, who also tend to shake up which heroes they play with.
Elsewhere in games that needed tiebreakers, the Shanghai Dragons continued their poetic comeback. While they might have struggled playing the Dallas Fuel twice last week, and losing both games, this week they bounced back to defeat last season’s champions the London Spitfire.
It was a strange match, with London preventing the Dragons from making any progress on Temple of Anubis, only for the Dragons to fire back and stop the Spitfire in their tracks when the next map took them to Dorado. And the Dragons managed to redeem themselves from last week’s objective blindness by pulling off the backcap themselves:
Kim “Geguri” Seyeon was also subbed back in for the tiebreaker, the first time she’d been on stage for the final map. Seeing Shanghai’s Bae “Diem” Minseong get back to sniping with Widowmaker and the Spitfire’s Park “Profit” Joonyeong clambering around as Hanzo was plenty fun to watch, but seeing her win on stage for the first time was easily the best moment of the week. (I might have watched it again while writing this and I might have cried both times.)
She’s also lucky because it wasn’t an easy week, or stage, for D.Va players. A “stagger” is when any player is killed late to delay them from respawning with their team, burning time off the attackers’ clock, but it’s especially effective for the mech-based hero, since she can be desuited and left with no way to escape. There’s no better (or worse?) place to see it than in the Paris Eternal’s match against the Vancouver Titans, when Finnbjörn "Finnsi" Jónasson was subjected to this bullying from Park “Bumper” Sangbeom.
The braying of the crowd really makes this something else.
Still, underestimate mini D.Va (and Geguri) at your own peril. She’ll turn a whole fight around.
Next week, European fans rejoice. With only eight matches, they’ll all be played on the weekend at the relatively wonderful hours of 7pm GMT until 1am GMT.
They’re looking to be good ones, too. First up, the Washington Justice remain winless, but they have two tries to go, including one against the single-win Florida Mayhem, so they’ll be hoping not to equal the Valiant’s record.
Then, the Spitfire will face the Seoul Dynasty. Both are beleaguered rosters made up of primarily old-school Korean players who have nonetheless struggled, and both will be looking to keep their playoff hopes alive by winning.
The Atlanta Reign will also be looking to finish their surprisingly strong stage one with a double win, facing the fun-but-middling Chengdu Hunters and the struggling Houston Outlaws.
Until then, here’s just a really neat bit of editing showing the scrappy back and forth of this teamfight. And no, I don’t just like it because it’s the Dragons. (But also that.)