Welcome to stage four of the Overwatch League! It's finally happened: damage-dealing heroes are back, forced in by Blizzard introducing a role lock that enforces two of each category. That’s why this week, we’re mostly going to be talking about tanks.
Arguing over 2-2-2 role lock is all people have done for weeks, including me, so I'm not going to linger on it for long. The relevant bit for our purposes is that, as soon as the meta settles, it'll be much harder to innovate out of in the way that was already happening during stage three of this season. But that's not happening right now, so let's instead focus on what is. All 30 heroes were played this week (which was also true of stage one week one), as teams experimented to see what would work best.
A completely upended meta does mean new faces. However, with damage dealers like Park “Saebyeolbe” Jongryeol already returning to the rosters last stage, it’s actually meant some fresh tank appearances as teams rebalance around the new standout picks, the friendly robot Orisa and the not-so-friendly human Roadhog.
The pairing works for a number of reasons, not least the halt-hook combination that sees Orisa pulling enemies into position so that Roadhog can pull them in with his hook. That’s meant new players specialising in these newly powerful heroes come to the fore, sometimes at the expense of fan favourites. San Francisco Shock’s Matthew “Super” DeLisi seems to be taking a backseat for the moment, for example.
Elsewhere, though, long-benched faces are making a reappearance. Guangzhou Charge made a double acquisition, picking up Aaron “Bischu” Kim from Los Angeles Gladiators and Joona “Fragi” Laine from Philadelphia Fusion. Both had been long missed. Not missed for so long, but perhaps more sorely, was Kim “Geguri” Seyeon, as discussed last time, moving from her old usual hero D.Va onto the Roadhog.
These players were usually subbed in and out, with rosters remaining unfixed for now, so things may settle back into the older patterns as stage four continues. But with everything topsy-turvy (something that also happened in stage two and stage three!) it’s exciting to see who reappears.
Damage dealing players less reemerged and more returned to the heroes they’re best known for, no longer stepping outside their role to play Zarya or Brigitte for Goats compositions. It’s still difficult to tell which damage-based heroes will rise to the top, but the ice-wielding Mei is certainly a strong early pick. Players who were lauded for their Zarya play earlier in the season, like Jay “Sinatraa” Won, made her deadly. Others, like Josue “Eqo” Corona show how she can do just about anything, up to and including duelling a Widowmaker.
Speaking of Sinatraa and other players who have been especially lauded this season, the picks who are in contention for this season's official most valuable player are still firmly rooted in the Goats stages. They were actually picked before stage three, so it’s not surprising that Sinatraa and his tank partner Super are there, along with Hangzhou Spark main tank Qiulin “Guxue” Xu. Rounding out the group are two Vancouver Titans players, off-tank Choi “Jjanu” Hyeonwoo and healer Lee “Twilight” Jooseok. The picks make sense for the first two stages, but they do feel pretty outdated already, and that’s even before we get into stage four properly.
And along with new players on and off the bench, and a refreshed set of heroes, we may well see even more confusion in the teams’ power rankings thanks to the changes introduced this stage. London Spitfire, who carried a similar late-season shake-up all the way to winning the whole thing last year, are certainly one to watch. They’ve started out strong in stage four, beating Dallas Fuel and Toronto Defiant.
But even those already knocked out of playoff contention may see a resurgence. Washington Justice also beat Toronto Defiant, a victory many attributed to the damage-dealing player Corey "Corey" Nigra, though their D.Va specialist Kim “Sansam” Hyanki was also on fire.
It’s a much smaller change than the role lock, but another new introduction is that D.Va’s defense matrix has been made shorter and, crucially, easier to see. As a D.Va main myself, it’s nice to finally be able to more easily notice just how impactful the ability is, shielding teammates from deadly blows, eating ultimate abilities, and so on. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for it to appreciate just how much these top players manage to do with it.
Next week is probably a good one if you want to continue to see Vancouver stomp over everyone else. They are not, as some suggested, a Goats-specific team, and Kim “Haksal” Hyojong in particular is a killer Genji player. That helped when they played against bottom of the table Florida Mayhem last week, and will probably help again when they play against Washington Justice this week. The latter are improving, sure, but maybe not that much. But hey, I sure have been wrong before.
It’ll be interesting to watch New York Excelsior this week, too. Traditionally they’ve faltered after big changes like this, and though they won their only game last week, it looked dicey at times. This week they’ll be playing Paris Eternal, who seem somewhat buoyed by the changes, especially thanks to top Widowmaker Terence “Soon” Tarlier, and Chengdu Hunters, who always have been and probably always will be a wildcard.
Until then, here is Andreas "Logix" Berghmans absolutely refusing to get bullied by Ethan "Stratus" Yankel.
“It wasn’t helpful, it wasn’t good, it was not correct, but it was cool,” is absolutely how we should be playing Overwatch, and also doing everything else.