Know It OWL: Stage one showdowns
A farewell (?) to Goats
The Overwatch League stage one playoff finals will “probably be the Vancouver Titans and New York Excelsior, but this stage has been so topsy-turvy that I’m willing to eat my words,” said I, last week. So here I am, munching, because it was yet another week of upsets culminating in an incredible showdown between San Francisco Shock and, well, still Vancouver Titans. Apparently no amount of shake-ups could knock them off kilter.
Vancouver are an expansion team this year, plucked wholesale from the minor leagues where they were known as RunAway (and wore fetching pink before Hangzhou Spark made it cool). So if anyone was wondering whether they were good enough to make it in the League, they surely proved it by going undefeated throughout the stage and winning the playoffs.
But San Francisco didn’t make it easy. After New York Excelsior were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Seoul Dynasty, against anyone’s best guesses, many (including me!) thought that the finals would be a dull affair, the Titans outclassing and walking over their opponent with a quick 4-0.
It only felt more likely after they defeated Seoul handily in the semi-finals, even going so far as to showboat on Temple of Anubis and still win. Park “Bumper” Sangbeom, for example, best known for his aggressive tank play, switched to the bow and arrow sniper Hanzo and was noticeably…unpractised, would be a charitable word for it.
But San Francisco Shock weren’t interested in going down without a fight. Defeating Toronto Defiant and fellow orange team Philadelphia Fusion in clean sweeps, they held Vancouver to account throughout, despite eventually falling three maps to four. (Okay, by ‘throughout’ I mean, except that part where Vancouver completed Rialto a full minute faster than the previous League record.)
Matthew “Super” DeLisi stood out in particular, despite being called out as a subpar main tank player earlier in the stage. It’s not often that someone can take the fight straight to Bumper and prosper, but Super had the same dedicated support from his team that makes his counterpart so frightening. His own play was also, dare I say, Super, often saving his team with a well placed Earthshatter ultimate, knocking the enemy team to the ground when they would otherwise have easily been able to concentrate their fire and win the fight. Here’s Josh "Sideshow" Wilkinson breaking it down.
Choi “Choihyobin” Hyobin also prevented the series from ending early on several occasions with a well placed D.Va bomb, which absolutely never fails to be satisfying. I know that the mech hero’s been overly popular in the pro scene for a very long time, and we’re looking for a change, but do we really want to lose moments like this? (Disclosure: I am a D.Va main.)
Since stage two will be played on a radically different balance patch, which may well unseat this Goat domination and introduce a new prevailing set of heroes that everyone will hate again in a few months, here’s a send-off for something I really enjoyed throughout this stage. A reluctance to fully engage and a need to stick together often meant that teams moseyed about entire maps trying to find the best position, often circling one another entirely like a guarded waltz.
In the finals, for example, and back on Anubis (but with Vancouver taking it seriously this time), San Francisco fake out going left before dodging back to the right and claiming the high ground, and eventually the capture point, before the Titans could back up. They then had to approach as if they were the attackers, leaving themselves more vulnerable. Vancouver do eventually do regain control, but not before Shock have locked in two-thirds of their progress.
It gives the between-fight breathing time some fluidity and intrigue, which we didn’t see in the rapid attacks of the previous "Dive" meta that were followed by a few seconds of static regrouping before another push. I’m desperately curious to see what tactics prevail next stage, but I’ll miss that if and when it goes away, too.
Speaking of next stage, that doesn’t begin until April 4th (or 5th over here because timezones, again), kicking off with the Philadelphia Fusion versus the New York Excelsior. Both will be hoping to rebound from their playoff losses, and both have some fantastic damage dealing players, so if the meta has shifted or is in a more experimental phase, it ought to be a spectacle.
The day after, the Los Angeles Valiant will be attempting to begin their comeback after a 7-loss stage (right?) when they play the San Francisco Shock. Easier said than done looking at that finals game, but hey, it would be a hell of an upset to kick off stage two, and I’m really hoping that that trend of unpredictability will continue.
New additions to the game may well make that a reality, including the introduction Haitian healer Baptiste and the bakery-lined streets of Paris to fight over.
Don’t worry about the lack of games next week, though, because I’ll still be here, speaking to some of the non-playoff teams about the highlights of their stage one experience. Because only talking about the top teams this week has felt incredibly unnatural to me, underdog supporter in chief. (And if you do want pro Overwatch to watch, seek out Contenders, the underappreciated minor leagues, which are running right now.)
Until then, here’s another thing I will potentially miss next stage: a good Lúcio boop.