So you’re the Vancouver Titans or the San Francisco Shock, and you just got gut-punched by an unexpected shift in the meta. For two stages, you optimized your lineups from a personnel, strategy, and hero-composition standpoint until there was no more optimizing to be had, and in the process you optimized your flexibility away. Desperate teams realized something new about the meta, and with their new vision they exploited weaknesses you didn’t know you had. Losing stings, but it can be a teaching moment. So put yourself in their shoes: how would you learn from your losses?

First, it’s important to understand the new meta. The revolution that I detailed in last week’s column has lost a bit of its acceleration, but usage of the Sombra-Ana pairing has continued to increase week over week:

SombrAna—the name that I’ll be using to describe the team composition of Ana, Brigitte, Lúcio, Reinhardt, Sombra, and Zarya—was more or less the hero composition that was directly responsible for the Titans’ first loss:

As well as the Shock’s recent loss to the Hunters:

Let’s see who’s performing best with this new hero composition this deep into Stage 3:

Your eyes do not deceive you. Not only have the Shock participated in zero teamfights with the SombrAna comp, the Titans are actually the third-best team at SombrAna going by teamfight win rate. This general look gives us some clues about how these two teams have approached solving their meta issues. The Titans chose to opt into the meta and try to master it, trusting that their ceiling would be higher than the likes of the Outlaws, Valiant, or even the NYXL. The Shock rejected SombrAna outright, focusing on a different composition that fit their personnel better: Baptiste 3-3. Below, I’ve traced the teamfight win rates and count of teamfights for each matchup this stage for Titans on SombrAna and Shock on Baptiste 3-3.

Titans on SombrAna and Shock on Baptiste 3-3
Teamfight win rates for the Shock with Baptiste 3-3 and the Titans with SombrAna this stage. Each point refers to an opponent, and each point label refers to the number of teamfights contested with each hero composition in that match.

However, neither team’s path to their solutions has been a straight line. Starting with the Titans, they didn’t even begin using SombrAna until the aftermath of the Shock’s loss to the Outlaws back in Week 2. They did so by maintaining their Stage 1-2 roster core, but shifting Min-Soo “Seominsoo” Seo to Sombra and Hyun-Woo “Jjanu” Choi to Zarya. We can see from this chart that this worked... until it didn’t. The issue was less with Seominsoo’s Sombra—his stats on the hero have actually been quite good—and more with Jjanu’s Zarya. The Titans require a Zarya that plays extremely aggressively, and Jjanu’s passivity, while useful on D.Va, was not working for the Titans:

Jjanu’s Zarya chart
Exhibit A: Why Jjanu is not allowed to play Zarya for the Titans anymore.

This came to a head against the Valiant, where their first attempt at SombrAna finally met its match and then some. But luckily for the Titans, they had nearly a week to prepare for the Gladiators and chose to adjust their personnel in a more drastic manner by re-activating Chung-Hee “Stitch” Lee, mirroring the approach the NYXL took with Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park and Tae-Hong “Meko” Kim.

While it’s apparent that the Stitch addition helped Vancouver defeat the Gladiators and improve their take on SombrAna, below we can see that it didn’t really matter what the Gladiators threw at the Titans—their SombrAna in both the Reinhardt and Winston versions was superior.

Fully committing to Stitch does telegraph what the Titans are going to run on a given map—just like Saebyeoble and the NYXL—but it allows the Titans to keep Seominsoo on his aggressive Zarya. Stitch had a bit of a shaky start, and he may have less practice on the hero than players like Houston’s Dante “Danteh” Cruz or Shanghai’s Jin-Hyeok “Dding” Yang, but the Titans look markedly better with him in the lineup.

After one match, Stitch holds the highest teamfight win rate when he uses EMP (84.2%), as well as the highest teamfight win-rate increase (+28.7%) when using EMP over the Titans’ average teamfight win rate with Sombra comps:

Titans’ average teamfight win rate with Sombra
Teamfight win rates for Sombra players when they use EMP, and change in win rate compared to their average with Sombra compositions in Stage 3.

Both of these statistics are measures of team play, but it goes to show how much value a single sub can provide for team cohesion in a changing meta…

…Or not, if you’re the Shock. The Shock haven’t substituted anyone and instead have approached the SombrAna meta by leveraging Dong-Jun “Rascal” Kim, who an anonymous Shock staff member called “a savant at Baptiste.” Referring back to the Baptiste 3-3 over time chart, it’s clear the Shock have flirted with Baptiste 3-3 for some time during this stage, but only recently began increasing their usage of the lineup.

I have some theories as to why. First, the Shock already know that Baptiste is something only they can really pull off because of Rascal, and it provides an easy counter to DPS comps while maintaining their usual strengths in 3-3. DPS comps generally beat 3-3—on maps where they’re favored—by attacking from multiple directions sacrificing good positioning for as many eliminations as possible. This kind of strategy is only viable on control maps and some Point A locations, and the Shock use Baptiste’s Immortality Field to give them just enough breathing room to repel these types of attacks.

Second, I have a suspicion that either Hyo-Bin “Choihyobin” Choi or Min-Ki “Viol2t” Park are unable to flex to Sombra or Ana, respectively. Without a viable Ana option on their roster, the Shock had to look elsewhere for solutions to the new meta.

Finally, I think something clicked for the Shock in their loss to the Chengdu Hunters.

If you recall the teamfight hero comp breakdown from that match, the Shock won only 16.7% of their teamfights with 3-3 vs. SombrAna, but 66.7% with Baptiste 3-3 vs. SombrAna. Then they played the London Spitfire, using Baptiste 3-3 more than any other composition combined. Interestingly, their teamfight win rate dropped even with this usage increase, but from the Shock’s perspective they seem to have found a Swiss Army knife of a hero composition. It may not perform as well as SombrAna, but perhaps the Shock believe that Baptiste 3-3 can do well enough against DPS comps, SombrAna, and 3-3 to be their base comp in the current meta. Baptiste 3-3 is also a single swap to Brigitte away from being traditional 3-3, which allows the Shock to flex to their strongest comp if they get countered by something unexpected, without sacrificing more than one ultimate charge in the process.

As I mentioned before, Baptiste 3-3 offers a unique advantage for the Shock because it’s a composition that only they can play well. In some ways, this makes them like the Hunters—a team that always seems to have a chance because they have essentially never played what is meta. The moment you can play something that is unique but also viable, you become nearly impossible to practice for in a meaningful way.

The fact that the Shock—possibly the best team in the league—are taking this approach makes them extra scary heading into the Stage 3 Playoffs. But they aren’t alone, as the Titans haven’t just committed to SombrAna. Their match versus the Gladiators revealed that they have more hero compositions in the works, like the patently insane quad-DPS, zero-tank lineup of Pharah, Sombra, Reaper, and Junkrat that they used to bust the Gladiators’ bunker on Horizon Lunar Colony. Something tells me they aren’t going to stop there. The meta has motivated and mobilized the top teams, and the Stage 3 Playoffs could be the most exciting one yet.

Stage 3 continues on Saturday, July 6, at 8:30 a.m. PDT, when the Mayhem (2-17) take on the Excelsior (17-2) in the opening match of the Atlanta Homestand Weekend. Watch all 2019 season matches live and on demand on overwatchleague.com, the Overwatch League app, our Twitch channel, MLG.com, and the MLG app.