Incheon, South Korea—As the sun rose on the first day of the 2018 Overwatch World Cup, it shone on the 10 or so fans that had arrived at 5 a.m. to ensure they got the best seats at Studio Paradise. Later, food trucks lined up and prepared to feed the masses. And then the teams from Finland, Japan, Russia, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, and host squad South Korea arrived at the venue, ready to kick off the first of four Overwatch World Cup Group Stages.
As match time drew closer, the crowd swelled in size and excitement. They took photos and drank iced coffee under umbrellas, trying to keep cool in the muggy heat while Kpop played from the food trucks. While the temperature indoors was substantially cooler, though, things heated up pretty quickly when the matches finally got underway.
Before the World Cup started, there were whispers that Russia was concerned about the limited time they had to practice together with a roster composed of Overwatch League and Contenders Europe players. But right from the start they had no problem melting the Hong Kong squad 4-0 in the Overwatch World Cup’s opening match.
Russia’s 3-3-busting composition, featuring Stanislav “Mistakes” Danilov on Widowmaker duty and George “Shadowburn” Gushcha on the shield-melting Junkrat, was a highlight of the match, particularly on King’s Row.
There were some flashes of brilliance from Hong Kong but this was a one-sided affair.
Shadowburn was a standout on and off the stage. During the match, he looked like he was having a great time, styling on his less-experienced opponents. At halftime, he delivered a very cheerful interview after hitting the home crowd with a friendly and well-received greeting in Korean.
Playing in front of a raucous home crowd comes with its own set of pressures, but South Korea handled it impressively in their opening match against Chinese Taipei, winning 4-0 despite some spirited play from their opponents.
Every Widowmaker headshot from Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” Lee, right click by Overwatch League MVP Seong-Hyun “Jjonak” Bang, multi-kill Barrage from Hae-Seong “Libero” Kim, and any ultimate combination was met with enthusiastic approval from the fans.
The ardor didn’t stop when the Overwatch action ended. When support Yeon-Jun “Ark” Hong showed off his bilingual skills during the post-match interview the crowd responded with delight and cheers.
Taipei gave South Korea a brief scare on opening map Oasis, tying things up with a successful Tracer-Widow composition on City Center, but Korea stabilized on Gardens to take the map, thanks in part to Carpe’s prowess on Widow.
The Libero-Carpe connection was dominant through the rest of the match, whether on Pharah, McCree, Genji, Widow, or even the occasional Junkrat. In a meta that demands DPS flexibility due to frequent comp swaps, the combined hero pool of Korea’s starting duo presents a clear competitive advantage.
The standouts for Chinese Taipei were DPS Keng-Yu “ShaiuLin” Lin, who looked comfortable on both hitscan and projectile heroes, and main tank Chao-Hua “ATing” Chen, who showed off his strong Reinhardt play. They'll have two chances to get a win on day two, when they face Japan and Hong Kong.
While day one started with three sweeps, the match between Japan and Russia—widely considered the two potential dark horses of the group—was a tense, entertaining affair, with plenty of hero moments on both sides.
Japan drew first blood on Oasis, thanks to dazzling DPS play from Kenji “AmeKen” Hisano on Hanzo and Yuuma “Dep” Hashimoto on McCree and especially on Widowmaker. (This is a guy who has already declared his intentions to outduel Finland sniper Jiri “Linkzr” Masalin.) On Gardens, he showed a glimpse of fulfilling that promise, as his aim was crucial in getting the 99 percent flip to seal the map win.
Dep’s Widowmaker continued to be a thorn through the first half of Eichenwalde, but Team Russia made an important adjustment, swapping Mistakes from Widowmaker to Tracer in order to better access the backline.
With the supports exposed to constant harassment from Mistakes, Japan often found themselves unable to pull off coordinated attacks and suffering from bad staggers, especially on Volskaya, where Russia was able to complete the full hold. They claimed the match win on Rialto, where Shadowburn’s Pharah ruled the skies against Japan’s 3-3 comp.
Russia ended the day 2-0, but Japan certainly proved that their all-Contenders roster could go up against Overwatch League-caliber opponents. They’ll have another chance to prove themselves on Saturday, when they close out the schedule against Korea.
IN FATE'S HANDS
The South Korean crowd is respectful, yet excitable. They’re polite. They cheer for good gameplay and showmanship at all times. When Team Finland huddled onstage before their match with South Korea, ending with a loud chant, the Korean fans cheered and dutifully clapped their thundersticks, hoping for a thrilling match between the two group favorites.
They probably weren’t expecting a 1-1 score at halftime, though, brought on by Finland's defiant hold on the last portion of King's Row. The silence of the crowd felt heavy. Thundersticks sat patiently in laps, waiting for the world to return to order, when they would be used to cheer for their champions again.
Soon enough, the noise was back, as Korea quickly snowballed Temple of Anubis before full-holding Finland on defense. Their hopes of ending the match quickly dissolved, though, on Rialto, as Finland gave Korea all sorts of trouble, first with a Sombra composition on offense, then—after a long technical pause and reset—with a 3-3 comp anchored by Joona "Fragi" Laine's Reinhardt that held fast on Point C.
The lone tiebreaker of the day was a truly special display of Overwatch, as Finland and Korea played high-impact speed chess all over Nepal. Shrine was a 99-99 percent slugfest. Libero's Pharah dominated Village, and Sanctum was the site of a thrilling ending befitting the match that preceded it. It came down to a desperation touch on the point by Carpe to trigger overtime, a smart set of play calls executed by Korea, and one very angry monkey in Fate's hands.
Impossible to sum up in words. Seriously. Just watch it. All of it.
Afterward, Carpe said, “It was a really tight game, but by beating Finland we feel like we accomplished something difficult.”
“Even though we won, we found out some problems we had in this match, so going forward we need to make improvements on those weaknesses,” Libero added. He and the rest of Team Korea know that while their job isn't done, they'll have that passionate sea of fans at their back the whole way. “I had my headphones on, but I could still hear the fans cheering, so that was really good. I’m grateful for the fans’ passion. I hope we can repay them with good matches the next two days.”
The 2018 Overwatch World Cup is back in action tonight at 8 p.m. PDT. Check out our complete stage preview for schedules, rosters, live-streaming locations, and more. All Overwatch World Cup matches will be broadcast live on ESPN3. Check your local listings for select broadcasts on Disney XD.