If there’s one thing Stage 1 of the 2019 Overwatch League season taught us, it’s that we know nothing. We thought we knew what a triple-tank, triple-support meta looked like, but then came the Guangzhou Charge with their triple-hitscan lineups and the Chengdu Hunters with their Wrecking Ball and Pharah. We thought we knew how we would feel when the Shanghai Dragons finally won their first game, but we didn’t know it would happen with Young-Jin “Gamsu” Noh as the main tank, against the team he spent all of 2018 with.
We thought we knew who the top teams in the league were—okay, fine, we weren’t wrong about New York or Vancouver—only for one of last year’s semifinalists to go 0-7, the reigning champions to miss out on the Stage Playoffs, and less-heralded expansion teams like Toronto and Atlanta to make their presence felt.
In Stage 1, the lineups may have been (mostly) predictable, but there was still an air of delightful unpredictability, as teams evolved and found their own playstyle. Now that we’ve crowned a stage champion, it’s time to celebrate the big plays, illustrious personalities, and unforgettable moments that defined the first quarter of the season.
Prelude to the Fireworks
Even before they clashed in an epic Stage 1 Finals, the Vancouver Titans and San Francisco had already given us the match of the stage in Week 2. The scoreline was 3-1 in Vancouver’s favor, but three of the four maps were ultra-close, with both teams fighting tooth and nail, orb and flail for every meter and control percentage. Yes, we had reverse-sweeps and emotionally cathartic moments throughout the stage (shoutout to Shanghai, Chengdu, and Boston), but this match was high-octane from start to finish and had some of the most distinct clutch moments we’ve seen in the league so far.
There was Sang-Beom “Bumper” Park’s 7-second Earthshatter on King’s Row to set up the map-clinching Self-Destruct from Hyun-Woo “Jjanu” Choi, when the Shock thought they could complete their Point B hold. There was Hyo-Jong “Haksal” Kim’s last-second swap to Doomfist in overtime of San Francisco’s attack on Volskaya, getting a crucial pick on Brigitte and dashing the Shock’s last hopes of a comeback victory. There was the Shock’s own Shatter/Self-Destruct combo from Matthew “Super” DeLisi and Hyo-Bin “Choihyobin” Choi on Map 66 to secure a vital win.
A small consolation prize at that moment, perhaps, but it ended up being an important map gain for Stage Playoffs seeding. Without it, San Francisco might have ended up facing New York in the first round, and we might not have gotten one of the most epic matches ever contested on the Overwatch League stage.
The Zarya God
In the 3-3 meta, it’s extremely hard to extract the performance of a player from the performance of their team. However, DPS Jay “Sinatraa” Won and the Shock team that supported him challenged the very notion of what was possible. Sinatraa’s ability to deal damage at rates that seemed out of reach for other Zarya players was something we touched upon many times during Stage 1, but his aggressive play and odd angles incurred a heavy cost:
While Sinatraa was able to deal over 1,000 more damage per 10 minutes in teamfights than other top Zarya players in the league, he also absorbed 2,000-3,000 more damage per 10 minutes. However, the Shock were able to turn this into a strength. In the first two losses that the Shock suffered early in the season, to the Los Angeles Gladiators and the Titans, Sinatraa died first in teamfights a league-worst 12% of the time. But, by the end of the stage, his average had dropped to 7%, and in the Stage 1 Finals he only died first in 6 out of 94 teamfights.
Rather than changing their approach, the Shock leaned into Sinatraa’s aggressive tendencies. They gave him the freedom to play aggressively while taking extra damage, then fed him every healing and shielding ability possible so that he never actually died. When teams did manage to kill Sinatraa, they had to deal 740 damage to do so—another league-best mark, 340 more than Zarya’s 400 base health pool.
Since Sinatraa stopped dying from the extra damage he endured, the Shock were able to double-dip on ultimate charge as a team. Sinatraa obviously led the league in how quickly he charged Graviton Surge (66 seconds per ult), but San Francisco’s supports were able to charge their ultimates quicker as well. Min-Ki “Viol2t” Park charged a league-best 6.3 Transcendences per 10 minutes, while Grant “Moth” Espe reached Sound Barrier 4.2 times per 10 minutes, third-best in the league.
By turning a curse into a blessing, the Shock were able to generate an extra Transcendence and Graviton Surge every 11 minutes compared to the league average, and nearly won the Stage 1 title by doing so. But here’s the other secret: whether intentionally or not, the Titans were employing a similar strategy. Just replace Sinatraa with Bumper’s Reinhardt and Viol2t with Haksal’s Brigitte, and you have the recipe for Vancouver’s own double-dipping scheme. No wonder these two unstoppable forces put on a show to remember in the Stage 1 Finals.
—Ben “CaptainPlanet” Trautman
Student Vs. Master
Before Seong-Hyun “Jjonak” Bang took over the Overwatch League, he was a fan of Je-Hong “Ryujehong” Ryu, like so many other support players around the world. Ryujehong is more famous for his Ana antics, while Jjonak has revolutionized Zenyatta play since making his pro debut last season. Along the way, the two have forged a friendly rivalry within the greater storyline of New York vs. Seoul, and it has made every matchup just a little more special.
A play straight from Reddit, huge tank ult combos, and stars showing off on their signature heroes—here are the five plays that got the most engagement across our social media channels in Stage 1:
Photo of the Stage: Much Ado
This was the winning moment for the Washington Justice, as the team swarmed around DPS Gi-Hyeon “Ado” Chon, who broke a personal losing streak that dated back to Stage 3 of the 2018 season, when he was with the Shanghai Dragons. The win was Washington’s first as a franchise, but it felt just a little bit sweeter for Ado, and his teammates knew it.
The Overwatch League returns to the big stage for the start of Stage 2 on Thursday, April 4, at 4 PST, when the Philadelphia Fusion (5-2) take on the New York Excelsior (7-0). 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.