Another stage is in the books, and so is another meta. That said, as far as “another meta” goes, Stage 2 of the Overwatch league started out feeling fresh, but gradually receded back into the triple-tank, triple-support staple that we’ve become ever so familiar with over the past year despite being played on one of Overwatch’s most aggressive balance patches to date: Patch 1.34. This patch directly nerfed Zenyatta, Zarya, and Lúcio, while buffing nearly half of the rest of the non-meta cast of Overwatch heroes in minor ways. Armor was also reworked in how it stacks up under or over shields, leaving Zarya and Zenyatta more vulnerable than usual.
So what does 3-3 look like after being dealt a direct and heavy blow to its component parts? Below, I’ve presented hero usage rates for stage 1 (red) and stage 2 (blue), with line slope signifying growth, loss, or stability in hero usage across the stages.
Graph depicting hero usage changes from Stage 1 to Stage 2. Red line endpoints are equivalent to Stage 1 usage, blue line endpoints are equivalent to Stage 2.
As a rough estimate, this patch and the change in map pool reduced the effectiveness of 3-3 by about 15%. As a result, other heroes saw slight usage increases—somewhere in the low double digits for map- or comp-specific heroes and 2-5% for off-meta heroes (generally DPS). What I found more interesting, however, was to see how the top teams changed their approach in Stage 2.
For this exercise, let’s define “the best teams” as teams who made the Stage 2 Playoffs, and then we’ll further pare this list down to teams that did something weird with their hero adjustments. Let’s begin with the first team to complete a perfect stage in Overwatch League history: the San Francisco Shock.
The Shock are perhaps the best-coached team in the league, so it’s not surprising that they were the first team to pick up Baptiste and set the standard for Baptiste play. The only team that even sniffs their Baptiste usage was the Los Angeles Gladiators, at 17.1%. However, the Gladiators primarily used him to support Bastion-based lineups—57% of their Baptiste playtime was alongside a Bastion. The Shock, on the other hand, perfected Baptiste 3-3—90% of their Baptiste time played was alongside a 3-3 core.
Coming into Stage 2, the Shock were likely aware of an inefficiency in standard Brigitte-based 3-3 comps: on long-range maps, it’s very difficult to pressure the opponent’s shields since Brigitte’s damage is mostly melee range. With the addition of Baptiste, however, the Shock ditched Brigitte on maps with longer sightlines, winning 3-3 mirrors by using Baptiste’s ability to apply long-range pressure to the enemy Reinhardt’s shields. Baptiste also comes with the added bonus of a fast-charging ultimate in Amplification Matrix, which the Shock use to boost the pace that they charge the rest of the lineup’s ultimates.
While the Shock were quick to pick up Baptiste in patch 1.34, other teams took a less nuanced approach, like the Titans:
Yep, that’s right—the Titans barely changed anything at all, save a big flip in Zenyatta vs. Ana usage. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; the Titans have been the top 3-3 team in the world for nigh on six months now, so why change what’s already working?
*Ana is generally stronger than Zenyatta against Sombra because she is more resistant to EMP than Zenyatta.
When it comes to why Ju-Seok “Twilight” Lee swapped from Zenyatta to Ana this stage, it may just come down to comfort on the hero. The Titans don’t actually win more teamfights with Twilight on Ana (58% in Stage 2, compared to 64% on Zen), and the Sombra* usage rate across the league has remained relatively stagnant from last stage to this stage as well. Perhaps Vancouver’s coaching staff determined that after losing 5% off the top of his Discord Orb damage boost, Ana and Zenyatta were close enough in power level to let Twilight make the call.
Finally, when it comes to the Dallas Fuel, their hero usage changes are almost entirely personnel-based:
Between Stage 1 and Stage 2, the Fuel acquired Lucas “Note” Meissner in exchange for Richard “Rck” Kanerva, and as a result flip-flopped their D.Va and Sombra usage. In Stage 1, the Fuel either weren’t satisfied with Rck’s D.Va play, or they were still convinced that they were a Sombra 3-3 team at heart. However, in Stage 2 they’ve brought in a true D.Va main, which weirdly gives them more flexibility than Sombra 3-3 ever did. D.Va slots into many more team compositions than Sombra does, thus making the Fuel more difficult to gameplan against.
Stage 2 may not have brought as big of a meta change as we were expecting, but we can plainly see that Patch 1.34 did result in very diverse changes in individual team playstyles. These styles will be on full display as we head into the Stage 2 Playoffs, and it’ll be exciting to see whose adjustments come out on top.
Which approach do you think will take home the Stage 2 prize?
Ben "CaptainPlanet" Trautman is the statistics producer for the Overwatch League global broadcast. Follow him on Twitter!