If necessity is the mother of invention, then for teams in the Overwatch League, a changing meta is usually the mother of reinvention. Teams can know themselves inside and out one week and in the next find themselves staring into the unknown; everyone’s always trying to figure out a new kind of warfare.
The process isn’t always pretty, even for the best teams—the NYXL still bear scars from the 2018 playoffs, and there are teams that had to hit rock bottom before finding their way back. Changes can be small tweaks, or they can be big and painful, like surgery on a broken body part. Fans obviously have their allegiances in place, but for me, there’s something satisfying about watching a team hit the point of rediscovery, and that happened this week in a big way.
1. At some point during the month-long break between stages, the Houston Outlaws wiped the dust from their mirror and said to themselves: this is who we are. If anyone had doubts about their near-victory over the NYXL in Week 1—it was just a fluke, New York was testing out a new strategy, etc.—they were almost certainly wiped away by the Outlaws’ gutsy 3-2 win over the Stage 2 champion San Francisco Shock in the very first match of Stage 2.
Houston repeated many of the things they did against New York—mistakes included. They stuck with Sombra, putting their trust in Dante “Danteh” Cruz and his mastery of the hero. They were happy to play DPS heroes. They honestly kind of sucked on Horizon Lunar Colony. They scraped their way to a tiebreaker.
And that’s where they called an audible. Instead of swapping out Danteh, they kept him in. They played Jiri “Linkzr” Masalin on Doomfist and added a Pharmercy, catching the Shock by surprise on Ilios Well.
“I’d never played Doomfist on Ilios, like, ever,” Linkzr told me. “Having to play new heroes on new maps is weird, but also we knew that if we were to mirror them, their strategy would be much better overall.”
For Linkzr and the rest of the Outlaws, the time was right to take that risk—after all, they hadn’t managed to win a single tiebreaker map all year long, and it has been the team’s Achilles’ heel dating back to last season.
“We struggled on Eichenwalde a bit in scrims, and in-game we got absolutely demolished on the map,” he recalled. “At that point, I think Jake said, and everyone realized at the same time, that these guys are way better than us in [3-3] meta. The depth of their understanding is way too big, the gap is too big right now. So we had to take a risk—I don’t think I would call it cheese, we just had to try something that would work for us, and I think the risk was well-taken. We won map five!”
2. The Outlaws players deserve a lot of credit for having the internal belief that they could return to their roots, and to do it in such high-profile matches speaks to the ethos of the team as a whole.
“There’s so much information available to us to see what other teams are doing, and we can adapt more strategies into our repertoire instead of playing [3-3] even though we know the comp is strong,” Linkzr told me. “We tried to maybe abuse the meta a bit more.”
The players learned a lot from their 0-7 slump in Stage 2—for Linkzr, the big shift was playing more altruistically, helping the team succeed rather than taking an individualistic approach. There was also a renewed focus on finding a style that would be comfortable for the players. The Outlaws haven’t quite managed to do that yet—they still lose some maps badly no matter what comps they play—but they’re not putting pressure on themselves to have it all figured out right now, even though stage playoffs are in reach.
“Some sort of middle ground would be nice,” Linkzr said. “I think we could still be decent at [3-3]…. But we have such a versatile player pool that we can try this stuff a bit more.”
Houston’s journey of rediscovery continued with a convincing 4-0 win over the Boston Uprising the next day. For Linkzr, it’s just nice to get back to winning ways—to have something to show for the team’s struggles. “We put a lot of effort into it, so it’s really nice to be rewarded for the work,” he said.
3. Per stats producer Ben “CaptainPlanet” Trautman, Sombra usage leaguewide increased from 24.8% to 30.7% between Weeks 1 and 2, as more teams cotton to the destructive power of a well-executed EMP in teamfights.
Houston isn’t the only team that has adopted Sombra in the current meta, but their increased usage has seemingly correlated with dramatic improvements in their results (for now, at least).
|Stage 1||Stage 2||Stage 3|
|*Doesn’t include Sunday’s match vs. BOS|
For comparison, I’ve listed several other teams that have significantly increased their Sombra usage in Stage 3. As results have suggested, though, making Sombra comps work is not as easy as simply picking the hero. Guangzhou, like Houston, has a Sombra specialist in Yiliang “Eileen” Ou, and are back to deploying him in full force, but they’ve still struggled. Last week I wrote about Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park’s early adventures on this hero, which he’d never played competitively before, and the Fusion, who are finally coming around to Sombra comps, have needed time to get comfortable playing around her.
4. CaptainPlanet sent me a delayed superlative from Week 1: in the Shanghai Dragons’ 3-1 win over the Valiant, support Gyeong-Woo “Coma” Son only died twice the entire match, which stands as a league record. The record was previously held by NYXL support Tae-Sung “Anamo” Jung, who managed just three deaths twice this season. D.Va players occupy the next five spots for fewest deaths (which makes sense, given the possibility of re-meching), and there’s exactly one DPS player in the top 10—New York’s Yeon-Gwan “Nenne” Jeong.
5. The reigning stage champions may have looked sluggish in their first two matches of Stage 3, but the mark of a resilient lineup is their refusal to accept any underperformances. As main tank Matthew “Super” DeLisi told the crowd on Sunday after a decisive 4-0 win over the Seoul Dynasty, “That [loss to Houston] was probably the worst game we played as a team onstage. We said we weren’t going to make those mistakes again, and we didn’t.”
While Seoul’s bubble was burst in a big way, they showed a willingness to change things up in the second half of the match, swapping out five of their six starters and bringing out more DPS-heavy comps. Although it didn’t pan out, watching the Dynasty coaching staff put their flexibility to work has been highly intriguing (pun intended). This lineup has a fantastic mix of veterans who know how to stay calm onstage and budding talent who can push the others to greater heights. Their 3-1 start to Stage 3 hasn’t been a fluke.
6. One of my favorite moments of the week was hearing the crowd chant “Bob! Bob! Bob!” during the Chengdu vs. Dallas match. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one before, because we’ve simply not seen that much Ashe play in the league, but it was well-deserved with the show put on by Hunters DPS Zhihao “YangXiaoLong” Zhang on Hollywood defense. He had a bit of a breakout day in the 3-1 win over Dallas—recall this McCree highlight on Ilios Well:
It wasn’t just one player, though—all of Chengdu seemed to have their mad-scientist swagger back. I’m never getting over this casual Mercy triple-kill by Xianyao “Yveltal” Li:
What was the difference in Week 2? According to YangXiaoLong, “The last two games we played like trash.”
7. After defeating Hangzhou and Dallas, Vancouver not only continued their undefeated run through the regular season but also became the first team to reach a +50 map differential. It took the Titans 18 matches to reach the milestone; in comparison, the NYXL needed 21 matches to get to +50 during their dominant run in 2018. The Titans are already on the brink of securing a top-12 finish, which is the cutoff for playoff contention this season—they need just one more win to get there—and realistically will clinch a top-6 automatic playoff berth by the end of Stage 3.
In a week that saw the Shock toppled by the unlikeliest of opponents, the Titans reminded us that their regular season has been a walk in the park, with only minimal obstruction. Every week I look at what I’ve written down for the Titans, and every week it’s some variation of “this team is pretty incredible.”
8. There are quite a few rematches next week to watch out for:
A second round of Shanghai vs. Valiant takes place on Thursday. The Dragons have a backloaded schedule, and their first week with two matches is a tricky one, with both LA teams on tap. The Valiant have looked more coordinated in the two matches following their 3-1 loss to the Dragons in Week 1, but they also face the Titans next week. Tough schedule for a team that’s slowly regaining confidence.
On Friday, London and New York will go at it again. London has run hot and cold, and they definitely weren’t prepared for the NYXL’s Sombra strategies in Week 1, getting swept 4-0. Spitfire flex tank Jun-Ho “Fury” Kim told me that match definitely affected his team’s understanding of the meta:
“Because we met Sombra [against] NYXL, we practice on [3-3] and to counter Sombra, we play Ana,” he said. “When we practice nowadays, we play with Ana more and get [better] results. Also, we know Sombra is good. Maybe next week we will play Sombra.”
Here’s hoping for a more even matchup this time around.
Lastly, there’s Hunters vs. Fuel (our Match of the Week) and Uprising vs. Eternal, both on Sunday. With all four of these teams either in the seventh- through twelfth-seed range, or within a couple of wins of getting there, the stakes can’t be undersold.
9. By the way, Fury’s entire quote above was delivered in English. More and more Korean players are now able to conduct entire interviews in English, and a lot of them are eager to do so—to show off their skills and practice outside of their comfort zone. Jae-Hui “Gesture” Hong came into the room as we were wrapping up with Fury, and I said jokingly, “Next time it’s your turn to do it in English!”
He flashed a thumbs-up. “Of course!”
10. If you missed this feature on insider Mica Burton introducing her father, LeVar Burton, to Overwatch and discussing their close-knit relationship, it’s never too late to get the Father’s Day warm fuzzies.
Stage 3 continues on Thursday, June 20, at 4 p.m. PDT, when the Shock (13-4) take on the Uprising (7-11). 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.