The reality of a long season is that every week we go in just hoping for the best. With 280 matches in the regular season, they can’t all be bangers—many end up feeling meaningful only to the teams that participated in them and their fanbases, and that’s fine. We need everyday data points to create space for the transcendent moments: the stage finals, the homestands, the history-making occasions.
It’s extremely rare, then, to be gifted a stretch of matches that make us feel like we’ve exploded the boundaries of what’s possible, like everything we thought we knew was actually stardust, part of a larger cosmic truth that we’re just now starting to see the shape of.
The alchemy of a rapidly shifting meta and some fortuitously scheduled matches—with perhaps a salt-bae sprinkle of tension from the looming postseason push—gave us the most singularly intense week of competition we’ve ever experienced in the Overwatch League, featuring five tiebreaker maps, a reverse-sweep, and at least three upsets. It’s not the asteroid that’s the most interesting, though—it’s what it does to the landscape after it slams into the earth.
How much did Week 3 of Stage 3 change us?
1. Three months ago, the notion that the Los Angeles Valiant would be the team to finally topple the Vancouver Titans would’ve been unthinkable. They’d been haunted by an 0-7 Stage 1, and the Titans were everyone’s worst nightmare. But that was before they overhauled their roster—and then their lineup—and, in the span of a week, became a team capable of breaking Vancouver’s 19-match win streak in regular-season play.
This is how you do it, Valiant style: by not letting the Titans play their game. By sowing chaos in their triple-tank, triple-support formations with the combination of Johannes “Shax” Nielsen’s excellent Sombra and Young-Seo “Kariv” Park’s terrifying Ana. For this brief moment in time, Kariv is the best player in the entire league.
When did you believe that the Valiant would pull this off? For me, it was their attack round on Eichenwalde. Their 3:50 speedrun was the second-quickest attack time ever on the map, just three seconds off Boston’s record set last year, and the Titans could barely catch their breath before being battered, time and time again.
The Valiant’s metamorphosis started a week ago, with the decision to shift focus to Sombra comps and promote Shax to the starting lineup. An unheralded hitscan player who previously played with Mayhem Academy in Contenders North America, Shax made an immediate impact by helping the Valiant beat the Shanghai Dragons at their own DPS-heavy game on Thursday, taking a surprising 3-1 win. He followed that up by suppressing main tank Sang-Beom “Bumper” Park with constant hacks and landing effective EMPs.
“I just started playing [with the team] on Monday, so the first days were a bit rough, but after the Shanghai game it got a lot better,” he said. “It’s surreal, kind of. I didn’t really expect it, coming into Overwatch League, to win my first two matches—especially against the best team in the league.”
The Valiant are now 4-1 and have a good chance to make the Stage 3 Playoffs. Before, a quick glance at their next two opponents—the Hangzhou Spark and London Spitfire—might have cast some doubt onto their chances. After besting the Titans on Sunday, though, anything is possible.
from 0-7 to ending the titans’ streak, so proud of my team. ggs @VancouverTitans— Brady Girardi (@agilities) June 24, 2019
2. While the map score between LA and Vancouver was close, it was a result that seemed inevitable after a certain point—the Valiant never wavered in their game plan, and the Titans never looked likely to find a solution. That wasn’t the case in Friday’s match between the Spitfire and the NYXL, another instant classic between two storied rosters that are both in the middle of reinventing themselves this stage. More than just an old grudge match, though, the two teams clashed in a dizzying array of counters, counter-counters, and chess maneuvers over the course of the five maps.
Entering the match, London had only practiced DPS-heavy comps for a day, a shift that required the best D.Va player in the league to suddenly take on Pharah duties, but they knew they needed to try something different in this meta, especially against the NYXL’s newfound comfort with Sombra comps. Returning to DPS-heavy comps suits the Spitfire just fine, though, and they seemed to play with a different energy despite not being entirely practiced.
This was the kind of match that could only exist between two teams who know their own limits, know that they need to surpass those limits in order to prevail, and are skilled and creative enough to play with abandon while remaining cohesive. And it was the kind of battle that they used to write poems about—a limerick on Jun-Ho “Fury” Kim’s freewheeling DPS play, both clumsy and eye-opening; a couplet for Jun-Young “Profit” Park’s Hanzo heroics on Dorado, and another for Yeon-Gwan “Nenne” Jeong’s escapades with McCree and Widowmaker; a whole canto about Seong-Hyun “Jjonak” Bang, whose customized Zenyatta skin to celebrate his 2018 MVP award was revealed earlier that day, and who promptly set out to prove that he deserved a skin for Ana, too.
3. So far in Stage 3, the NYXL have been the only “big three” team to voluntarily move away from traditional 3-3 and onto Sombra comps. It seemed like a curious move back in Week 1, but makes the coaching staff look like geniuses now, given how quickly and dramatically the meta has shifted. Sombra was a huge factor in Houston’s upset of San Francisco last week, but the Shock have stuck to their tanks, rattling off three consecutive sweeps since then.
After their 4-0 win over the Florida Mayhem on Friday, I asked DPS Jay “Sinatraa” Won whether the team’s motivation has changed at all after they accomplished everything they dreamed of in Stage 2.
“We just like winning, and we want to win again, so that’s about it,” he said, laughing. It sounds overly simple, but for the Shock, keeping things on a narrow focus has led to success so far.
“We are a team that doesn’t really look for the future or the past or whatever, we don’t gain momentum or anything,” Sinatraa explained. “We just go in with a fresh mindset, whether it be a new stage, a new match, a new map inside the match. We reset every time.”
It’ll be interesting to see how San Francisco reacts to the events of Week 3, if they try to power through with their trusty 3-3 or if Vancouver’s demise has prompted some forethought. Knowing head coach Da-Hee “Crusty” Park, though, he probably already has something up his sleeve.
4. I know that Hangzhou wanted badly to be the team to end Vancouver’s win streak—it was a cornerstone of their head coach’s ambitious goals for Stage 3—but when the two teams met last week, a missed EMP on Havana proved fatal for the Spark’s chances. I still remember seeing Sung-Wook “Ria” Park sitting motionless with his head in his hands, visibly devastated at his costly mistake.
Ria had his head in his hands again in Week 3, this time before the Spark’s tiebreaker map against the Seoul Dynasty on Saturday. At that point, Hangzhou had squandered what should’ve been a comfortable 2-0 lead at halftime, Seoul utilizing their carousel of substitutions to engineer a comeback. After being full-held on Numbani and seeing a win on Havana slip through their fingers, it seemed like the Dynasty were in prime position to complete the reverse-sweep—hence Ria’s troubled pose.
After Oasis—a clean 2-0 win, preserving Hangzhou’s spotless record in tiebreakers this season—I glanced at the player cam again, just in time to see Ria heave a huge sigh of relief.
If London vs. New York was an epic clash of star power, then Hangzhou vs. Seoul played out as a clash of roster philosophy. The Dynasty’s in-game swaps have become more granular as the stage has gone on, with the two rosters now being mixed for specific maps, and Hangzhou won’t be the last team to have trouble with this strategy. The Spark, on the other hand, have stuck with the same core since late last stage, despite having the roster flexibility to craft map-specific lineups. As a result, they are currently one of the strongest 3-3 teams in the league.
How much does that matter after this week, though?
5. I’ve always been amazed at the self-control it requires to stay calm in a tiebreaker situation; even more so when it’s on the precipice of a reverse-sweep, when players have already run the emotional gauntlet just getting to that point.
“We’re just not tilters” was Boston DPS Jeffrey “Blasé” Tsang’s postmatch explanation, but whatever genetic material it takes, apparently the Uprising know how to scout for it, because on Sunday they accomplished their fourth reverse-sweep of the season—against Paris—to set a league record.
6. Sandwiched in between the Uprising’s reverse sweep and the Valiant’s giant-slayage was the Florida Mayhem’s 3-1 upset over the Houston Outlaws to claim just their second victory of the season. At the start of the stage, this might not have been such a big deal, but the Outlaws have been on a tear recently, and on Sunday they were halted by an aggressive, locked-in Mayhem team.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Widowmaker play from Jeong-Woo “Sayaplayer” Ha was filthy, and Hyeon-Woo “Hagopeun” Jo put in a vintage performance on Zenyatta, Ana, and Roadhog. People keep forgetting how much skill this roster has, and on Sunday they reminded everyone.
.@Fate_ow earned his first win with the @FLMayhem today, and helped his team achieve their second win of the season!— Overwatch League (@overwatchleague) June 24, 2019
Take a look at how he felt after that series. #OWL2019
7. If there was a Venn diagram of Week 3, the little segment where everything intersects would be the rise of Sombra-Ana, an alliance apparently powerful enough to bring down the best team in the league. Both I and stats producer Ben “CaptainPlanet” Trautman have written about Sombra’s effect in teamfights and her popularity in the current meta, but Ana has become a crucial hero in Stage 3 as well. We know how strong of an impact she has on healing—both friendly and enemy—without an opposing D.Va to counter her Biotic Grenades, and a well-hit Sleep Dart can easily turn the course of a teamfight. But this week we got to see some otherworldly Ana play that showed how and why she enables Sombra comps to the extent that she does.
If you’re interested in the strategy and numbers, CaptainPlanet will cover all things Ana in his Thursday column this week.
8. Spare a moment for the unluckiest team in the league—the Atlanta Reign. Staring down the barrel of a brutal Stage 3 schedule, they’ve lost each of their last five matches, with three of those losses coming in tiebreaker situations. They managed to push the Shock, the Dragons, and now the Philadelphia Fusion to a map five, but haven’t quite been able to pull off the upset, unlike the Outlaws or Mayhem or Valiant. Already eliminated from the Stage 3 Playoffs, the Reign do have the luxury of a bye week before hosting the Atlanta Homestand.
Fresh off Saturday’s 2-3 loss to Philadelphia, DPS Jun “Erster” Jeong seemed bemused rather than dispirited about his team’s hard luck.
“The other teams just seem to be able to dictate the flow of the game,” he told me after a narrow 2-3 loss to the Philadelphia Fusion on Saturday. “We keep playing into their hands, so even if we get to a map five, I feel like the other team still dictates the flow, and then we lose because we don’t have the momentum.”
With matches against the Defiant and the Mayhem scheduled for the homestand, it’s a prime opportunity for the Reign to regain some of their momentum in front of the home crowd. “I have high hopes,” he said. “My heart will be racing, and I hope we can snatch up some easy wins with the home fans supporting us.”
9. For the heck of it, here are my power rankings of the Week 3 matches that left me breathless, as well as the map from each one that everyone should watch. Enjoy!
- Spitfire vs. NYXL (Dorado, because both Fury and Profit carried on Hanzo)
- Valiant vs. Titans (Dorado, Kariv’s victory lap and the celebration at the end)
- Gladiators vs. Dragons (Eichenwalde, everything hinged on millisecond differences in ult charge)
- Spark vs. Dynasty (Havana, really clutch hold by Seoul at the end)
- Uprising vs. Eternal (Eichenwalde, a couple of heroic defenses by Boston)
- Dragons vs. Valiant (Dorado, this is Kariv’s house now)
- Outlaws vs. Mayhem (Hollywood if you like watching Widowmaker headshots, Gibraltar if you like watching Bastion ruin dreams)
- Reign vs. Fusion (Nepal, entertaining map that ended 43-42 in eliminations)
Stage 3 continues on Thursday, June 27, at 4 p.m. PDT, when the Spark (12-7) take on the Valiant (7-12). 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.