It’s easy to forget that we’ve gone through this before—a week of matches that flips you around so much you lose your sense of direction, makes you recalibrate your internal compass. Which way is north. Which teams are good. The order of things in the Overwatch League.
We had some warning this time, though, with some players and teams finding their spotlight and demanding our attention since even before Stage 4 started. At the start of a new meta, when everyone’s still finding their way through the woods, we all feel a little topsy-turvy, like Alice taking her first steps in Wonderland.
Week 2 gave us five more tiebreakers, one of them a reverse-sweep, and four legitimate upsets—including two in a row to close out Sunday’s schedule. First, the Washington Justice smashed the Vancouver Titans 4-0. Two hours later:
NYXL was the only team who had not gotten 4-0'd ever in the OWL after the Titans loss to Washington...until 2 minutes ago when the Hunters gave NYXL the biz, crazy week lol #OWL2019— Matt Morello (@MattMrX) August 5, 2019
In the last few weeks of the season, we’re being blessed with unforgettable moments across the league, whether teams are in the thick of the playoff hunt or simply trying to make a few more good memories for the road.
1. There were so many options to lead with this week, but for once it makes sense to start at the bottom of the standings. Despite entering Stage 4 already eliminated from postseason contention, the Washington Justice and Florida Mayhem are starting to show their true potential—and for individual players, they’re getting a chance to prove to the world why they were chosen for their teams.
When the two teams met for the first time this season back in Stage 1, it was the Justice preventing the Mayhem from completing the reverse sweep. Everything was so different back then—both teams struggled mightily out of the gate in the triple-tank, triple-support meta, and large swaths of that match were tough to sit through, even for a fan. Now, though, we’ve seen what the damage players on both teams are capable of, and they put on a thrilling show on Thursday, with Washington pulling off the reverse sweep themselves.
In darker times, that kind of loss would’ve been devastating for the Mayhem. Instead of shrinking, though, Florida simply regrouped and returned to the stage two days later for a 3-0 upset of the London Spitfire, who looked like kings of the meta after Week 1.
At the end of Blizzard World, where the Mayhem clinched the win by forcing a draw, support Jun-Su “Kris” Choe fist-bumped his teammates before looking up at the ceiling and then rubbing his eyes, looking overwhelmed.
“When the map ended, it was like, ‘Did we just win?’” he told me later. “There was relief, excitement—just a lot of emotions all at once.”
Kris added that they learned a lot from the loss to Washington—the proper way to deal with Mei-Reaper comps, first and foremost. Although beating London came as a bit of a surprise, the current meta does favor Florida by enabling Jeong-Woo “Sayaplayer” Ha to thrive on hitscan heroes.
The playoffs are out of reach, but from the way the team celebrated the win, and the way they spoke about it afterward, you can tell this kind of result still holds considerable meaning. “Before, it was hard to find motivation, but this win gives us a lot of strength and a lot of energy moving forward,” Kris told me.
Hurray!! Finally we did it— Kris (@Mayhem_Kris) August 4, 2019
And I came in with a happy heart on twitter
2. Stage 4 is Washington damage Corey “Corey” Nigra’s world, and we’re lucky to be living in it. On Sunday afternoon he graced us with one of the most unfathomably dominant performances in league history, confounding the league’s top team for four consecutive maps. It’s difficult to do his accomplishments justice—pun intended—with words, which is maybe a copout on my part, but also I just want everyone to see for themselves exactly what he did on Hollywood:
Corey ended the map with 34 final blows on Hanzo, the second-highest single-map total in Overwatch League history, while boasting the highest-ever single-map critical hit accuracy. In this meta, there’s always a counter for any given damage comp, but at some point you got the feeling that Vancouver knew they were second-best in this matchup. You can’t fight an unstoppable force like Corey, not when he’s ascended.
Like Florida, Washington doesn’t have anything concrete to play for, but after a 3-0 start to the stage, there’s absolutely still something worth chasing. As Corey told insider Danny Lim after the match, “This might be the 7-0 run.” Would you bet against him right now?
3. The process of figuring out a new meta is more work than play, but it can also produce some fantastically entertaining matches. Exhibit A: the Los Angeles Gladiators, who played 10 maps in Week 2, outlasting Chengdu 3-2 on Friday before falling to San Francisco in a fantastic seesaw of a match that pitted the Shock’s cleverness against the Gladiators’ creativity:
“We’re doing our best,” Gladiators support Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni told me. There’s still a couple of comps that have caught them off-guard—Houston’s Sombra-Reaper in Week 1, for example—but once the issues are identified, the team is confident that their duo of Gui-Un “Decay” Jang and Lane “Surefour” Roberts can match them with their combined hero-pool flexibility.
For supports, too, this meta has required some big adjustments.
“Last meta was about each player supporting their teammates and communicating a lot in the moment, talking about ults,” BigGoose explained. “But this meta, ult plans happen a lot more on the fly because you’re switching heroes a lot, so it’s in the air. I think the most important thing, if we think supports, is to try to keep your other [teammates] alive and telling your DPS if you can heal them, stuff like that.”
Compared to this time last year, there are also more viable healing options with Moira and Baptiste in the mix. Six different support heroes are seeing usage rates of 17% or higher this stage, with only Ana crossing the 50% threshold. It has made things fun, BigGoose tells me—even when he’s on the occasional Brigitte duty.
“I just swing around and do stuff and that’s it,” he said, laughing. “I mean, you get to punish opponents’ mistakes here and there, just try to stay alive and stuff.”
4. Last week we announced the 2019 playoff format, which includes a play-in tournament to whittle down a six-team field to two, and then a double-elimination bracket that’s a total departure from last year.
For BigGoose, double-elimination is an intriguing change. “Even to fans it can create awesome stories,” he told me. “Maybe there’s a team that drops away right away, or maybe there’s a team that comes back all the way from the lower bracket.”
The Gladiators are comfortably in the top six, with not much room to move either up or down, which allows them to focus on maintaining rather than chasing their spot.
“That’s what we all hope for—win your games, don’t worry about other teams,” BigGoose explained. “We don’t really talk about it as a team, but probably people individually check out the standings. Who wins, hoping for a team to win, stuff like that, just to make it as easy as possible [for our playoff matchups]. It’s kind of hard because the play-in tournament is a week after Week 5, so a lot can happen during that time. It’s on a different patch, too. We’ll see, it’ll be chaos.”
5. It feels like the Atlanta Reign have been watching the scoreboard since Stage 2. That’s when their rough patch started—so many close matches, resulting in so many close losses to top teams. Since their homestand at the end of Stage 3, though, they’ve reeled off four consecutive wins, and the new meta has allowed their damage duo—in particular, projectile specialist Jun “Erster” Jeong—to shine.
When they’re firing on all cylinders, the Reign are still one of the most dynamic teams to watch in the league, particularly on offense. They showed that this week, setting two top-three speedrun times—the first was a 4:31 jaunt on Hollywood, part of a 4-0 win over Paris, and the second was a 5:22 lap through Route 66 in a 3-1 win over Houston.
Besides gameplay, though, the Reign are a crowd favorite because of their rambunctious onstage presence. In Korean, a word often used to describe high energy is “tension,” which is doubly apt when talking about the players’ vocal cords as they warble, yell, and cackle their way through their team comms.
Compared to his teammates, main tank Hyeon-Jun “Pokpo” Park is on the calmer end of the scale, but he says it’s an important component of their team’s success. “I’d rather have our teammates talk a lot than not talk at all, and I also think keeping the energy up is important,” he told me. “I try to do it as well. It’s better to have everyone at the level of high energy than low energy. Even though I can’t understand everything that they say, it just helps overall.”
On the back of their recent surge, how much more noise can they make in the standings, and potentially in the playoffs?
“If everyone’s condition is good, I think we can be a top-three team in this meta,” Pokpo said.
6. Joining the likes of Erster, Corey, and other damage players who are having breakout stages is Kyle “KSF” Frandanisa from the Los Angeles Valiant. Last season, he was behind a couple of players on the depth chart, and for most of the 2019 season he’s been on Zarya duty, but after some impressive performances on Hanzo, it’s clear why the Valiant have put their faith in him.
“I actually did like Zarya a lot, but I love DPS even more, so it’s been great,” he told me after the Valiant defeated the Dallas Fuel 3-1 on Saturday to keep their own playoff hopes flickering.
“I’ll be honest, we’re watching the scoreboard a little bit, but in general we try to keep our eyes off the big picture,” he added. “Right now we’re basically in a playoff run—that’s what we’ve already set it as, because we can’t lose another match. If we want the best chance to make it to play-ins and then playoffs, we have to win every match like we’re in a tournament already. A little tournament before play-ins.”
KSF feels a bit of added pressure on himself as well, given the importance placed on mechanical skill in the current meta. “Not to win the match, but to win the fight,” he elaborated. “If a Hanzo gets a random headshot, most of the time that’s a fight win.”
7. So, what ails some of the top teams?
If I were a fan of Vancouver or London, I wouldn’t be especially discouraged by their substandard performances this week. Bad days happen; the Titans couldn’t handle Corey going supernova, and the Spitfire similarly faltered against Sayaplayer’s heroics. In a meta that enables individual carry performances, there’s way more upset potential than before.
The NYXL looked commanding in their win over Paris but failed to scout out Chengdu’s unique King’s Row strategy (which they used to lesser effect against the Gladiators earlier in the week). We’ve seen this team get complacent before, but perhaps suffering their first-ever 0-4 loss at the hands of the Hunters will be a wake-up call—after all, the competition has only gotten stronger since the last time they were in this position as the Atlantic Division’s top seed.
The current top-six team that looks the most precarious, however, is Hangzhou. Sure, the Spark have only played twice so far in Stage 4, but they’ve been pretty hopeless post-role lock. Their damage players haven’t made their mark, and it looks like the team hasn’t developed the coordination and chemistry needed to enable them. They have matches against New York and Chengdu next week, and a four-match losing streak would be concerning at this juncture.
8. I have the frequent privilege of chatting with stats producer Ben “CaptainPlanet” Trautman, and one topic I wanted to pick his brain on this week is the conundrum of Mei. Her current strength in the meta has made her the most-picked damage hero (48% entering Sunday’s matches), but the numbers that are currently trackable aren’t as robust as we’d like. For example, a well-positioned Mei wall that separates a high-priority target for a pick doesn’t get counted as an assist, nor does damage blocked by a wall seem to count for any defensive value.
CaptainPlanet assured me that Player Impact Rating does account for this during the balancing process, but comparing Mei play across the league is still difficult because of the lack of a comprehensive stat suite. Because one of her main abilities alters the actual topography of each map, we may need to consider using more visual forms of analysis—heat maps laid on top-down views, coordinate-based graphing, etc.—to be able to compare Charlie “Nero” Zwarg to Dong-Jun “Rascal” Kim in terms of wall-building efficiency, or better understand Ethan “Stratus” Yankel’s synergy with the rest of his team.
Yet another example of how Overwatch constantly challenges us to find more progressive and accurate ways of talking about the game—but that’s what makes it fun!
9. There were so many fun plays this week. Johannes “Shax” Nielsen’s 6k Death Blossom against Seoul inspired a sort of apocalyptic glee, while Hu “Jinmu” Yi’s Hanzo flank on Junkertown to force the tiebreaker against the Gladiators was brilliant and heart-stopping. But for sheer creativity and galaxy-brain gumption, nothing beats the, uh, classic Symmetra Teleport out of spawn to set up an opening Widowmaker snipe that London pulled off on Thursday.
Week 3 of Stage 4 kicks off on Thursday, August 8, when the Spitfire (15-10) take on the Titans (22-2) at 4 p.m. PDT. 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.