You couldn’t have asked for a better finish to the first stage of the Overwatch League, nor a better winner of the first ever playoff stage. The culminating final day alone had three matches that went the distance before the playoffs themselves, the perfect advertisement for anyone still sitting on the fence over the league’s viability. So now that we’re sitting around waiting just over a week until stage two begins, let’s break down all the week five action and the first stage itself before looking ahead to what’s next.
LONDON’S LONG FINAL DAY
Let’s look beyond London Spitfire’s impressive victory over the New York Excelsior in the finals for a moment and take in that incredibly tough final day. The odds seemed stacked against the Spitfire, despite coming off a big week four victory over Seoul and going into week five as the co-top seed. An early disappointing loss to the Houston Outlaws set themselves up for a very difficult run to the finish line against New York, eventually going down 3-2 in a fight they could have just as easily won if the little things had gone their way.
That early match meant a long wait before the playoffs were finalist, one that would have no doubt been a little nerve wracking. If they were going to win it all, London would have to beat two teams that had already accounted for them that same weekend. Low and behold, the Spitfire reversed the result to Houston in convincing fashion, pulling off some strong defensive plays to hold off the Outlaws 2-0 on Illios, then holding the first point on both Anubis and Eichenwalde as Houston threw the kitchen sink at them.
That led to a final showdown with the Excels, with New York well on their way to securing the big victory having already accounted for London earlier in the night and winning the first two maps. London had a different story in mind, however, and went on to reverse sweep the top ranked team of stage one by once again establishing a rock solid defensive line, courtesy of some huge picks by Birdring on Saebyelobe and Profits clutch Junkrat. Fourteen games and a big pay cheque in one night, to call all that impressive would be an understatement.
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
New York remain the top seed and the team to beat going forward, but there’s going to be a little soul searching after letting a big one slip between their fingers. Was it a case of nerves getting the better of them? It certainly didn’t seem that way when they went 2-0 up having already accounted for London earlier that night. It’s more likely London just had little bit more left in the tank, that never say die attitude that New York now need to discover for their own. There’s not a great deal more they can do to adjust going forward, if nerves are the problem only winning can alter the course and there’s certainly no reason to suggest that they can’t continue their regular season form and push forward into stage two.
OH SO CLOSE
Boston and Houston did all they could to upset the top teams and push for a finals spot, it’s a damn shame only one of them could have done so. The Uprising finished the season off strongly and nearly forced Houston out of the top three, but there’s more than enough there to build upon and possibly go one step further next time. As for Houston, the Outlaws simply ran out of steam against a London side they know they can compete with, but again it’s a case of far more positives than negatives to set them up for stage two. Iron out the kinks and there’s every chance both teams can go one better.
WHAT NEXT FOR SEOUL?
Three weeks ago if anyone had cast doubt on Seoul making the playoffs, laughter would have rung out within the Blizzard Arena. But the Dynasty’s last few weeks of the season left a lot to be desired, losing to the Valiant, New York and London and pushed to the brink by Houston and San Francisco. Those results coupled with a few map losses to Dallas and Shanghai meant the former favorites missed out on a playoff spot that seemed so likely. So now the question is, what next? That last match against the Shock was certainly not the kind of effort you would expect from a team that needed to win 4-0 to stay within contention, perhaps the time has come for the former Apex champions to mix things up and consider some new strategies. It’s clear that the competition has finally caught up with them.
THE STAGE TWO META
With stage two comes a few big changes. Teams will not only need to figure out what they need to fill the gaps in their squads, especially Florida and Shanghai, but they’ll also have to tussle with a new set of maps and some patch changes to Overwatch that will come into play. No longer will the likes of Mercy be as effective in healing and reviving teammates on the point, and the likes of Sombra and Junkrat have had some major changes to the damage they deal and the plays they can make. Sombra wasn’t a major player during stage one, but her ability to hack even more character abilities could become a common play (despite her quick ultimate charge by hacking health packs going bye bye). And then there’s Symmetra … or not.
A TEAM TO WATCH
Of every roster going into stage two, the one everyone should be keeping a real close eye on is Shanghai. With rumors circulating of some big signings ahead of stage two, the shakeup could be exactly what the team needs to finally crack the win column. But that shouldn’t discount from the progress the Dragons made across the first five weeks, going from a team that could barely hold a point to taking a map off of the Dynasty and nearly upsetting the Dallas Fuel in overtime on Lijiang Tower. If the rumors hold true, exciting times could be ahead for Undead and the crew. As for the rest of the competition, Florida have their first new signing in Zappis which could open the potential floodgates as the remainder of the season looms.
PLAY OF THE WEEK
London’s defense in the final against New York was rock solid, led by some incredible performances from both Birdring and Profit. Birdring’s final round stats as Widowmaker (54 eliminations to 15 deaths, 33 final blows and over 38,000 hero damage dealt) was the difference maker across the five map finale, but it’s Profit and his Junkrat that takes the play of the week with two big Riptire’s that are now valued at a combined $100,000.