Feb 12, 2018
The London Spitfire came away victorious over the New York Excelsior late Saturday evening and were deservedly crowned champions of Overwatch League’s Stage One playoffs. But now that we have a 10-day break before Stage Two begins, I invite you to relive some of the best moments coming out of Overwatch League from preseason through London’s exciting win.
10. The Battle for Los Angeles
The first official meeting between the Gladiators and Valiant was, arguably, the most entertaining match up to that point in Overwatch League. More importantly, the eventual outcome served as a pivotal point in the first stage that shifted the momentum of both teams.
Through Week 2, the Valiant and Gladiators shared similar resumes. At 2-2, both losses came against top tier opponents, with the Valiant dropping both Week 2 matches to New York and London while the Gladiators fell 0-4 to both Seoul and New York. The Gladiators got off to a strong start with decidedly lopsided wins on Eichenwalde and Horizon Lunar Colony, but the Valiant stormed back after break to reverse sweep, taking Ilios, Junkertown, and a true nail-biter on Lijiang.
The victory served as Agilities’ coming out party as the Valiant second-DPS completely took the game over with Genji and Junkrat. To that point, the green and gold had become somewhat reliant on strong dive communication between Soon, Fate, and Envy, but the win marked the start of a string of consistent play out of Agilities, as well as, a strong 5-1 run to close out Stage 1. Had they dropped the match, the Valiant would have been riding 3 straight losses and there’s no telling how the season might have played out.
9. Dallas Fuel’s Holiday Message from Harryhook
Whether the convenience was planned or not, teams realized early on that having all players situated locally would provide a great opportunity for media content creation.
With too many creative efforts from teams to mention this season, I leave you with what I believe to be, quite simply, the best of the bunch.
Because, after all, Harryhook + Jack in the Box = The stuff dreams are made of.
8. Houston Outlaws take Seoul Dynasty to the brink
After a winless preseason and Week 1, the Outlaws rebounded and rattled off 5-straight victories over the Dragons, Fuel, Mayhem, Gladiators, and Shock (even more impressive was the fact that they had had dropped just 1 out of the 20 maps over that stretch). Some were hesitant to buy into the Outlaws being a legitimate contender, however, which is understandable given that, over that 5-game stretch, Houston defeated the five teams that would go on to finish the first stage ranked 8-12 in the standings.
We then pointed to Houston’s Week 4 matchup with Seoul Dynasty as a more legitimate barometer for the Green Wall.
Seoul was undefeated entering the week and sat alone at the top of the Stage 1 standings, but fell convincingly to London 0-4 on the second matchday. The Outlaws appeared to be catching the Dynasty at the perfect time: just one day after what was, without a doubt, Seoul’s worst performance of the young season.
The game also served as a meta proxy for comparing opposite play styles – the Dynasty’s highly mobile dive vs. the more passive counter-dive approach from the Outlaws. The way things were shaping up around Week 4 – especially factoring in the success mid-table teams like Boston and Philadelphia were having playing dive – many wondered if the Outlaws would be able to contend with top-tier dive squads like the Valiant, Dynasty, and Spitfire.
A victory wasn’t in the cards for the Outlaws that evening, unfortunately, but both sides delivered arguably the best start-to-finish overall performance that we would see until the stage’s final weekend. And despite the loss, their performance against Seoul marked the point in the season when even Houston’s harshest critics to that point had to legitimately consider them as a top team in the league.
7. The #BabybayChallange
It was reported that several members of rival L.A. Overwatch League teams had recently hacked into the cloud-based media storage of a local modeling agency and leaked images of San Francisco Shock’s star DPS Andrej “Babybay” Francisty’s headshot portfolio to social media.
A comically serious tongue-in-cheek photo of Francisty did in fact take over social media over the last two weeks, and the San Francisco Shock parlayed the exposure into a terrific charitable cause. Last week the Shock announced the Babybay Challenge to social media, which encourages audiences to post their best attempt at emulating Babybay’s pose alongside the initial photo as a means of raising money in support of youth mental health in the Bay Area. Those taking part were asked to tag @SFShock, challenge a friend, and use the hashtag #babybaychallenge in their posts. The Shock acknowledged that they would be making donations to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) San Francisco for each submission.
Members of the Overwatch League community were among the first to share their submissions and other teams in the league eventually got involved as well, but the trend didn’t end there. Soon after the challenge went viral, NBA Hall of Famer and NRG eSports co-owner Shaquille O’Neal tweeted out his own photo to the Babybay Challenge, pushing the visibility of the event far beyond the esports ether.
In the end, the San Francisco Shock saw an opportunity to put their most charitable foot forward while bringing the entire community together for a cause they deemed important. With the help of Overwatch League, its players, and the fans, they certainly didn’t disappoint.
6. Excelsior and Spitfire lose their first matches in Week 3
When the Los Angeles Valiant dropped both of its Week 2 games to the New York Excelsior and London Spitfire, many fans felt like the West’s best chance of taking down one of the teams with Korean rosters in Stage 1 had passed. Coming into Week 3, most of us had Friday, January 26th circled on our calendars for the highly anticipated matchup between the Dynasty and NYXL. Instead, it was Thursday night that ended up providing the real fireworks when, unexpectedly, the Spitfire and Excelsior lost back-to-back matches to Boston and Philadelphia.
Through its first 4 matches, the Fusion had been very inconsistent. They came into the regular season as a relatively unknown quantity, having not participated in December’s exhibition schedule. After debuting with a surprising 3-2 victory over the Outlaws, the Fusion followed that up with an 0-4 dud against London. Philly had another pair of uneven performances in Week 2. They managed to defeat San Francisco 2-1 but squandered a 2-0 lead to the Gladiators just one day later, eventually allowing their opponents to achieve the first reverse sweep of the young season. Boston were in a similar boat coming into Week 3 as well. The Uprising ended the previous week in disappointing fashion when they fell to the Shock in 5 maps and entered their matchup with New York at 1-3.
But in the ultimate example of ‘past performance not being indicative of future results,’ both the Uprising and Fusion shocked audiences on the second matchday of Week 3 by handing the Excel and Spitfire their first losses of the season – both 3-2, 5 map thrillers ultimately decided on Lijiang Tower.
After two weeks of dominance coming from Seoul, New York, and London, concerns emerged about whether a divide had already been drawn between these powerhouses and the other Western teams. And that is why viewers were looking forward to the Seoul vs. New York match on Friday of Week 3: For many, it symbolized the only true guarantee of a loss for either of these teams. In hindsight, the Uprising and Fusion victories were extremely important moments in Stage 1 because they proved the mortality of New York, London (and by some extension, Seoul). The upsets also incentivized fans to tune into future matches that, prior to Week 3, would have been filed under the “GG EZ” category.
5. Overwatch League’s opening day
It would be difficult to make a list about the first truly global professional esports league and neglect to include the opening day festivities for its inaugural season.
To say that the start of Overwatch League was highly anticipated would be the antithesis of hyperbole. From the early rumors of a professional league and an official announcement at BlizzCon 2016, to eventual roster signings and finally the preseason, at times, it didn’t always feel like OWL was a guarantee until we the audience were sitting in front of our TVs and computer screens watching a live match.
And so for many, Wednesday, January 10, 2018 – the first official day of Overwatch League’s inaugural season – was significant, if not completely surreal. It marked the start of something brand new for the Overwatch esports community, especially for those who have been supporting the IP and community associated with it since day one: Blizzard staff, professional players, team owners and coaches, esports orgs, and – most importantly – the Overwatch community of fans, gamers, community managers, content creators, and anyone else who believed that we’d get here someday.
The day got off to a somewhat inauspicious start thanks to two consecutive 4-Overwatch drubbings, but the sheer spectacle of the league finally getting off the ground was enough to outshine the lack of competitive flair early on.
Thankfully, audiences that stuck around through the end of the night weren’t disappointed. Seoul and Dallas featured high level execution and gave us several memorable moments (Temple of Anubis, anyone?). On such a momentous day for Blizzard, the match fittingly highlighted the core rosters of Lunatic Hai and Team EnVyUs – two of Overwatch’s most successful and storied organizations that have been around since the beginning of it all.
4. Overwatch community pays tribute to Internethulk
Dennis “Internethulk” Hawelka wasn’t just one of the biggest names in Overwatch – he was a pillar of the much wider esports umbrella. When Hawelka passed away last November at the age of 30, the Overwatch community joined together to celebrate his life by sharing the experiences they shared with the gaming legend. Teammates, coaches, fans, friends, and peers paid tribute to his selflessness and eternal optimism and positivity by sharing private conversations they had had with Hawelka: Esports professionals asked Hulk for guidance – perhaps what their next step along the professional gaming path should be; Some shared messages sent by Hawelka, unprompted, offering support and encouragement after a particularly sobering defeat. Others simply asked Hulk for a photo at a tournament or event like BlizzCon, with Dennis always obliging.
And so, on Overwatch League’s opening night, it was particularly fitting that the league Hulk worked so hard to help influence and create – whether directly or indirectly – took the time to commemorate Hawelka’s contributions to both Overwatch and esports with an emotional video tribute. Community personalities like ZP, Goldenboy, and Soe shared their memories of Dennis while Overwatch League teams and players added their own sentiments in interviews and on social media.
From the video tribute to unveiling their plans to honor Internethulk by creating the “Dennis Hawelka Award” for mentorship in the community, Overwatch League and its executives earned a great deal of respect from the community in acknowledging the hard work and contributions from players like Hulk that continually move esports forward.
3. Pine hard carries on Ilios
Stage 1 saw plenty of wild individual performances from the likes of Fleta, Birdring, Shadowburn, Soon, JJonak, Linkzr, Poko, DreamKazper, and too many others to name. But it’s no secret that Pine’s all-too-brief cameos on Control Point maps were Stage 1’s best highlight reel material by a mile.
Pine’s McCree performances on Ilios were some of the most jaw-dropping play we’ve ever seen in Overwatch. After two weeks (matches against Houston, Boston, and both Los Angeles squads), New York was 2nd worst in the league in terms of scoring the first kill, losing the first player in 58.14% of Control Point fights. However, the Excelsior still managed to win nearly half (48%) of these team fights.
How did they do it?
Pine carrying. Pine carrying hard.
2. London Spitfire win Stage One playoff
After falling to New York 3-2 to start off the day and grinding out 14 maps over the course of 12 hours, the London Spitfire managed to get their revenge over NYXL via reverse sweep to win Overwatch League’s Stage 1 playoff and a well-deserved $100,000.
The match featured some of the best Widowmaker performances we’ve seen all season out of Pine and Birdring, as well as, an intense showdown between the league’s two best Zenyatta players in JJonak and Bdosin. Another great
Despite the hype surrounding the match, it did feel like the actual performances and action dropped slightly after the halftime – especially from New York. After failing to capture the second point on Horizon, NYXL were shut out on Numbani’s Point A and never made it into the power plant beyond Dorado’s second point.
London deserves a ton of credit for making changes at the break and coming back from two maps down, and no one can argue with this list’s inclusion of a stage playoff match that went the full 5-map distance to crown a winner, but I’m not even sure that the playoff final and second Excelsior vs. Spitfire clash in the span of 10 hours was even the best match of the day…
1. Outlaws vs. Uprising on the final day of Week 5
It’s hard to imagine that a regular season clash would overshadow the actual Stage 1 playoffs, but I’m not sure the scriptwriters could have penned the narratives surrounding the final matchday from Week 5 any better.
It all started with New York vs. London to begin the day. The Excelsior had already qualified for the playoffs, while London needed just a single map win to punch their ticket. In taking Eichenwalde from NYXL to kickoff the madness, the Spitfire secured – at the very least – a spot in the opening round play-in match for the stage playoffs later that evening.
With New York having previously secured a playoff spot and London doing so earlier that morning, one final slot remained for the Boston Uprising, Houston Outlaws, and Los Angeles Valiant to fight over. Unfortunately for the Valiant, however, L.A.’s green and gold contingent had no say in the proceedings and needed quite a bit of help out of the Uprising (and potentially stars aligning).
It all worked like this: Houston controlled their own destiny and would move on to the playoffs with a victory over Boston, regardless of the final map score. Boston would have advanced to the playoffs with a victory, provided they beat Houston by at least 2-maps. L.A. owned the least likely qualifying condition of all three sides, but still had an outside shot of meeting London in the play-in game if Boston could beat Houston by 1-map (for this to happen, the game would need to be tied 2-2 to force a 5th map playoff that the Uprising would ultimately have to win).
With Boston holding a 2-1 lead, the real excitement came on Dorado when Boston managed to ultimately stall the Houston attack before the third and final escort point. If the Uprising could inch the payload just a bit further on offense, they would be the ones to take on the Spitfire later that night.
The Uprising managed to get the payload through the doors to the Dorado power plant and held ultimate advantage on the final point in several situations. But whether it was the pressure of the situation getting to them, strong defensive play out of Houston, or maybe a combination of both, the Outlaws managed to stifle the Boston attack (which included a huge Dragonblade shutdown onto DreamKazper) and move themselves one step closer to the playoffs.
Houston’s win on Dorado eliminated Boston from playoff contention, but it also opened the door for the Valiant should the Uprising come out on top on Lijiang Tower – the tiebreaker map. The final round was a back-and-forth afair with both sides taking a map each, but it was Houston who came out victorious on Night Market thanks to non-stop fragging from Coolmatt and a team-wiping Tac-Visor from Jake.
It’s hard to imagine a more exciting scenario coming into play on the final day of a stage. With three teams fighting over the last remaining playoff birth, Boston’s final push on Dorado (and Houston subsequently closing the door on their playoff hopes) was the peak moment of Overwatch League to date.
Here’s to hoping Stage 2 finds a way to match this incredible moment.