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Letters for the Future Fan – Meta Athena

DreXxiN 2018-11-16 03:01:58
Written by Volamel
Dear fan of the future,   I am unsure who is dominating the Overwatch esports ecosystem when you read this, or who is quickly climbing the rungs of the competitive ladder, but I write to you today about a team or organization that is long past your time. Something that is timeless in their story and their purpose. Something that dared you to challenge your perception of the current landscape of Overwatch. These are my letters from the past to help educate people on where the community has come from and to act as a Rolodex of info on just who these teams were so that their legacy might continue to live on through you, the reader.  
It’s been a while since last I wrote, but today I felt particularly nostalgic. The word “saudade” is defined in Portuguese as an accurate expression of a strong emotional state tied to nostalgic memories or a longing for something that once was. And many fans of Overwatch are incredibly familiar with this feeling but have a difficult time bolting it down to one, well-defined word. This letter, and more specifically this team, are a few things that I felt particularly attached to and I feel like they’ve been understandably forgotten. Time slowly corrodes memories, but the innovation of this team lasts even to this day. Sadly, this letter does not end in sunshine and summer smiles. This is the tragedy of an Overwatch team that innovated in their sleep but struggled to be anything more than a brilliant flash in the pan. Before they were the Mei boosting, Sombra diving phenoms that we all know and love, Meta Athena was originally an amateur team called “The Meta.” It would be in the first season of OGN’s Overwatch APEX Challengers division, the premier amateur Overwatch league, that would directly feed into APEX proper, where we would meet our protagonists. The Meta would place third overall in the giant twelve-team round-robin group stage with a 9-2 match record and a 27-8 map record. This would give them a direct seed into the next season of APEX Challengers. Before the start of the following season, The Meta would compete in the first season of the MyTh Cup, a small Chinese tournament boasting a sizeable prize pool at the time, against MVP Space and many top Chinese teams. Even after being placed in the same group as MVP Space and advancing as the second seed behind MVP, The Meta managed to bounce back during the playoffs. After MVP Space took an early loss to 1246, this cleared the way for The Meta to coast to a well-deserved victory only dropping one map to Oh My God in the quarterfinals. This title would carry more than some prestige; this win began a new era for the team.     The Meta charged into another season of APEX Challengers looking to claim a stake in the increasingly popular Overwatch event. This time, they surprised those who had doubted them in the first season of APEX Challengers going undefeated 11-0 in matches with a massive map differential of 33 maps won to just 5 maps lost. This marked them as shoe-ins for the upcoming promotional tournament happening at the end of APEX Season 1. The Meta took first during APEX Challengers Season 2 followed by LuxuryWatch Red, Mighty AOD, and MVP Infinity. These four teams were given seeds in APEX Challengers Season 2: Superweek, a two-week event that would pit the bottom four APEX Season 1 teams against the top four APEX Challenger teams. Superweek was scheduled roughly two weeks after the grand final between the western hopefuls, Team Envyus, and the South Korean natives, Afreeca Freecs Blue. After the western success in APEX Season 1, the premier South Korean Overwatch league exploded in global popularity attracting teams and fans from the world over. And, as we’ve seen throughout esports history, South Korean isn’t too shabby at producing their own talent either. There just so happened to be an incredibly dominant team rising through the ranks ready to put on a show on the main stage. Superweek was anything but “super” for the team’s unlucky enough to be drawn into Group B as The Meta continued to evolve their style. It was here where I first caught wind of them. Their strategy on King’s Row attack against Rhinos Gaming Titan made me question a lot of preconceived notions and expanded my thoughts on strategy in Overwatch. The had all the makings of a dominant force. They were young, competing in a highly competitive environment while innovating -- and they were doing it very extremely well. Needless to say, The Meta advanced out of Group B as the first seed which gave them their APEX Overwatch league berth that they had hoped for, but with a new stage came a new name. Enter a new “meta” -- Meta Athena. APEX Season 2 would be the debut for Meta Athena, but they were looked over as an unorthodox amateur team coming in from the promotion tournament. “[Meta Athena] was an oddball team coming into the promotion tournament. They didn’t adhere to the meta at all, they ran different compositions,” Overwatch commentator Seth "Achilios" King said during a pre-show for one of Meta Athena’s early matches. “I mean, for the most part, they were trying to invent new ways to play the game.” The narrative was justified, I understood it, but I couldn’t help but cheer for the underdog who had such creative strategies. Every match it felt like at any moment the team would traverse an area on the map that few people rarely used and find some way to use it to their advantage. These oddball strategies caused a problem of chaos that only Meta Athena knew how to solve. When you look at similar types of players and team in other esports, people who assume this artistic position don’t tend to have much success -- but Meta Athena did.  

  APEX Season Two saw Meta Athena continue their rise to new heights. They continued to develop new strategies. They took games off of the season one champions Team Envyus and made their way confidently into playoffs as the top seed in Group A with a 3-0 match record and a 9-2 map record. Their playoff group featured powerhouse APEX staples such as Afreeca Freecs Blue, KongDoo Panthera and  LuxuryWatch Blue. Regardless, Meta Athena proceeded over them with relative ease, advancing into the semi-finals undefeated as the first seed in the group. Their record in best of five series at this point was 20-0 stretching all the way back to APEX Challengers and Superweek. In Korean esports myth there is what is called the “royal road” wherein a rookie team or player advances to the grand final of a major event and is victorious. Meta Athena was on the golden path. A royal road victory was laid out ahead of them. It read almost novelesque where the protagonists couldn’t possibly fail after making it this far. Meta Athena just had to squeak past a team that, at this point in time, had not performed well deep into tournaments. That team would be the eventual champions of APEX Season 2, Lunatic-Hai. In a grueling five-game set, Meta Athena would fall to Lunatic-Hai, 2-3. This loss would foreshadow a string of shortcomings that Meta Athena would never shake. This began the descent of Meta Athena. In literature, we’re taught about the tragic hero, who both acts as our eyes moving through an alien world and a vehicle for virtues to be taught. In Overwatch, we’ve had many tragic heroes, but none of them stung as much as the fall of Meta Athena. In the following seasons their playful charm seemed to have vanished, their creativity stifled under the new metagame, and things just never felt the same after they came so close to the royal road in season two. APEX Season 3 saw Meta Athena advance as the second seed in their group behind Team Envyus, at the very least this awarded them a seed into the next season of OGN’s APEX Overwatch league, but they’d take an early exit in the second phase of group play only winning a single map. Season four only extrapolated their underlying problem. This time Meta Athena would not fare as well as they did in previous seasons. Meta Athena would manage to go winless and only net a single map victory. This would force them to return to APEX Challengers. The same event that made them now stood in front of them as their next mountain to scale. Unfortunately, OGN’s APEX Overwatch League would be dissolved and Meta Athena would be directly inserted into the first season of Overwatch Contenders Trials. Here, they would advance as the fourth seed into Overwatch Contenders Season 1 alongside Seven, MVP Space, and their sister team, Meta Bellum. Contenders Season 1 was a new beginning for the Meta Athena. The team had restructured their roster with seasoned veterans from APEX seasons past, but sadly their efforts were in vain. For their second season in a row, Meta Athena would go fail to win a single game going 0-5 in matches and 4-16 in maps. With this, they would again find themselves relegated to the promotional matches. Again, this was the environment that built them. With a veteran core accented by some young talent, Meta Athena surely wouldn’t fall out of Contenders, right? Wrong.  

  Meta Athena’s lethargy would continue and the team would be knocked down into the Open Bracket after a middling performance in Contenders Trials. They would miss Overwatch Contenders Season 2 and their hopes at a third season comeback were dashed by strange scheduling issues that forced them to forfeit their Open Division spot. Overwatch Contenders would finish the swan song of Meta Athena. However, their legend still lives within some of their former players. One of Meta Athena’s strongest and most flexible players, Kim "Libero" Hae-Seong, now has found great success within the Overwatch League as an important member of the New York Excelsior. His hero pool and his willingness to try his hand at niche strategies were pivotal in Meta Athena’s success in APEX Season 2. Kim "NUS" Jong-Seok surpassed his APEX Season 2 high and is now an Overwatch League champion. He and the London Spitfire rose to the occasion and managed to win the first season of the Overwatch League in dominating fashion after having a shaky performance throughout the latter end of the regular season. Choi "Hoon" Jae-hoon now plays for their sister team, Meta Bellum, who quickly rose to surpass the main roster of Meta Athena in APEX Season 4. Hoon’s Zarya was a mainstay of the peak Meta Athena roster from APEX Season 2 and acted as a double-edged sword in the later seasons. During the Nexus Cup Anual Finals and for Overwatch Contenders Trials Season 1, Jeong "ArHaN" Won-Hyeop, wore the Meta Athena jersey. The former Afreeca Freecs Blue Genji specialist now resides in one of the two Overwatch League franchise based out of Texas as a part of the Houston Outlaws. The Florida Mayhem now house multiple former Meta Athena players. Kim "aWesomeGuy" Sung-Hoon, one of the earliest adopters of Winston, now is the main tank for the Mayhem. Widely considered one of the best hitscan DPS in the world, Ha "Sayaplayer" Jung-Woo, now plays with the Florida Mayhem. Within his tenure on Meta Athena, Sayaplayers is a name that will be forever tied to the organization as it was the first team to really showcase his talent. Rounding out the former Meta Athena players signed with the Florida Mayhem Lucio player, Choi "Kris" Jun-Soo, was signed to the team late into 2018 to play with the Mayhem for the 2019 Overwatch League season. While Hwang "EFFECT" Hyeon did not play with Meta Athena for very long, the fact that the team played such a pivotal role in his career I thought it was worth mentioning. Meta Athena moved him down to their sister team, Meta Bellum, for Overwatch APEX Season 2 Offline Qualifier. From there, he parted ways with the team and would eventually find his way to the APEX Season 1 champions, Team Envyus, and later the Dallas Fuel. The legacy of Meta Athena continues to resurface to this day. Most recently the Los Angeles Gladiators ran an updated version of The Meta’s King’s Row Point A attack formation in the Overwatch League playoffs. Meta Athena also was one of the first teams to attempt to seriously use Sombra, most notably on attack on Hanamura and Dorado. Their most surprising contribution to the game came in the form of utilizing Mei’s Ice Wall to boost on top of specific roofs to circumvent certain defensive points. Meta Athena’s style, at their peak, was focused around abusing quick rotations that would funnel teams into close quarters combat with tank based compositions. This was accentuated by the fact that Libero and Hoon were incredibly dominant flex tank players. In a way, this is a bookend to a chapter of Overwatch history, a chapter that I’ll always remember fondly. Now, Meta Athena lays somewhere in Overwatch purgatory. No one really knows what is to come from the team or if they are even still in operation. Whatever comes next for the players, former and current, the coaching staff, and everyone involved—I wish them the best of luck. After providing us with such captivating content, I think they deserve it.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel. Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.  

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