The inaugural season of the Overwatch League is quickly drawing to a close as its playoffs are set to begin on July the 11th. Six teams from a wide array of backgrounds all will compete for a piece of history and a sizeable $1,000,000 first place prize. We begin the festivities in the Quarterfinals where the Boston Uprising will be taking on the Philadelphia Fusion and the Los Angeles Gladiators will face the London Spitfire. But first, we have to give a brief lay of the land.
The format goes as follows: the first team to win two best of five matches will advance in the bracket. Then, the advancing teams will be reseeded. To explain further the Los Angeles Valiant will play the quarter-final winner with the better match record, and the New York Excelsior will play the remaining team.
The game days will also be staggered meaning that both set of matches will be played on Wednesday and will conclude on Friday and Saturday respectively. Boston and Philadelphia will finish their series on Friday, while London and Los Angeles will finish their series on Saturday.
The matches will be played on patch 1.25 which will include a variety of changes that include: reworked Hanzo, buffs to Orissa’s ultimate, and nerfs to Brigitte’s Rally and Shield Bash.
Nonetheless, now that you’ve gotten a brief rundown of the structure, let’s jump directly into our first match between the 3rd seed, Boston Uprising, and the 6th seed, Philadelphia Fusion.
Philly vs Boston [2-1]
Boston has been an enigmatic team since its inception; nonetheless, they’ve managed to arrive in the playoffs with a solid average performance across the regular season. What worries me is their status, as a team, right now. In the post Stage 3 haze, the Boston Uprising has not caught a break. With Crusty leaving, the team has suffered from obvious internal turmoil and it has affected their play. This amplified their already lackluster performance during Stage 4 and while they managed to turn things around late into the last stage of the regular season, Boston still has me worried.
Strategically, Boston has been of a more high tempo and aggressive team favoring mobile compositions that commit many of their players to aggressive pushes into the enemy backline. With that in mind, we have to look at the new landscape of the metagame and how that could or could not play into the Uprising’s hand. Currently, we have little info outside of a few games in Overwatch Contenders to base the metagame off of, but from what we’ve seen it holds parity to what Stage 4 was towards the end, with perhaps a slight improvement to Dive in overall pick rate.
Better yet, a great reference to draw upon is their lack of a Widowmaker. That’s not to say that Mistakes can’t play Widowmaker, but does it stack well against the rest of the playoff teams? I’m inclined to say ‘no’ and if we take a brief glance back at the map pool, I think Widowmaker is going to continue to be a staple pick on both Attack and Defense across the four game types.
Similarly, if the 15% ultimate charges reduction on Orissa makes her more of a power pick, that is going to slow down a team that wants to play a “full court press” style of Overwatch. Have they had enough time to break the mold and bounce back from a depressing Stage 4? That’s a tough call to make and the City of Brotherly Love should be grinning at that call.
The Philadelphia Fusion has a lot going for them and they've solidified themselves as the dark horse team for this event. With potent star players and a deep and flexible bench, it’s hard to see how the Fusion doesn’t take this match.
Now we can revisit their consistency issues where, at times, they just seem to look deflated for no real reason, but with the mass amount of games that the format calls for, I can’t see a world where “bad Philly” comes out to play too often. This helps Boston in a way, but I can’t see it being too big of a boon for the Uprising.
What the Fusion does have to leverage is their deep bench, which could be called up in the playoffs. With the likes of Shadowburn, Snillo, Fragi, and the dynamic nature between Poko and HOTBA, this team is massive in terms of functional players. And with a new metagame to toy around with, who’s to say that we don’t see Fragi come out and lead the team in a heavy tank composition? What’s more interesting is that we’ve already seen this feature of the team leveraged before in their miracle run in the Stage 2 playoffs against the London Spitfire. If you recall, we did see the switch from Eqo to Snillo on Route 66, which left people quite shocked, but Snillo has proven himself to be an outstanding player in his own right.
And as the cherry on top, the pièce de résistance, we’ve got Carpe. He has quickly become the face of the Fusion in more ways than one. His skill is nearly MVP caliber and his innate capability to be consistently clutch is impressive, to say the least.
Does Boston have room for a set win? Yes, and Philadelphia's consistency problems could help them get on the board, but outside of that I don’t see much else going Boston’s way. Like I said,, if Dive is a bit more potent than Boston have a better chance, but as it stands right now, I’m calling this a 2-1 victory for the Philadelphia Fusion.
Los Angeles Gladiators vs London Spitfire [2-0]
Riding in with a huge wave a momentum from the regular season, the Los Angeles Gladiators have arrived. While this ecosystem is still to be explored, there are a few things we first have to address with the Gladiators.
Flexing your bench is going to be key. I have this sneaking suspicion that because the format relies more heavily on Escort rather than Control, it could mean that these teams are going to fatigue very quickly. This is where pocket strategies and a deep bench comes in, something that London does not have the luxury of.
Touching on the map pool, we do have to remind ourselves that the Gladiators are not favored in Escort and that Escort will be played as the first and fifth map during the playoffs. Throughout the inaugural season of the Overwatch League the Los Angeles Gladiators have an overall record of 19-22, while on Junkertown they boast a record of 3-8 and on Dorado, they have a 6-4 record.
One great thing from the map selection is that Ilios has not been chosen for the map pool and Gladiator’s fans should love the sound of that! Dodging their worst control map, the Gladiators, during the regular season, had a 3-10 record on Ilios. Is this enough of a boon for London to stage an upset? I highly doubt it, but London could easily take a map here and there. This leads us to the pride of the United Kingdom and the only current European representatives in the Overwatch League; the London Spitfire.
First thing’s first; much like the discussion we’ve had in regards to Boston if London can run Dive, they will. The problem with this is that it’s ultimately a double-edged sword. If London can’t run dive, meaning that if nothing has changed or that the Hanzo changes mean that Dive is going to be worse than what it was in Stage 4,you can almost bet that London will still run Dive. Only having one composition at your disposal means you are incredibly one dimensional and that can’t be a good thing.
Secondly, while we can disregard the London Spitfire all we want, their mechanics are great and they still have some of the highest potentials in the league. Bdosin on a great day is comparable to JJoNak. We’ve seen what Birdring can do with Widowmaker during the Stage 1 playoffs and he’s known to have an amazing Tracer and Roadhog. If we ever see Profit hit the same heights as he did during the APEX Season 4 Grand Finals, any team will have a serious problem on their hands. And to top it all off, they’ve got a world class tank line with Gesture and Fury.
London has the potential to be the best team in the league, the problem is getting them to reach that level consistently. If somehow they’ve managed to open Pandora's box and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, which we will dive into shortly, they’ve got a solid chance as a darkhorse threat in the season one playoffs.
And last, but not least, the biggest question that has to be asked is has London fixed any of their internal problems? Since Stage 1, London has struggled with odd internal problems whether it be what roster to run, issues with the coaching staff or player injuries. London has had nearly a month to work on these issues, but is that really enough when the issues have been embedded since the beginning of the league? Now, I’ve seen stranger things, but sadly, I don’t think London has had enough time to break their bad habits and correct their internal dilemma.
And that’s why I score this 2-0 with the Los Angeles Gladiators taking this match with little resistance.
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 and Robert Paul.