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Stage 3, the stage of hope

Volamel 2019-07-17 03:39:29
  I didn’t think they could do it.  Hell, I don’t think anyone thought they could do it.  But somehow the Houston Outlaws, a team that was cast aside and relegated to the bottom of the league, toppled the reigning Stage 2 champions and made their return to the stage playoffs. This was during a time where the San Fransisco Shock was a team many were calling the best team in the world and they somehow lost to a team that was struggling to find map wins, let alone series wins.  And before this upset, the Outlaws managed to take the New York Excelsior to map five. Something I admittedly wrote off more as an NYXL loss rather than an Outlaws victory due to New York’s stylistic changeup. Not only was the Outlaws win over the Shock one of the biggest upsets in Overwatch history, but this also marked their resurgence in a number of ways. The Outlaws broke their 0-8 match losing streak, but almost more importantly, they did so in map five situations, something that Outlaws have always struggled with. Now, this doesn’t mean that they’ve finally conquered their demons; if anything, their loss to the floundering Florida Mayhem highlights that they still have a long road to full recovery, but the improvements are still apparent.     The Outlaws’ resurgence during Stage 3 means more than just another mid-table team that can trade wins against any number of teams. This is a revival of a brand. This is a savior of careers. And this is a beacon of hope, not just for fans of the Outlaws, but for many of the bottom table teams that, given the right circumstances, can make what seems impossible, possible. However, they were not the only team that was able to make such a turnaround. The Los Angeles Valiant’s Stage 3 performance has got to be one of the biggest team turnarounds in Overwatch history. Just like the Outlaws, they were another team that struggled to find improvements at the bottom of the standings to a strong stage playoff contender. When you compare where they finished in Stage 2 compared to Stage 3, this becomes painfully apparent. In Stage 2, the Valiant finished tied for 13th place with a 3-4 match record and a 12-1-18 map record. In Stage 3 they placed 6th with a 5-2 match record and a 20-0-9 map record. This record is headlined by the fact that they were the first team to take a regular-season game off the Vancouver Titans in Week 3. They also finished 3-4th place in the stage playoffs, toppling the Hangzhou Spark before losing to the San Fransisco Shock. The Valiant has improved so much over such a short amount of time that they’ve garnered massive respect from their peers. Main tank for the San Fransisco Shock Matthew "super" DeLisi sang Valiant’s praises after their victory over the London Spitfire. This thread continues into many different teams. A thread of perseverance and faith ties many of the Overwatch League teams together, but one stands out amongst the crowd.     The Dragons have done the impossible. They’ve pulled themselves from an 0-40 first season and now have won the Stage 3 grand finals with one of the most difficult championship paths in Overwatch history. They entered the playoffs as the 8th seed and began their legendary run with a convincing defeat over the New York Excelsior, 3-1. Then the Vancouver Titans fell to the Dragons, 4-1. And finally the San Fransisco Shock were defeated by the Dragons in a dramatic seven-game set. While the 0-40 moniker is a bit disingenuous seeing how the team is completely different, the contrast when it comes to the franchise’s admittedly short history is astounding and compounds on their compelling story. The new players, coaches, and management should be hoisted on the shoulders of their adoring fans for these achievements.  The core from KongDoo Panthera was called in to revitalize the near helpless Dragons and that core, along with the newly fabricated coaching staff, has turned them from being a laughing stock to a team that can compete for the 2019 seasonal title. With this overhaul came a new style of play focused around their stellar DPS players Bae "diem" Min-seong and Yang "DDing" Jin-hyeok. This was showcased throughout the entirety of their stage playoff run. Each match was more of the same; they rushed headlong into the enemy team with their own style and toppled some of the biggest names in Overwatch.   Each team here took their narratives and tossed them aside. Sometimes these stories and fantasies can supersede the actual game. This stage spat in the face of these concepts and flipped the script mid-movie. All the way up until the final game of the stage playoffs, someone on the Overwatch League stage embodied hope.      With Shanghai taking the first three maps in convincing fashion over Shock, there was hope that the Dragons would actually be able to win a stage final - which is something no one, even a few weeks ago, would have considered possible.  Then, the Shock took the reigns and proceeded to win the next three maps forcing a map seven and teasing one of the most exciting and improbable reverse sweeps in Overwatch history. It doesn’t matter that the comeback wasn’t completed—the winner almost doesn’t matter with this context in mind—the narrative was already cemented. It was cemented with the Valiant’s meteoric rise, it was cemented with the Dragons’ success, it was cemented with the Outlaws’ resurgence, and it was cemented with the fantastic finish to Stage 3’s playoffs. And these are just the good examples. Don’t ignore the Defiant or the Mayhem’s roster rebuilds. Don’t ignore what changing the metagame might mean for the season one champions the London Spitfire and the rough and tumble Chengdu Hunters. They all have this same thread of hope throughout their growing stories. I think people inherently have a thirst for something positive, but not necessarily something fantastical. Something they can hold onto for comfort during a dark period in their life. This essence of faith is woven into nearly every match, team, and player during this stage.  In the uncertainty of the 2020 season and the reported changes coming in Stage 4, this stage stood as a constant reminder that anything is possible. It stands as the last stage playoff for the season and I couldn’t think you could pay for a more poetic way to usher in whatever comes next. And above all else, this was the stage of hope.
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 to follow his thoughts you can follow him at @Volamel. Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
 

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