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Overwatch League – Does anyone stand a chance against Korea?

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This week marked the long-awaited launch of Overwatch League’s Inaugural Season, a 6-month-long tournament pitting 12 teams against one another for the chance to ascend the ranking table and achieve eventual glory. Like traditional sports, each team has a geographical designation, moniker and matching skin set. It’s an immediately familiar concept; as a Brit, it feels a lot easier to affiliate myself with London Spitfire than with the jumbled assortment of letters and numbers esports teams normally bear. However, just as football team Manchester United can recruit players from all over the world, so too can Overwatch League teams.

This leads to most team line-ups being diverse, selecting the best players from across the globe to play alongside each other in dream-team scenarios. Dallas Fuel, for example, only has one American player (Brandon ‘Seagull’ Larned) with the rest cherry-picked from all over: Taimou from Finland, Chipshajen from Sweden, xQc from Canada, and so on.

There is one country however, with a lineage of players that stand taller than all the others. In the relatively short history of competitive Overwatch, there is no denying that Korean teams have consistently dominated every event. There have been two Overwatch World Cups – and twice, South Korea have been crowned World Champions. Of the four seasons of Overwatch APEX (a televised Korean tournament, previously known to be the highest level of Overwatch play) the latter three seasons have been won by Korean teams. Interestingly, APEX season one was won by Team EnvyUs, all of whom now play for the aforementioned Dallas Fuel. After APEX season three however, international teams stopped even being invited to compete, due to them being eliminated so quickly.

In a similar fashion to EnvyUs becoming Dallas Fuel, the teams that won the latter three seasons of APEX, LunaticHai and GC Busan, now make-up Overwatch League’s Seoul Dynasty and London Spitfire, respectively. Having the Dynasty be an all-Korean team is expected, but to see my ‘home’ team be composed the same way feels like a double-edged dragonblade. On one hand, I have a very real chance of supporting the overall winners, such is the caliber of the squad make-up. On the other, there’s a disconnect that the inherent nature of location-based teams shouldn’t allow for. The UK team in last year’s World Cup had several strong personalities to rally behind, and to see none of them make it through to the only UK team (in fact, the only European-based team) in the League is disappointing.

All of this culminates in the current situation, where if you base skill on past successes, Seoul Dynasty and London Spitfire are simply better than the rest of the League. From that point of view, it feels like there’s little point in the tournament structure at all, as if wins are predestined and no-one else stands a chance against these Korean behemoths. It’s almost like two different leagues, where all the lesser teams compete for third place. If the Overwatch League actually does unfold in this manner, the excitement of watching a match diminishes to the point where it feels trivial to watch. Without the back-and-forth anyone-could-win mentality, any sport loses its lustre, especially as a viewer.

This does, however, provide the perfect opportunity for a Disney-esque underdog story. Cue the first ‘real’ match of the season, this week’s game; Dallas Fuel vs Seoul Dynasty. Before the game, all four commentators on the desk predicted a 3-1 victory in Seoul’s favour. When the first hard-fought game went to Dallas, the arena erupted, as the audience saw that the infallible Koreans could be beaten. What unfolded on the next map, Temple of Anubis, was one of the greatest games in Overwatch history – rivalling even the World Cup semi-finals match on Hanamura between America and South Korea.

The nature of a ‘2CP’ map involves both teams alternating between defending and attacking two consecutive points. If one team succeeds where the other failed, they instantly win. If both teams successfully attack both points before the time runs out, they do it again, until one team fails to take a point. However, in these subsequent rounds, you’re only allotted the time left over on the clock from your previous attempt. This means it becomes increasingly difficult to continue to take a point, as losing even a single team member to a well-placed headshot means waiting for them to respawn, or carrying on without them and hoping for the best. Once you’re in these subsequent rounds, it’s essentially sudden death, requiring perfect teamwork and skill to pull-off a victory. Not only did this match go to round 2, but to round 3 – and almost to round 4. I cannot overstate the intensity to the back-and-forth here, watching Dallas and Seoul team-wipe each other over and over. This is exactly what we as the audience needed to see, and was the epitome of what the Overwatch League can be. Eventually, the game did go to the Dynasty, levelling the score at 1-1.

This is where things went downhill. The next match, taking place on Ilios, wasn’t even a contest, and Seoul took a quick and decisive victory. During the final match, on Numbani, Dallas failed to take the first point, meaning that before the game was even over, they literally had no way of winning overall. That was definitely a flaw in the system, with an exciting game ending with a whimper. Dallas did manage to force a draw at least, leading to a final score of 2-1 to Seoul. Korea remains undefeated, but at least by a less decisive margin than the commentators assumed.

As the next few months of the Overwatch League press on, we can only hope that, eventually, a more even playing field will present itself. However, this was not a bad start, and it was (for the most part) thrilling to see. Even if there is a clear divide between the upper and lower skilled teams, it seems the matches will be a joy to watch, and that’s all I can ask for.

 

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Kyle Rogacion

    January 14, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    I think what’s most frustrating is the consistently inconsistent performances of non-Korean teams against Korean ones. You get these wonderful moments of back-and-forth, but, like you said, it’s almost as if we expect Korean teams to win in the end.

    I haven’t looked much into it, but I’d be curious to find out what the differences are in how these teams train. Great writeup; looking forward to more OWL coverage from you!

    • NoME2WasNotAGoodGame

      January 15, 2018 at 10:48 am

      I honestly wouldn’t doubt if they scrimmed with ultimates off for their team so they had to learn to beat them mechanically rather than counting it with another ultimate.

    • Tim Maison

      January 16, 2018 at 11:41 am

      I get the frustration (I love the Fuel and the Outlaws), but the problem isn’t inconsistency but consistently failing on single point king of the hill maps. Dallas was tied with Seoul until Ilios, a map that just lends itself way to well to the Dynasty’s style of play. Florida was contesting with London, even winning a game, until the third round, always king of the hill, this time Oasis, where they fell apart. I think the key for some of these truly talented, top tier, non-Korean teams will be analyzing the Seoul and Spitfire style of play on Ilios, Oasis, Lijiang, and all other king of the hill maps and emulating or countering it.

  2. Adeolu Adeoye

    January 14, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    I love Dallas and their fun strategies, but I’m really worried that they won’t do too well.

  3. NoME2WasNotAGoodGame

    January 15, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Does Overwatch Esports stand a chance when hardly anyone watches, it costs too much and we ALWAYS know who’s going to win? I don’t think so.

    • Tim Maison

      January 16, 2018 at 11:32 am

      The first stream (Shock vs. Valiant) had over 200,000 viewers on twitch alone and that doesn’t include the people who streamed the match later or on the Overwatch League site doing a simultaneous stream. As far as costing, we won’t know until the end of the season, but the stadium has been sold out every match thus far and plenty of people are streaming and buying league skins which help fund the teams. As far as “ALWAYS” knowing who will win, that must be a gift. The majority of us were floored when Fusion beat the Outlaws and even more so when the Valiant beat Fuel. Highly doubt you predicted those outcomes….

      • NoME2WasNotAGoodGame

        January 17, 2018 at 12:38 am

        I wasn’t super floored. They had weak links and likely less practice. XQC is sick and all but he can’t carry everyone that isn’t at his level, which is beyond that of his teammates. 200,000 isn’t much. Again. I’m not saying people won’t watch. But hardly anyone does. They bought the chance to show it off. And it’ll just never be mainstream. It’ll be the womens basketball of sports. Sure some are interested and interesting to watch. The reality is that nobody knows their names and it’s lack of athletic ability as well as CLEAR limits to what people can do? It won’t be interesting. UFC heavyweight title this weekend. Two savage fighters and nobody knows what’ll happen. In Esports? We ‘generally’ do and we’ll never really see those savage performances that make people love physical sports. Because at the end of the day an Esport is just moving a mouse and pressing buttons. It feels like anyone can figure it out regardless if they actually can.

  4. Jessie_Jane19

    January 15, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Best article I’ve ever read. You are obviously a very talented writer and your passion shines through. Look forward to following your work further. Best of luck James.

    From a new Goomba Stomp follower thanks to you! X

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