Esports

Apex Déjà Vu at Overwatch League Stage One Finals

Last week marked the end of the first stage of Overwatch League. The final matches played out from February 7 to 10, with each team still fighting hard to improve their map differential heading into stage two. After the stage one title match was complete, the New York Excelsior (9-1) sat in first place, the Houston Outlaws (7-3) performed well enough for second, and the London Spitfire (7-3) rounded off the top three. But when it came down to the money and pride associated with the title match, it was London who emerged victorious over New York, coming out with $100,000 and bragging rights.

The bottom three teams remain unchanged. Dallas (3-7), Florida (1-9), and Shanghai (0-10) have not had a fortuitous stage one, though the roster additions and anticipated meta shift coming in stage two might help some of them out. Both Dallas and Florida should thrive in tank-heavy play, and Shanghai might exceed expectations after the break now that Mercy will probably go back to being a niche pick. Should they all pick up the pace, stage two will really show what professional Overwatch is all about.

A problem for Houston

In the early going, the Houston Outlaws were projected to be one of the best teams leading the middle of the pack, though with a high ceiling. Indeed, they have shot past those initial projections, sitting with a +17 map differential heading into the second stage. They have arguably the best tanking duo in the league in Matt “CoolMatt” Iorio and Austin “Muma” Wilmot, and one of the smartest and most aggressive players in Jake Lyon. Yet time again, they seem to stumble on control maps, or “King of the Hill”.

Austin "Muma" Wilmot
Austin “Muma” Wilmot | Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

When asked about where he and the team could have done better against London in the semi-finals, Muma said that perhaps his Orisa could have been stronger, but that “we have no idea what we’re doing on KotH.” Ilios was the most recent example, where the Outlaws couldn’t even flip the point once on Well in a demoralizing 0% blowout. If you remember, Houston dropped both Oasis and Lijiang Tower in week one against the Philadelphia Fusion (6-4), leading to a difficult loss that probably shouldn’t have happened.

The Outlaws have all the talent you could possibly want, so tightening this one area shouldn’t be too difficult for them. Expect huge things from Houston in stage two if coaches and players can iron out the kinks over the break.

Revisiting Apex once more

By this point, no one should be questioning the powerful mixed rosters of Overwatch League. They’ve proven that this is a brand new game, and that they’re here to win. But there’s still something unique about watching the very best Korean talent take the stage. Seeing London and New York settle in for the stage one title match instantly brought back vivid memories of Overwatch Apex, South Korea’s now-defunct professional league that was once the pinnacle of Overwatch esports.

Members from both teams competed in Apex. The core of New York used to be LW Blue’s roster, with London being made up of former C9 KongDoo and GC Busan players. As one might expect, these players still want to prove that they’re the best not only in the world, but amongst each other as well. After beating London in their final week five match, members of NYXL said that they “hope they can spank London again” in the title match, hyping up what was already a highly anticipated event.

London Spitfire Win
London Spitfire Win | Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

It didn’t quite play out that way in the end. London came back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat New York in five maps, giving us one of the best stories in Overwatch League’s short history. Seeing the boys in teal and orange celebrating in front of a huge crowd, with confetti raining down on them and “London Wins! Stage 1 Finals” on the display behind them reminded us why they’re there. It reminded us that we’re proud of these players, and that the roads they’ve travelled were some of the most difficult ones in all of esports.

As Overwatch League continues to mature, people will still compare mixed rosters to Korean rosters, but hopefully it’s with a more holistic eye. Seeing London fight New York to the bitter end simply felt good. It felt good seeing this first milestone achieved. Spitfire fans were cheering and hugging, much like fans of Lunatic-Hai or GC Busan in years past. Much like fans of the 2016 Chicago Cubs, whose World Series roster had some of the best talent from Central and South America. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, but that they’re playing for your city.

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