An audition for the Overwatch League.
The Overwatch League was announced at Blizzcon 2016, and one of its biggest draws was the concept of the Path to Pro. If you grind it out and work hard, you could become the next superstar, a player who gets to travel city to city on a brand-new endeavour that could change the landscape of the entire esports industry. Following that announcement, fans of competitive Overwatch could be nothing but hopeful at the prospects of such a game-changing opportunity, and while they waited, they were treated to a plethora of games and tournaments to satisfy their hunger for high-octane Overwatch. But amidst the buzz around Contenders, APEX, and APAC, there was one tournament that year that really showcased the desire, drive, and tension surrounding trying to make it to the Overwatch League, and which simultaneously served as a strong blueprint for what fans could expect to experience for the Overwatch League.
A lot of the tournaments in 2017 are historic in their own right, and there’s nothing to be taken away from them, but the energy and hype surrounding the qualifiers was nothing short of cosmic. In Sydney, Katowice, Shanghai, and Santa Monica we saw teams from all over the world play their absolute hearts out with not only the passion of their home nations but the passion of wanting to reach the promised land of Overwatch esports. Everything from the individual stage design, to the crowds, and game themselves, all brought together this incredible one-of-a-kind experience. The effect of the home crowd was beyond infectious and really helped sell the idea that a global esports league could work tremendously.
The Qualifiers are Mandatory Viewing
You have two options when rewatching the World Cup. You can watch the qualifiers, or you can skip out on some incredibly fun Overwatch. Revisiting the dive meta from 2017 shows that dive was a pretty fun meta to watch. Tracer and Genji are fun heroes to spectate, and when someone lands a fight winning pulse bomb or sushi chefs their way through 6 players, it’s a spectacle.
Sure, enough there are a lot of teams that didn’t make it to Blizzcon but who definitely deserve to have their matches viewed and acknowledged. Below are some of the matches featuring some of the best games between teams and players who dominated or played out of their minds against some of the top talent in Overwatch at the time.
Denmark is a team filled with talented players, who had to prove themselves against a team many considered to be the best in the west. Essentially France just decided to field the Rogue roster and Denmark had its squad of talented rookies. This was a match Denmark had to win against them in order to place out of the group and continue the fight for Blizzcon. The series is crazy good. Map 1 alone, was a ridiculous 8-7 grind on Hollywood, where both teams go absolutely nuts on their attacks. This is a match where you can feel the determination, and it is intense. Standouts and Overwatch staples like Kragie, Fischer, Krytox, and Kellex all put on heartfelt performances, and they absolutely brought it in the classic triple DPS/dive matchup.
In the 2016 World Cup, one small story that arose from the event was the introduction of Mickie, a Thai player who was invited onto the prestigious Team Envy and who went on to win the first season of OGN’s APEX with his new squad. Now he’s back and has to lead Thailand to a win against the dominant China, in front of their home crowd. To paint the picture, China were freaks in this qualifier. When Thailand went up against them, China was on a 12-map win streak, and seemed utterly unbeatable. And while Thailand couldn’t close the gap, they certainly made China work for the win. There’s plenty of highlights to watch from the Chinese squad, and it paints a good picture to see how mechanically good those players were at the time. You might notice that some of those players go on to be a part of the season 1 Shanghai Dragons, which only makes the story of these players even more confusing, but if this was a fluke performance coming out from these players, what a fluke it was. Most importantly, you get to see a young Eileen pre- Guangzhou Charge, and his Genji is absolutely monstrous. His individual performance on the hero is disgusting, and it kind of makes you sad we don’t get to see more of it in the Overwatch League.
The first playoff game sees the majority of the Misfits core go up against the best players from Spain. If you’re a fan of ‘classic’ Overwatch, this is a match the highlights a lot of what made a lot of the Swedish player's such fan favourites at the time. Unfortunately, their collective legacy gets muddled when they become the Florida Mayhem, but if you’re looking to see appreciation for a forgotten roster, this is the match to do so. You get greatest hits like the Cwoosh Genji, Tviq pop-off moments, a stellar Chipshajen performance on Zenyatta, and Reinforce as the team’s main tank. For the Spaniards, HarryHook and Neptuno are standout performers, but the team doesn’t pull it together as much as they could have. Not for lack of trying, but Sweden’s insane ability to clutch out moments at the last second is a staple of the series.
It’s the hometown heroes vs a surprising 1st seed Japan. Japan is a country you don’t hear much about outside of fighting games in esports and like DoA says in his cast, this would one of the few times we get to see a Japanese team play in an FPS game. This squad was able to play around each other so well in the group stage, they were able to snag the first seed and were a formidable team in the dive matchup. Their roster had tons of personality and skill, they’re just fun to watch and you want to see them succeed. Unfortunately, they have to fight against the Australian team and the Australian crowd, both who put on impressive performances against Japan. For Australia, it’s the performances of Trill, ieatuup, and Aetar that really make the team a joy to watch. For Japan, it’s the Ta1yo/Aktm dps duo that gives the team a lot of their personality. Both teams are desperate to make it to Blizzcon, and it’s that energy that really makes this series special.
Dread it. Run from it. South Korea 4-0’s all the same. Remember in the Shanghai qualifier when China won 12 maps in a row. Well, collectively the enemy team scored 10 points against China in their games throughout the weekend. Still a dominant performance, but the match against Thailand proved to be a lot closer than the score let on. Throughout their weekend in Katowice, South Korea lost only two total points to an enemy team, two DIFFERENT TEAMS. There were two matches where the enemy team did not score a single point against South Korea. The amount of dumpstering South Korea did during the Katowice qualifier is surprisingly not remembered enough, maybe because they were expected to be dominant, but WOW was no one else even close. It’s actually really disgusting, because they literally did whatever they want, ran whatever they want, and basically played like a 6-stack in quick play. This is where the team lets Flow3r play mystery heroes and everyone else just plays their best heroes for fun, regardless of the meta. It is not even close in any match, but what else is better than Jehong on Ana, Saebyeolbe on Tracer, Zunba on Zarya, and Flow3r on whatever he wants it doesn’t matter.
This is the decider match for the top seed in Group F, to see who gets to lose to South Korea. Russia themselves were a solid team, with Shadowburn, Sharyk, Txao, and Mistakes all being strong performers and talented players. But they were just not enough to beat Canada, who took the top spot against them in a decider match after this one’s 2-2 finish. This match is a break from the weird Bizzaro World Group E where South Korea is smurfing throughout. Both teams play each other close, and each put on some impressive moments. Canada’s roster hosts a lot of fan favourites, however. XQC and Surefour were, to say the least, two of the most popular Overwatch players of all-time outside of Seagull, and they round out the roster with a lot of great individual moments. A solid match with a nail biter decider on Oasis.
Santa Monica Qualifier
For Team USA, 2017 was a redemption year. 2016 was a year they were supposed to dominate, they had the best players in the world after all. Lead by Seagull they should’ve gone all the way to the gold medal. But after a 1-2 punch from Russia in the group stage and South Korea in the quarterfinals, many USA fans had to get a taste of reality. But this year would be the one where USA could take on the best nations in the world, and at the home qualifier, it seemed like that would be the case. With an all-star roster of players from the best teams in NA, this time the USA could beat anyone. Jake and Sinatraa proved to be the young solid talent that could represent the fire and exuberance of the squad. Surrounding them would be a team of veterans whose skill was some of the best in the world. For their group stage, they only lost one map to Taiwan and everything else had been a decisive victory. So, winning against Germany was a must for the USA in front of the home crowd. They certainly put on the plays, Jake showed his versatility and Sinatraa made his name known for his tracer and Zarya play. The team looks like they’re having fun, and the crowd feels it too, as the USA energy is just unparalleled. But Germany were no slouches. With the legendary INTERNHULK leading and solid DPS play from cRNKz and Nesh, Germany puts on a good performance against a USA team that seemed destined to win.
In 2016 the UK roster was… to not be too rude but a joke. It was a roster that did not make any sense on paper, much to the same vain as Canada that year. But this time around, the boys from across the pond built a roster that was capable of melting the competition. Their playstyle? Just a couple of lads having a laugh. They play so casually but also so deadly, everyone on the team pulls their weight. Unlike the U.S they didn’t drop a map this qualifier, and their play should’ve highlighted a strong run in the Blizzcon bracket. Plus, you get to see Kruise on Genji, which was definitely an era for European Overwatch. Overall, Taiwan doesn’t get the chance to put up too much of a fight, but it’s still a solid match to watch to close out this qualifier.
Images via OWL