Can The Charge Escape The Overwatch League Cellar?
"Storybook" isn't exactly how you'd describe the Guangzhou Charge. They've floundered around on the obscure outskirts of the Overwatch League's eastern region for the better part of two seasons. However, this year the fuzes have been blown and the game has been flipped on its head with the advent of Overwatch 2. Is this the year the Charge can finally regain the spotlight they briefly held? Are the questions arising around promising DPS ace Choi "ChoiSehwan" Se-hwan a blessing or a curse? And can Guangzhou finally escape its narrative death sentence?
We all remember the Charge's summer run during the 2020 Overwatch League season. How could you not? Ou "Eileen" Yiliang having the performance of a lifetime on Genji, Nam "Cr0ng" Ki-cheol on his signature pick of Sigma, their battle against Shanghai, it was lightning in a bottle—and then some. Yet, past that point, when was the last time the Guangzhou Charge were memorable? Their close calls and near misses of 2021? No one, not the fans, the league or the Charge themselves wants that to be the case.
Like it or not this is the reality for the Charge. They had their lightning strike, their masterstroke of genius and now they've been washed away into the doldrums of the bottom of the standings. Again, let's not mince words; the 2021 Guangzhou Charge had exactly one stage where they won more than a single game—and that was also the season when Los Angeles Valiant went winless. Something has to change.
So what does the Charge do?
This clip of Brad Pitt from Money Ball resonates well with the Guangzhou Charge as they head into this season. While the preamble is more about replacing a baseball player and the impacts of budget constraints, the heart of the message cuts through; tradition bends for innovation and creativity.
"If we play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there."
To translate that to the esports crowd; strategically speaking, mimicry is death. If you're blindly or half-heartedly looking at the top of the standings and attempting to mirror what is working for a different team you might as well toss in the towel. Consider this, if we lift that skeleton and bring it into Overwatch does the message change?
"If we play like the Dragons in here, then we will lose to the Dragons out there."
Has that ever changed?
During the 2019 Overwatch League season teams were lambasted for daring to try to find their style in what was viewed to be a strict and rigid metagame. Look at the success of Sombra that season, look at the relative success of the Hunters, and look at who won stage 3 and with what strategy.
Similarly, look at how the 2021 Dallas Fuel was measured at the start of the season. With Jung "Xzi" Ki-hyo out of the picture shortly before the season started, the Fuel were assumed to eventually take on water at some point in the season and flounder without their dedicated hitscan DPS. The Dallas Fuel took a liability and flipped it like a table. Head coach Yun "RUSH" Hee-won found a way for the Fuel to not only avoid hitscan but thrust a new composition into the strategic zeitgeist.
Want to claim luck or any other confounded excuses? Take a look at Mike "Packing10" Szklanny tenure with the Los Angeles Valiant and how they managed to find success. We dare you to look at Xingrui "RUI" Wang's career with the Chengdu Hunters and where their stars first cut their teeth. And for good measure let's gather around the campfire, snuggle up in our warm and cosy blankets and remember a little team called Meta Athena, not only for their goofy Mei boosts but for how they used their resources.
Mimicry is death and what is viewed as rigid tends to bend eventually.
So what does the 2022 Charge offer? The answer lies in the subtext.
You cannot deny Chae "Develop" Rak-hoon and He "Molly" Chengzhi their rings. The Shanghai Dragons took a chance on them, and while neither saw the stage all that much, that vote of confidence is enough to invest. Past that looking at Develop's history with Talon Esports and Molly's own in China, that only should reinforce how promising they are.
Then you look at Cr0ng's history as a DPS player before swapping to tank and how that might positively impact his play coming into Overwatch 2. You start to remember the subtle flexibility that Eileen has brought to the table, the safety Molly has showcased his entire career, and you begin to remember that the Guangzhou Charge isn't lacking in talent—it's been the vision.
Let's for a moment assume they can't field ChoiSehwan, be it due to his illness or the logistics that come with it, what does the 2022 Guangzhou Charge have under the hood? They have a playmaking tank, with two DPS more than capable of picking up the slack, and a support duo to match. If there is a metagame they can't grasp, buck the trend and power through with a coordinative Dive. Let Cr0ng have a crack at the new Doomfist, give Eileen his Genji, and put the pressure on the enemy.
The Charge has to meet themselves where they are, not where they wished they were
If expectations are low because of Guangzhou's poor performances in the past—good.
Overwatch 2 is a new game entirely. Resets are great for narratives like this.
If there is a strategy the Charge can't play—good.
Then Guangzhou can try and tunnel in on something new.
If ChoiSehwan, for whatever reason, cannot play—good.
It'll force them to focus on what their roster can do.
Much like the threads left by the Fuel, the Charge have a way forward. It isn't easy, but playing in a global esports league in the most competitive region isn't either. Would the 2021 Fuel be as good, would they have made the same calls if they had Xzi to rely on? Rhetorical as that may be, it makes you think. Perhaps when teams are challenged, when they are pushed to the brink, innovation is the only thing that reaches out like a life persevere thrown to castaways.
"Storybook" isn't exactly how you'd hope the Guangzhou Charge to play in 2022. Exposition, rising action, falling action, and back into obscurity, you do not want the Charge to be the same old story. The same copy and paste material that earned them relatively little through the Overwatch 1 era. Through their possible liability, they have a wonderful opportunity to transmute that into a bold strength in a fresh landscape with Overwatch 2.
Rung by rung, they can wield those aspects to heave themselves out of the Overwatch League gutters and into the forefront of the most competitive region in the world. They hold the pen to their storybook, ultimately it is their call whether this ends up happily ever after or a tragic tale of what could have been.
Not too many times can you battle for a first and they are pointing for upsets. "Cloaked under the radar, piloting a style all their own, the Guangzhou Charge capture the first stage title in Overwatch 2," it's got a nice ring to it, no? A healthy dose of creativity and style pave the way forward for the Guangzhou Charge.
And come May 5, it is time to write, they're primed to climb because the Charge faces a future most sublime.