History is doomed to repeat itself. Time is a flat circle after all.
The 2020 Overwatch League playoffs have been exciting for a number of reasons. Not only have we shaken one of the core pillars of the game, but the results have been surprising, to say the least. However, we can’t help but feel like we’ve been here before. Like standing at the end of a long tunnel, many of the sounds and stories from playoffs past have resurfaced for the 2020 Overwatch League playoffs.
An unsuspecting team in the regular season makes a dangerous playoff run. Not only do upsets happen, but playoffs tend to be where the biggest ones take place. Two titans, that have far and away been the best teams in the regular season, wait to battle assumedly in the grand finals, but will that match live up to expectations?
From The Shadows
Year on year, season on season, Overwatch sees a fresh new face enter the playoffs discussion in a big way right as playoffs begin to take shape. The inaugural season saw the London Spitfire return to form right as the season was about to close. This was a team that opened 2018 off with an impressive Stage 1 victory over the New York Excelsior, but past that point trended downwards.
By Stage 3, this was a team that nearly locked into the playoffs, but with their consistency drawn into question, many pundits worried about their chances - and by the time playoffs came around, it was all but a formality. Few people saw potential in this roster as they stumbled into the playoffs, but they rallied and pulled off one of the most memorable runs in Overwatch League history and were crowned inaugural champions.
2019 was the year of GOATS for the most part, but let’s not forget the introduction of Role Lock as the regular season came to a close. This put a team like New York on their backfoot. This raised some questions about how well the Excelsior would do in the playoffs. Yes, this was the team that had been consistent all season, but was that to continue with the new playoff patch, or would they stay their current course and disappoint? Fate would have it that the New York Excelsior would take home a strong third-place finish behind the Vancouver Titans, something many people forget when looking at the narrative around New York’s historical playoff appearances.
Now, 2020 has not wrapped up just yet, but we have already seen massive upticks in performance when compared to the regular season. Some point towards the Philadelphia Fusion looking like the favourites for North America, but the Washington Justice’s climb from the depths of obscurity and despair has been impressive. They advanced through the play-ins with ease, and even managed to eliminate one of North America’s darlings, the Paris Eternal. A victory like that is no easy feat, but the Justice made it look like busywork.
Not only do upsets happen, but playoffs tend to be where the biggest ones take place, and year on year the Overwatch League playoffs come packed full of memorable upsets. During 2018’s inaugural Overwatch League season playoffs, how can you not look at the London Spitfire again as a team that defied the odds and the expectations of the experts? However, they weren’t the only team to do so. On the opposite side of the bracket you have the Philadelphia Fusion, a team that deserved to be in the playoffs and among the top teams, no doubting that, but to beat the 2018 New York Excelsior? Well, that was not as expected.
Season two stepped off the line with a massive upset as the San Francisco Shock stole defeat from the clutches of victory against the Atlanta Reign. Going the distance, all five maps, down to the last team fight, the Shock battled against an Atlanta Reign squad who admittedly took time during Stage 4 to better prepare for the final. Some say that this was the wake-up call that led to the Shock’s legendary lower bracket run all the way to the grand finals. While it’s difficult to ignore how favoured the Shock were as the final team fight began to wind down, the fact that Atlanta could compete with such a strong team was impressive in and of itself.
Now we come to 2020, and it’s difficult to not touch on the upset of the year again - the Washington Justice’s victory and subsequent elimination of the Paris Eternal. Again, this was a team that entered the 2020 playoffs with four total wins, and you can count their number of wins on one hand. They managed to beat a consistent top-four team and someone who ended up not only beating the San Francisco Shock, but the Philadelphia Fusion, for the Summer Showdown title. This easily goes up on the biggest upsets in history board, but again, it happens in the playoffs just like it does in every season. No, to be fair, not every season has such big upsets, but every season has that one match that no one expects or sees coming. Speaking of, we also need to touch on the repeated tone grand finals and how it looks to repeat itself this year.
The Overwatch League are due for a strong grand final. Something to awe the crowd and cap off an exciting year of Overwatch. It seems like each year we have firm favourites and colourful narratives heading into the finals, but end up with a lacklustre finish. 2018 had teams like New York Excelsior towering above the Overwatch League - but missed the finals. This gave us two days worth of watching the London Spitfire frankly dominate the Philadelphia Fusion. After game one, it felt like a foregone conclusion that London were going to rock back up to the Barclays Center and handle business. Convincing is a nice way to frame it, but stepping back for a moment, the finals were a bit boring.
2019 was no different. We entered the playoffs with dream matches in mind, and we did get our wish. All season long it was a battle for the throne on the top of Mt. Overwatch - and that battle was a two-horse race. The San Francisco Shock looked unmatched, and the Vancouver Titans running on the core of RunAway looked unbeatable. With the Shock exiting the upper bracket early, we nearly didn’t get to see such an important narrative take shape. However we did get to see the trilogy take place, the only problem with that was Vancouver’s form in the final. What was poised to be one of the best matches in Overwatch history, turned into a brutal beatdown. The Shock had more versatility, being able to call upon both Bastion and their double-shield Doomfist compositions, and the Titans couldn’t compete. Once again, another dull finale.
Now this year, it’s no one’s fault, but the COVID-19 pandemic has but some odd barriers in place. The league has been split down the middle between two regions, North America and Asia. So seeing true international competition was always going to be hard with COVID, but somehow - and credit to them - the Overwatch League has found a solution. The top two seeds from both regions will head to Asia to compete for the 2020 title, and just like last year, we have some dream matches on our list.
All season long teams like the Shanghai Dragons, the San Francisco Shock, and the Philadelphia Fusion have all been standout performers. The Dragons stand as the crowned kings of Asia, San Francisco not only are the defending Overwatch League champions but they’ve also won tournaments this year, and have been the best team in North America for some time. And then you’ve got the consistent team that has just missed their first big win with the Fusion. First, it would be a shame not to see these teams compete, but it also raises the question; with all of the concern around COVID, the travel considerations made for the North American teams to travel to Asia, on top of the practice variables, things don’t seem too promising when it comes to the grand finals this year. This looks like another year of build-up with little to no payoff, just like all the years that came before it.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment