What are the ingredients to a perfect match and where can we find them?
Every great match in Overwatch has patterns that can be boiled down like ingredients in a stew. Whether it is the Shanghai Dragons overcoming a 3 map deficit and reverse sweeping the Seoul Dynasty to capture the May Melee title or the triumphant return of the San Francisco Shock after taking an early loss in their 2019 playoff victory, these narratives leave a trail of crumbs. If you follow them, you can begin to build a literal recipe for success. This is how you would cook the greatest Overwatch League match of all time.
“Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one's life.” - Anthony Bourdain
Long term team narratives are the heart of the story, just like the idea of basic meat and potatoes. These can be as simple as styles showing themselves or as massive as giant winning streaks across numerous tournaments. Take Lunatic-Hai’s legendary run through OGN’s Overwatch APEX. Not only did they evolve past their streak of second-place finishes, but they also stand as the only team to ever defend their title in the APEX era. This narrative followed them into the Overwatch League and gave their spiritual successor, the Seoul Dynasty, massive shoes to fill. The fact that the Dynasty did not meet those expectations doesn’t mean the narrative failed, it’s just the end to the story and some stories end sadly
Consider the legend of the RunAway core, the team that went from nothing, who failed to take home an APEX title, to achieving everything South Korea had to offer them years later. The same core who made up the dominant 2019 Vancouver Titans. Again, ending in unfortunate circumstances, but that doesn’t take anything away from them or their memorable matches.
Drama is the reason, the spice, the “why should I care about this match?” While it carries a negative connotation of messy, childish name-calling, drama lies at the heart of every good story. This could be as flimsy a silly showmanship or as cutting as an intense rivalry or betrayal. The stakes of a match also inherently cause drama or add spice to the dish. It gives meaning to the outcome. What are the teams playing for? One big problem with the original stage playoff format from season one and season two was that there was too little in terms of stakes. Sure, the players are playing for money, but does that move them or is it the idea of competition, to be the best?
This is why the new monthly tournament system is superior. It is similar in ways to the stage playoffs, but it adds real, tangible stakes in the form of added regular-season wins. However, a match can never be too hot, meaning it can never have too much drama, but it can be underseasoned. Consider the 2018 Overwatch League grand final between the London Spitfire and the Philadelphia Fusion. This match was the shocking conclusion to a wild playoff bracket, but it was divided over two days and multiple best-of-fives. The excitement was high going into day one, but by the end, the Spitfire decisively beat the Fusion. Day 2 became merely a formality. Thankfully this match had more to offer but could have easily been cast aside as being flat and tasteless, like a meal underseasoned.
“To cook is to insist that every hunger is a potential occasion, not just for creating something delicious but for that quality of cultural experience that comes when the flame has moved to high, butter is being browned into a sauce.” - Susan Kime
Condiments are multiplicative, they often don’t make a dish but enhance it. Just like in cooking, they are not needed and only serve to aid the match to become better. Generally speaking, you cannot have a great match just made from condiments alone. However, to craft the perfect match, you’re going to need some help.
One of these condiments is the energy of a match. It is a nice seasoning to add but won’t make the perfect match alone. It gives us moments of awe, moments of pause, to rethink the very mechanics of the game, and many times commentators are the vehicle for those amazing moments. Energy combined with a strong base of narrative can make a match. For example, take the 2016 Atlantic Showdown semifinals between Team EnVyUs and Rogue.
You have a team that is on a massive winning streak, on the other you have a promising upstart team looking to overthrow the kings. Your long term narratives are set, but the stakes aren’t aged all that well. After all this is the semifinal, not the creme de la creme. Of course, that still means something, it still has some drama, but this match was complemented with one of the most memorable moments in Overwatch history. Mitch "Uber" Leslie’s call as the final submap of Lijiang Tower counts down and is the perfect condiment to lift the flavour of this match. Crowds also add a massive amount of flavour to a match and as the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, crowds are a source of that energy.
Generally speaking, a close match, on its own merit is a condiment. Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, the Toilet Bowl during Week 3 of Overwatch League’s 2020 season between the Boston Uprising and the Houston Outlaws was memorable, but it was junk food. You don’t need stakes, you don’t even need energy, you’ve got such a close match that it demands you pay attention. Matches like these are often like dessert; you turn your brain off, disregard the scale, and enjoy. You remember all the reverse sweeps and momentum shifts that made you rise out of your chair. They didn’t need stakes to make you move, it was just an enclosed, episodic narrative that got you to react in a powerful way.
Memorable plays act as the cherry on top of our metaphorical dish. They not only are a nice garnish but they add a pop colour. They are something we can always call back to and remember, and from that, we can build out the rest of the match in our mind’s eye. Take Daniel "dafran" Francesca’s famous Graviton Surge off the top of Hollywood Point A, you know the play, and that helps contextualize the match. When memorable moments are most effective are alongside the base, must-have ingredients. We all remember Park "Profit" Joon-yeong’s 5k from the 2018 grand finals on Volskaya. You have the base foundation of drama and stakes, but it’s highlighted by this memorable play from Profit. That pop of red from the cherry brings all the ingredients together and makes the meal perfect.
These are the individual pieces to make the greatest Overwatch League match of all time and in a strange way, the COVID-19 pandemic has put us in position to have a fantastic meal to end 2020. We have two giants, separated by sickness and divisions, that now have the possibility to face one another in the playoffs to decide who is the best. At one point the worst franchise in the league battling the current greatest, the Shanghai Dragons and the San Francisco Shock. Sitting across the plate from them are teams like the Seoul Dynasty, the Florida Mayhem, the Philadelphia Fusion, and the New York Excelsior, who all now get to test themselves in this competitive jambalaya. Jaded or not from this year’s structural changes, we could be on the precipice of history, we could witness the greatest match to close out the year.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment and OGN