Melee Of The Main Tanks
It’s been such a jaw-dropping road to the final four of the May Melee that it almost feels surreal. Take this bracket back to 2018 or even 2019 and try to explain to someone how four bottom-of-the-barrel to mid-table teams, were now the best teams from each of their respective regions. How three teams with disastrously terrible beginnings to their franchises, and one who was never considered to be nothing more than a cheesy meme team, were now all in the running to be the champions of the first tournament of the 2021 season. It feels like a collective fever dream the Overwatch community has had to slowly come to grips with.
The franchise turnarounds we’re seeing might be ludicrous at first glance, but the more thought given to the journeys of this quartet of misfits at the May Melee, the easier the realisation becomes that this might just be the best outcome in the long run. We’re finally seeing the norm being shaken up; narratives and stories that have been built up for seasons on end are finally reaching the point of potentially paying off in explosive ways. The defending two-time champions are nowhere to be seen; they are stuck at the drawing board trying to figure out how they failed to reach their full potential and what can they do to bounce back. Last year’s runner up could not keep pace in their qualification series, and every other promising roster on paper fell to the preparation and willpower of hungrier and better teams.
These four teams; the Chengdu Hunters, Florida Mayhem, Shanghai Dragons, and Dallas Fuel, are the definitive best teams from APAC and North America. You can see the hunger; you can see the drive of the teams wanting to prove themselves and to win. In this tournament we’re getting huge, intertwining narratives that tug at the heartstrings and gives every fan of any team, something to cheer and root for. For the first time in a while, it really feels like whatever the outcome, it’s going to be a great tournament. Any one of these teams can win the May Melee, and it would genuinely feel like a satisfying victory, regardless of the victor.
A lot of that feeling of satisfaction is a little bit due to each team’s charm, their spunk, their franchise’s commitment to rebuilding rosters into being able to play at the top level. We can root for these teams because of the promise and excitement they bring to the table. But even with all that pizzazz and hype, every team in attendance at the May Melee has the same one true narrative behind them that makes the May Melee so compelling to watch. This is going to be the tournament, where every team’s story is intertwined with the individual journeys of each of their respective main tanks. This is the grandiose showcasing and crowning of the best main tank in the world.
THE REDEEMER – OGE
For the Florida Mayhem, they already had their resurgence back in 2020. That year this team who had never placed above second to last in the season standings or who never came close to even smelling a playoff match, levelled up big time. They finished as the runner ups in the first May Melee, and placed fourth in the 2020 Playoffs, falling just short of finishing the season at the Grand Finals weekend, but ending it by accomplishing more than they ever had in their franchise’s history. After the 2020 season, it was clear that gone were the days of the bullied Ronald McDonald-clad bottom feeders; the Mayhem were now the cool wunderkinds from the neon-drenched city of vice that were ready to absolutely pound on any unsuspecting opponents.
But amidst the shuffle of the off-season, even after having one of the greatest franchise turn arounds the Overwatch League had ever seen, the Mayhem committed to making a crucial change in their roster. For 2021, Florida decided they were going to take a chance on Min-seok "OGE" Son, a main tank with a less than highlighted career in Overwatch. At the time of his debut, he spent a lot of time being hyped up as one of the next big greats, a player who could potentially change the game with how good he was, and who could be this grade-A star player for any team that was lucky to have him. For the first two and a half years of his time in the Overwatch League, the results were anything but what was sold.
Now, a lot of OGE’s turmoil isn’t entirely his fault as a player. For both his time on the Dallas Fuel and LA Gladiators, he was a player stuck in the vortex of rosters who just could not get it together no matter how hard they tried. Both teams massively underperformed compared to the talent and expectations, but it wasn’t like OGE was free from any blame either. He received many criticisms about his inconsistency, and the times he didn't always play to his full individual potential, or his peaks were far too few and between many valleys. By the end of 2020, there was a big question on whether or not OGE was really even worth banking on, that maybe it’s time to stop buying into the hype.
That’s where OGE is as a player, and as a starter for the Florida Mayhem. This is his third, and quite possibly final chance at making the splash he was always credited at being able to make. He has the makings for success this year, he’s on an all-Korean roster, he’s in a system that’s proven to work, and he’s playing next to top-tier high calibre players. This is what’s at stake for OGE in the May Melee. Is he really this star that he was hyped up to be at the start of his career? Is the Florida Mayhem’s gamble going to pay off? Can OGE perform at the level he needs to against the best main tanks the game has to offer? Can OGE begin to redeem his career with the Mayhem by becoming the victors of the May Melee?
THE USURPER – GA9A
The Chengdu Hunters have become a Chinese super team, seemingly overnight. They started as a franchise that was known to take harder wins really only by cheesing their opponents or messing with the competition's heads by running unconventional compositions. They loved their Pharah; they loved their Wrecking Ball, but when push came to shove the Chengdu Hunters were hardly ever capable of playing the meta at a top-level. It severely hampered their success because while they were able to hypnotise teams by making them enter the trademarked "Chengdu Zone” if a team was prepared for whatever the Hunters had planned, they were more often than not toast.
Many of those issues came from a huge glaring hole in their roster, the fact that they really didn’t have a main tank who could perform well on the traditional main tank heroes. Now, everyone loves Ding "Ameng" Menghan, he’s a very likeable player, but for two years, Ameng had to be the starting main tank for a team when he really couldn’t play anything other than Wrecking Ball to save his life. He was great at the hero, in fact probably the best in the world for a long period of time, and the way he completely dismantled other teams certainly was the cause of many boomed locker room speeches. But put the man on Winston or Reinhardt, and all of a sudden, it’s endless pasta night at Olive Garden, because Chengdu could simply not rely on him to play anything else other than Wrecking Ball.
In 2021, however, the Hunters had declared enough was enough. In previous years they tried playing various other main tank players on the squad but were plagued with either visa issues or simply being unable to play at the Overwatch League level. So, this off-season the Hunters made the move to sign a rookie many considered to have the potential to be one of the greatest main tanks in the world, Qiu "GA9A" Jiaxin.
You see GA9A is no ordinary main tank, because believe it or not he’s basically the best if not one of the best at every main tank hero in the game. Crazy right? If it’s too unbelievable take it from Eren "Kenobi" Erkey, who has been casting Chinese Contenders since 2018 had this to say about GA9A’s capabilities:
“I think the biggest thing that separates GA9A from other main tanks is that he doesn't really have a weak spot in his hero pool. A lot of other main tanks are good at one/maybe two heroes at a high level and have a significant fall off with the rest of their hero pool. GA9A is the best ball in the world currently but is also most likely a top-five Winston. His Rein and Orisa are also very clean from his time in Contenders... He doesn't have a blind spot in his hero pool that significantly hinders a team to not play him. Think Shock who have to switch out Smurf and Super.”
For the Hunters, GA9A is the answer to everything their roster needed and more. He’s a playmaker on every hero, and unless a team prepared to take him on, he will make mincemeat out of players that don't devote resources to dealing with him. That’s what makes GA9A so much of a threat because he allowed what used to be a one-note cheese team incapable of flexibility, the ability to play strongly in any meta. By most accounts, he’s even usurped the once-beloved hamster king, at his own hero, something that Overwatch League caster Kevin "AVRL" Walker explains as well.
“Most people would have agreed that Ameng was regarded as the best Wrecking Ball player in previous years. I had the chance to cast Ga9a during his time on Team CC in Gauntlet Asia 2020 and could tell even from December that his Wrecking Ball was going to surpass Ameng's - an opinion I still hold presently. Ga9a currently is transformative for Chengdu's success where they now not only have a Ball player better than any other in the League, but also within the same player an ability to deliver other competent picks in the Main Tank role that the team had otherwise been missing.”
GA9A is the real deal, a true superstar, and a threat to anyone not paying attention. GA9A’s story this May Melee is proving that not only does he live up to the hype, but he is the hype, he is the representative for the next great era of Chinese talent, and the next era of main tank greatness.
"Ga9a at his peak embodies the finest attributes of both Guxue and Ameng within a single player. Chengdu have done extremely well in the off-season to assemble almost every single best-in-slot player to form a true Chinese super team."
- Kevin "AVRL" Walker
THE LEADER – FEARLESS
When Ki-hyo "Xzi" Jung retired just at the start of the season, many believed it would be the end of the Fuel’s dreams of being top contenders in the league. There would be no way that the Fuel could sign a capable enough hitscan player to slot into their Element Mystic reunion themed roster, and still be considered a truly great team. Neither of their two remaining DPS players could hold a candle to other players on traditional hitscan heroes like Mccree, Ashe, or Tracer, so surely the Dallas Fuel were basically S.O.L for at least the first stage of 2021.
Clearly, everyone was wrong, and the Dallas Fuel made it a point not only to overcome everyone’s initial expectations but to embarrass other teams while doing it. Perhaps the biggest story of the May Melee, is the impressive smackdown the Dallas Fuel dished in the qualifying bracket to make it to Hawaii. They clean-swept both the Shock and Houston Outlaws in impressive feats of willpower and teamwork. Neither of those two teams were ready for the amount of aggression and oppression the Dallas Fuel were able to serve amidst such a seemingly incomplete roster. No hitscan, no problem, said the Fuel as they qualified for the Melee in the most impressive way possible, and in doing so, became the favourites to take it overnight. Dallas had the team play, the synergy, and the unmatchable aggression to topple North America’s best, so now it’s time to see how they’ll fare against the best from APAC.
For the Fuel, this was the time to prove that their unique roster could create an environment where the team can perform at a high level regardless of the opponent or meta. But it was also time for their main tank, Eui-Seok "Fearless" Lee, to prove that he alone is the main tank that sits at the throne of Overwatch. Fearless is a record-breaker, a trendsetter, and a player with one of the most unique journeys in any esport. No one else comes close to Fearless's story, a man who went from promising upstart, to a disgraced member of the most losingest team in sports history. After a year-long stint in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber of his game's tier 2 scene, Fearless would then return to that same team he could never win a single match with and proceeded to completely decimate the competition with them. Not only did he become an integral member of Shanghai's monstrous resurgence in 2020, but also became one of the best players in the League because of it.
Now, he hopes to lead Dallas even further than he led Shanghai, with his former Element Mystic family by his side. For many, he is this season's main character, the anime protagonist everyone is cheering for. The redemption arc of the decade, Fearless's story holds no rival, and here at the May Melee, he can solidify his definitive place at the top by cementing the Fuel's dominance over the rest of the Overwatch League.
THE ENIGMA – FATE
For a player with such a storied history as Pan-seung "Fate" Koo, it’s more than jarring to see him approach the May Melee as a relatively unknown factor. Throughout the majority of his career, Fate was known to be a great player. On the LA Valiant in 2018, he was considered one of the best pieces of that roster, and if that season had Role Star awards, Fate would've certainly been in the running for obtaining one. A season later, when he transitioned over to the Florida Mayhem in 2020, he was again another bright spot for the roster in one of the most vibrant resurgence of a franchise that the Overwatch League has ever seen. Everybody loves Fate, he's a likeable player known for being a centrepiece in plucky, sometimes underdog-y type teams. He's a player with the talent to always give his teams the foundation they need, but that perception comes into question when people examine his move to the Shanghai Dragons for 2021.
To put it simply, Fate no longer had the expectation of simply being just a great player, but now he had to contend with the reputation of someone who is very seriously making the case to being considered an all-time great. Now, everyone is looking at Fate to be for Shanghai what Fearless was for them in 2020, a monstrous performer who was the only main tank to receive a Tank Role Star award that year, and integral to their dominance over the rest of the APAC region. So, far Fate fell short of meeting those expectations in the first couple of matches in the season.
They still qualified for the event in an incredible 6-map series against the Philadelphia Fusion, but whether or not Shanghai showed their peak form in that series remains to be seen. While Shanghai looks incredibly strong overall, OWL caster AVRL has more than a few doubts about Shanghai's newest starter.
“Fate is a little hard to gauge at this stage. The only undeniable statement that can be made is that he hasn't been able to fill the shoes left behind by Fearless, who at this stage may potentially be the best Main Tank overall in the League. There is a real concern that Fate may end up as the weakest of the four tank players currently at May Melee, but Shanghai as a team overall is still a strong contender regardless.”
This is what makes Fate an enigma. To fill the shoes of Fearless, he has to perform at that level, he has to showcase the ability to be that type of star for this team. It is an immense burden to bear, and an unenviable position to be in, but that is the reality of where Shanghai is now, and the level of talent that the league is showcasing this year. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and for fans and analysts alike, we're still waiting to see if Fate can live up to this mantra.
Alongside the rest of his main tank counterparts at the May Melee, this is really the tournament that will solidify who is the favourite team for the rest of the season. A lot of the battle resides in the main tank's performance, and the type of magic they'll be able to pull off with an impeccably timed Earthshatter or an impressive juggling display with a masterful Primal Rage. Will Fearless pull off the tournament arc worthy of the main character? Can GA9A show the world the type of performance befitting of the next generation of main tank greatness? Will OGE prove that he's everything the hype around him promised and more? Is Fate going to be able to reach those incredibly high expectations left by one of the league's biggest stars? Only time will tell once the May Melee concludes, but regardless of the results, this tournament will most certainly be remembered as legendary battle between the game's newest line of icons.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment