Pharah Reigns From Above - A Review Of OWL’s Countdown Cup Meta
How wrong we all were. The Countdown Cup hero pool was meant to bring balance to the Overwatch League’s season standings, not destroy it. What was said to be a fairly straightforward metagame read from pundits and experts alike has left the Overwatch League community gobsmacked and scrambling as the 2021 season begins to wind down.
As franchises make last-ditch adaptations to keep their playoff dreams alive, the metagame of the Countdown Cup has swept the leg’s of the league and caused some earth-shattering upsets. This is a review, albeit far too early, of the Overwatch League’s Countdown Cup metagame, where it’s going, and who is leading it.
To set the stage, with Lucio, Sigma, Ashe and Echo being removed thanks to the Countdown Cup’s hero pool, many experts rightly assumed that a fast-paced composition with Tracer, Sombra, and Wrecking Ball would be the defacto pick for the majority of teams regardless of region. Additionally, with the quick turnaround from the Summer Showdown, which also featured an eerily similar composition, it seemed incredibly likely that the large majority of matches played would feature something along those lines.
However, the reality of the situation was much more diverse.
With the removal of Echo, teams that wanted a proactive DPS duo would have to find another mobile hero with consistent burst damage potential. Many obviously pointed towards Pharah but held reservations that the hero would be too slow tempo. Sombra was another option that others pointed towards, one that fit stylistically and played to a similar tempo, but wouldn’t provide the same lethality.
Ultimately, it seems as though a compromise has been made from certain teams regarding our favourite justice dealing DPS pick.
While historically she has been used to be more poke oriented, teams like the Shanghai Dragons and the Paris Eternal are playing incredibly aggressive Pharah positions to circumvent that loss of direct damage potential—and it’s working quite well.
Both Nikolai "Naga" Dereli and 2020 Overwatch League MVP Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun have been standout in their performances on Pharah throughout the start of the Countdown Cup—and that likely won’t see change.
Pharah, as a DPS pick, has not only been shown to be viable but has been slowly becoming a win condition on her own merits, even outside of her ultimate. With Ashe out of the picture, Solider: 76 has driven a wedge in between select teams looking for a consistent damage turret, and on top of that, McCree has become a viable threat to both more flank oriented DPS heroes as well as the prevailing main tank in Wrecking Ball. However, as correct as most of the metagame predictions have been, for the most part, there was a massive blind spot when reviewing the hero pool; a slower tempo composition is just as viable.
The community correctly assumed the Dive centric compositions rotating around Wrecking Ball would comprise the majority of what was being played throughout the Countdown Cup, however, Orisa based compositions were nearly completely ruled out. Not only have they found success, but these bunker-esq compositions have also been a thorn in the side of many teams attempting to play more mobile styles.
Being able to consistently find value with Orisa’s Halt to control the movement of heroes like Wrecking Ball makes the approach of the Dive team incredibly difficult and often results in either an early kill or valuable resources burned. On top of this, Orisa is difficult to just engage into and kill straight away. With Fortify giving 40% damage reduction on top of her inherent armour, Orisa is not simply going to fall over to a Sombra or Tracer. This is enough of a shift to also pivot the remaining five other picks as well.
If the composition cannot go fast, due to the removal of Lucio, then it can go together. With Zenyatta’s fragility and low healing output, he’s usually rotated out for a Baptiste who can provide more on-demand healing as well as a defensive cooldown in Immortality Field. Pair this off with a Brigitte and a McCree or Torbjörn and you’ve got an incredibly defensive team composition with no strong target to engage on to. Teams like the Atlanta Reign and the Seoul Dynasty have been early leaders in this style—and have found massive success with both team’s jumping out to an early 2-0 start to the Countdown Cup.
In response to this slower composition, Camp Dive has begun to rotate out one of their DPS for Hanzo to not only pressure the enemy Orisa’s shield, but to also prey on how congested the composition tends to play. This has proven to be an effective band-aid fix, but will he be as effective as we venture deep into the Countdown Cup, or will more drastic measures need to be taken?
As innocuous as the Countdown Cup was supposed to be, the Overwatch League is not slowing down in terms of adaptations. As the weeks progress, teams will begin to refine their style, which will make preparation much direct. Now that everyone is quickly showing their initial hands, teams can explore counter compositions that can leverage some kind of advantage moving forward. As for what the future holds for the Overwatch League’s metagame, things still look fast - just with a slightly different spearhead.
Taking a page out of the New York Excelsior’s book, many teams - especially in the West - have struggled to find comfortability on the Wrecking Ball, let alone any success. Slotting in a Winston clears the textbook of Wrecking Ball specific tech off the table and still allows the team a similar pace.
As for possible counters for the slower, Orisa based composition, don’t be shocked to see teams later this month attempt to specifically target the Orisa with some form of Reinhardt rush-down. Picture something that wants to get in close and brawl right on top of the supports. Heroes like McCree, Reaper, even a Mei feels like a solid step in the right direction for team’s preparing to stomp out the Orisa variant.
And as the Overwatch League standings continue to shift and teams like the Shanghai Dragons and Washington Justice falter, it begs the question; just how concerned should we be about the playoffs? Will the same familiar faces find themselves a ticket to Hawai’i?
Rest assured things will stabilize as the Countdown Cup continues and provide us with an incredibly climactic ending to the 2021 Overwatch League regular season.