Something just doesn’t seem right with OWL teams who peak in the summer.
With the final four teams locked in for the 2020 Overwatch League playoffs, two promising teams both mysteriously met their end much earlier than we’d expect. The Guangzhou Charge and the Paris Eternal each had their playoff hopes dashed in disappointing fashion, after both being crowned Summer champions in their respective regions.
With these results in mind, a strange trend has begun to show itself; during every single Overwatch League season, an unlikely team will over-perform in the Summer but unceremoniously exit the playoffs just months later. As an ode to esports past, this is what we’re dubbing the “Summer Curse.”
To start, we have to account for some schedule shifting. The inaugural season started a month earlier than our two other seasons. To account for that, we’ll put the start date as close as we can to the summer solstice for all seasons measured as to have some continuity.
On June 17, 2018, the Los Angeles Valiant won the Overwatch League Stage 4 Playoffs over the favourites, the New York Excelsior. For context, New York finished second during Stage 1 and won the playoff titles for Stage 2 and 3. On the other hand, this was only the Valiant’s second appearance in a playoff scenario.
Their first was, oddly enough, against the New York Excelsior in Stage 3 where they were immediately sent packing with a 0-3 decision. The Stage 4 result was a massive upset at the time, and raised some health suspicion to the league as it headed into its first seasonal playoff race. The NYXL were fallible, they were proven to be mortal, and the Valiant looked to actually be a threat to the playoffs not only due to the added practice time their quarterfinals-bye granted them, but mechanically within the metagame as well. There, the Valiant would be upset by the eventual champions, the London Spitfire, in their first-round in the playoffs, 0-2.
On July 14, 2019, the Shanghai Dragons would go from the worst team in the league, just a year prior, to Stage 3 champions as they put away the San Francisco Shock 4-3. In a battle of styles, Shanghai piloted their own DPS heavy compositions against the Shock’s heavy tank and support lineup. In the end, the Shock was brought to kneel, adopting Shangai’s composition in the final few maps of the series. However, that wasn’t the only top team that was slumped over, lifeless, underneath Dragon’s aggressive style.
Looking back at their Stage 3 title run, they had to best both the New York Excelsior and the Vancouver Titans before even thinking about the grand finals. To say this was unexpected was an understatement. For context, Shanghai narrowly squeaked into the Stage 3 playoffs as the eighth seed, San Francisco was the fourth seed, NYXL was first, and Vancouver were the second seed. However, per the curse, the Dragons then failed to make it through the Play-In qualifiers, losing to the London Spitfire in the semifinals.
2020 gave us the Summer Showdown, wherein both the Guangzhou Charge and the Paris Eternal both were crowned champions of their respective regions. The Charge toppled the Dragons, while the Eternal beat the Shock and the Fusion to reach the top. This is where the trend takes a turn. While 2018 and 2019 had its summer champions as massive underdog stories, Paris and Guangzhou weren't that far off the front of the pack domestically.
Paris had surprised people coming into this season with their mixed roster featuring some of the same players from their disappointing 2019 debut, a star player unable to play for half the season, and a mostly South Korean coaching staff. Their month by month success was more surprising than their summer success. Coming into July, Paris was easily one of the top three teams in North America, and there were some arguments to be made about if, in this particular patch, they could punch above their weight.
Guangzhou, on the other hand, were also surprising in different ways. The team was performing well, but the Summer Showdown revealed another side to Chinese DPS player Ou "Eileen" Yiliang. Known for his projectile DPS heroes like Genji and Pharah, Eileen showcased much more flexibility as their season with Shanghai reached the deep end. Again, the unexpected part here was this assumed level up, not that they weren't within striking distance of the Dragons. Throughout most of the regular season, the Guangzhou Charge were considered to be a top performer in the Asia region.
Both Paris and Guangzhou were good, however, in the Summer they were great.
However, the Eternal would bottom out during the 2020 playoffs, losing to the Atlanta Reign and the Washington Justice. While in Asia, the Charge would be sent home by way of the Seoul Dynasty and the New York Excelsior. Again, throughout this and seasons previous we find ourself repeating the same line; "an unlikely team over-performs in the Summer, but unceremoniously exits the playoffs just months later."
Coincidence, or a curse?
It’s funny how Blizzard Entertainment esports titles somehow have an affinity to latching onto the seasons. StarCraft: Brood War had the OnGameNet Starleague’s (OSL) “Legend of the Fall” myth that stated that player of a specific playable race would end up winning in the autumn months, and Overwatch looks to be continuing that trend in a different way.
Now if we’re being rational, we can’t ignore the impact of Overwatch’s patches and how these results flank the playoff patch that inevitably happens each and every season. Is this the result of Overwatch’s difficulty reeling in the metagame, or is there some otherworldly hex placed on the league? That’s for you to decide. However, for those that are superstitious, and support a team who ends up reaching a peak during the summer of 2021, it might be time to invest in some holy water and sage, because, for whatever reason, those who win in the summer seem doomed to plummet come playoffs.
The third times a charm - and I’m not talking charisma.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment