Were The Vancouver Titans Done Dirty?

Were The Vancouver Titans Done Dirty?

Written by 

Sebastian Romero


28th Aug 2020 17:30

As we approach the Overwatch League playoffs season, looking back to last year's championship, there was some amount of controversy that would definitely be resurfacing in 2020, had the league not transitioned to a new playoff format due to COVID. There was a narrative surrounding the 2019 Overwatch League Grand Finals, where there were a lot of fans who, at the very least, expected there to be a bracket reset, after the San Francisco Shock 4-0ed the Vancouver Titans.

If the 2019 playoffs were formatted with a double-elimination bracket, then the Vancouver certainly still needed to be defeated again in a separate series, since they had come into the finals from the winner's side, and therefore needed to be beaten twice before actually losing. It seemed unfair, to some, that they would lose the championship without going out twice. 

It's an interesting predicament, considering Overwatch as an esport is still relatively new and young, many in the community have different ideas as to the most ideal form of competition for the scene. So, when suggestions like a bracket reset in the finals are proposed or questioned, deliberation on that could potentially help the scene perform for the better. The only question is would something like a bracket reset in the grand finals actually be beneficially for the spectators, the players, and the competitive integrity of the sport?

OWL Vancouver Titans
Click to enlarge


The first and most apparent counterpoint to a bracket reset is the length of a series in Overwatch, and that having a bracket reset would make a match way too long. The Paris Eternal vs Philadelphia Fusion Summer Showdown final lasted three hours and 30 minutes. Even with all the broadcast breaks excluded, the match itself still lasted in or around three hours. If a full seven map series of Overwatch during a broadcast, takes longer than three hours to finish, then a bracket reset a series would go astronomically longer if the reset series reaches all seven maps or more. For a match to last six hours, that’s ridiculously gruelling from a spectator and player perspective, especially since Overwatch does not have a lot of downtime in-game. 

There’s a reason games like League of Legends (LoL) or Dota 2 avoid bracket resets, and the Fighting Game Community or the Super Smash Bros. community make it standard across tournaments in their scenes. Some games take way longer to play, which could sound good to some, but a gruelling long series isn’t going to be enjoyed by a good amount of people. When a set takes five-to-ten minutes, of course, it’s going to make sense to keep the match going. The Rocket League Championship Series Five finals is a twelve map reset series but is only an hour and a half long. The Royal Flush 2017 Smash Melee Singles Grand Finals goes the distance in each series, and is a ten-set match where only three sets didn’t whittle down to the final stocks, and it still clocks in at less than an hour. 

In comparison, a standard League of Legends game lasts more than 30 minutes, and in Dota 2, matches range from 30 minutes to an hour or more. For MOBAs, a single game has the potential of going over an hour alone, and if two teams are evenly matched pushing the each other to the limit in a best of five grand finals, to add a potential other five-game series with the potential to go hours in each, would make watching the match a nightmare. No amount of draft variance or big moments could subdue the effects of watching a ten-game MOBA match.

OWL Vancouver Titans
Click to enlarge


One thing to also keep in mind on top of the length of time of a game’s matches, but also the entire bracket itself, and the potential number of maps or games played in a series. The disadvantage a team has going through the lower bracket is the number of games played comparatively to the winner’s bracket. The more teams you have to face off against, the bigger the chance there is a team messes up and drops out of the tournament. Now, granted the Shock were unrivalled in every game they played in the lower bracket, and it’s a performance that probably won’t be seen for a long time in Overwatch esports, so they’re an outlier case. However, theoretically, if every series goes the distance for a team in the lower bracket, that’s 35 maps that could be played before the potential fourteen maps that could take place in a bracket reset final. That is a lot to ask of any team that’s coming in from the lower bracket.

Furthermore, think about the logistics behind a potential fourteen plus series in Overwatch. Teams can only prepare for so many maps and compositions, and now there needs to be the potential for fourteen maps played. The variance in Overwatch is not comparable to other games, where not only the compositions change, the maps change, but also the game modes are so varied and strategically different, it’d be ludicrous to expect a spectacular match from a potential fourteen or more maps. Even if the format were lowered from a 'first to four' to a 'first to three', that would simply be running the risk of an even quicker 3-0 grand final to end off the season, should the upper bracket team win, which is frankly unacceptable for a grand final. It doesn’t make too much sense. 

OWL Vancouver Titans
Click to enlarge


Ultimately the argument for a bracket reset boils down to two points: it’s unfair for the winner’s bracket team not to have that chance to have been beaten twice, and it doesn’t ensure that the best team wins the tournament. Yet, that perception seems flawed, especially when compared to other esports. When looking at a tournament like The International, the tournament the 2019 playoffs was often compared to, it too doesn’t have a reset if a lower bracket team wins the finals, that team is simply the champions. There’s no qualm or quarrel, that team is the best Dota 2 team in the world at the moment. So, why is it that there’s an argument for the Overwatch League that the best team wasn’t potentially ensured the win, or it wasn’t fair for the upper bracket team? 

The reality is, in most double elimination brackets, the lower bracket team is not the one that wins. In nine TI’s, only three were won by the lower bracket teams: TI2, TI5, and TI7. Actually, studying the games, it’d be tough to argue that neither Invictus Gaming, Evil Geniuses, or Team Liquid were not one of the best teams at that tournament or who weren’t deserving of the Aegis of Champions. TI7 and Team Liquid’s win is particularly notable for its similarity to the San Francisco Shock’s win in 2019.

Of course, not as historically dominant, but Liquid were the first team to wash a grand finals, and they did it after falling from the first round of the upper bracket. They completely dominated Newbee in that match, who had three different chances to come back into the series. Who’s to argue that a second series for both the TI7 finals and the OWL 2019 finals that a second series would have really dedicated “the best team” would have won. It doesn’t take a professional analyst to say that the San Francisco Shock were the best team in that final and that there really didn’t need to be a second series to definitively say they deserved to win. 

OWL Vancouver Titans
Click to enlarge

The best way to see a grand final in a double-elimination bracket is that the bracket leads up to a definitive series, where the match is separate from the bracket. The better team wins the match - no ifs, ands, or buts. It’s ridiculous to say competitive integrity is compromised if there’s no bracket reset, when plenty of other esports manage just fine, and there’s no issue if a lower bracket upset happens in a grand final. G2 at the LEC Spring 2020 Championship, Team Liquid at TI7, and the San Francisco Shock at the 2019 OWL Grand Finals. Upsets and lower bracket runs are some of the best stories and esports, and the incentive to stifle or put barriers upon these opportunities is more harmful than helpful to a young and growing esport like Overwatch.


Images via Blizzard Entertainment | Valve

Sebastian Romero
About the author
Sebastian Romero
Sebastian is an avid esports fanatic, a freelance journalist for GGRecon, and holds a huge passion for the Overwatch and Dota 2 scenes.
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