With Fuel And Dragons Out, Who Takes OWL’s Countdown Cup?
It all comes down to this. The revolt of the second row. One final tournament. Its prize, glory, bragging rights, and the final possible opportunity for certain teams to secure more opportune playoff seeding as the 2021 Overwatch League season slowly coasts into its final stop of the year. Four titleless teams reach out to catch fire one last time. Each with its own distinct style and particular preferences, however, one goal remains shared; capturing the Countdown Cup title. So, this begs the question; who steals the show? Between the Atlanta Reign, the Los Angeles Gladiators, the Chengdu Hunters, and the Seoul Dynasty, who takes home the Countdown Cup title?
First things first, we have to review some of the biggest win conditions of each team.
With the uncertain availability of Oh "Pelican" Se-hyun, the Atlanta Reign are left with a large conundrum. This loss poses some serious questions for Atlanta to answer when it comes to the Pharah compositions they will undoubtedly encounter at the Countdown Cup—and while their best bet is a strong one, it is not their only one.
Last month we tapped Kai "Kai" Collins to be the one to hamstring any team attempting to go airborne with picks like McCree and Widowmaker. He and flex tank, Xander "Hawk" Domecq, are going to be manning the front lines when it comes to clipping the wings of the aforementioned strategy, and with limited time to prepare anything creative or new, that seems like the odds-on outcome. However, unlike their Summer Showdown performance, the Altlanta Reign showed they can and will play Dive if the opportunity arises. On top of that, Kim "Edison" Tae-hoon has shown recently that his Pharah is something you cannot ignore. However, while their ability to match an enemy Pharah is possible, steering clear of maps like Rialto, Hanamura, and Numbani is going to be paramount if Atlanta wants to capture the Countdown Cup title.
Eyes On Escort
No matter the circumstance, Escort as a game type should be something the Reign find comfort in. With Havana, Route 66 and Rialto in the map pool this should activate Kai to be able to showcase his flexibility more than we’ve seen previously. With such elongated lanes of attack, Kai should feel comfortable bringing out picks like Widowmaker and Hanzo to keep teams at bay. Even with that in mind, one of their most recent matches raises some eyebrows.
Their road to Hawai'i pathed over the Toronto Defiant, whom they dispatched quickly. However, the only map they lost was on Escort. Running McCree alongside Torbjörn makes for a composition that thrives at catching an engagement within a defensible position. The issue the Reign ran into was that the Defiant correctly punished them on their rotations around the map. Atlanta easily can turn this into a power pick if they allow Edison to pressure the flanks with a pick like Tracer or Soldier: 76. This still puts hurdles in front of overly aggressive Wrecking Balls while being able to have more freedom to rotate across the map.
Hot-Swap Or Hot-Drop
Ultimately the Atlanta Reign have all the necessary tools to battle the best Overwatch teams in the world, the issue—be it stubborn hubris or something far more innocent—comes when they simply fail to read the room and adapt. Recall their push on Havanna against the Florida Mayhem during Week 16. Quickly marching over Point A with ease, the Reign walk into Point B with a Symmetra composition and 4:53 on the clock. After nearly 3:30 seconds skates by, Atlanta has not finished the map nor have they capped Point B. Suddenly Pelican swaps to Tracer and they make quick work of the Mayhem’s defence. This kind of lead cannot be lost when competing at the highest level. The Reign has to be quick to their composition swaps or they’re going to get caught in a death loop.
One of the Chengdu Hunters’ largest narratives this season has orbited around their second DPS player having to play to the expectations of a team on the cusp of playoff glory. Playing behind 2021 MVP candidate Huang "leave" Xin is no small feat, and while fan favourite Yi "JinMu" Hu has been the team’s go-to candidate for the role, the pair’s hero pools can result in some serious downshifting. The former has shown the capability of piloting the majority of Overwatch’s roster of heroes to a high level. The latter, while less flexible, and looked dominant with his Pharah performance throughout the Countdown Cup. The issue arises when the duo is forced to switch. Due to Leave recently becoming the team’s primary Sombra, leaving JinMu to his signature Pharah, this makes swapping their DPS particularly troublesome. If Chengdu are to make a deep run at the Countdown Cup, they have to proceed with caution and perhaps make some difficult calls when it comes to changing which DPS heroes to run and when.
Assault provides an interesting hurdle for Chengdu to overcome. While Volskaya Industries has been a consistent and successful pick for the team, Hanamura specifically has recently felt awkward in the current metagame, and Temple of Anubis doesn’t seem too far off.
When it comes to Hanamura, JinMu is forced to push through main chokes alone and without a main tank that can properly maintain control of a given space, due to how prevalent Wrecking Ball is, this can leave their Pharah and Mercy duo out of position. With the tank line pushing and deterring picks like Hanzo, McCree and Soldier: 76, this leaves the Hunters’ main support in a difficult and punishable position.
As for Temple of Anubis, the Hunters’ offences seems to be hamstrung by Point A. There isn’t much map geometry to cover a Pharah’s approach, and Tracer’s movement is limited due to the narrow corridors and pathways, but there is a considerable amount of high ground to either traverse or abuse. This is why they tend to revisit Genji more often than not. This leaves them without much agency outside of when their ultimates are online.
While the Chengdu Hunters might not skate by with a spotless record, that doesn’t mean they’re put in a bad position.
A Tested Arsenal
The Chengdu Hunters are the most versatile team headed to Hawai’i. They’ve piloted the Orisa compositions considerably well and have not shown the need to lean heavily on it. They’ve showcased that Qiu "GA9A" Jiaxin is one of, if not, the best Wrecking Ball player in the world and the team looks fantastic behind him when asked to play Dive. From the last four weeks, we have not seen a style or composition that the Chengdu Hunters cannot play. As Summer Showdown’s runner-ups and packing a dominant 4-0 match record, the Hunters are battled tested. They have come close to gold once before, however this time there are no giants standing in their way. At the end of the day, it all comes down to form. We’ve seen this tested arsenal in practice for weeks, now it’s time to deliver.
Los Angeles Gladiators
Comfort Of Style
After arriving just short of Hawai'i during the Summer Showdown, the Los Angeles Gladiators have been true to themselves and have primarily placed their bets on Wrecking Ball moving deep in the regular season. This has placed them well ahead of the metagame in the west and they’ve seen those investments payout tenfold. This fact should assist them when it comes to competing against the eastern representatives which have shown a high propensity to draw teams towards more Dive-centric maps.
Another thing the Gladiators have going for them is their ability to slot in double flex supports into their composition on the fly. Specifically, in the Orisa mirror matchup, Los Angeles oftentimes subtracts Brigitte for more point presence and on-demanding healing with a Baptiste. With the pressure on the enemy tank line from Zenyatta and the ability to sustain with Baptiste, the Gladiators match well into teams that will likely take them to more Orisa favoured maps.
Numbers Don’t Lie
When it comes to statistical powerhouses, it doesn’t get much better than the Gladiators. As a team during the Countdown Cup, Los Angeles has the highest team fight win rate with 54.8%, the second-highest first elimination rate with 55.2% and the highest team fight win rate after first elimination 79.7%. However, that pales in comparison to their top individual performers.
One of their strongest offensive weapons is Kevin "kevster" Persson. Ranked with the second-highest final blows per ten minutes and leading the league in eliminations per ten minutes on Tracer, kevster is a massive part of the Gladiators gameplan within the current metagame framework. To top that off, among the teams attending the Countdown Cup, kevster on Tracer is nearly tied with the highest first elimination rate with 14.4%.
Kim "MuZe" Young-hun has quietly been maintaining impressive form on his Wrecking Ball. Ranked third in final blows per ten minutes, second in eliminations per ten minutes and fourth in hero damage done per ten minutes, this only adds to the spearhead that the Gladiators need to breakthrough and brawl with some of the best teams in the world.
While overlooked for the majority of his career, 2021 Overwatch League MVP candidate Kim "Shu" Jin-seo has been performing to this calibre for years. During the Countdown Cup, Shu’s Ana currently is first in final blows and eliminations per ten minutes as well as second in hero damage per ten minutes. Sit those stats alone and you should already be impressed, but he also packs an impressive Zenyatta as well. Managing to rank second in final blows per ten minutes, first in eliminations per ten minutes, and third in hero damage done per ten minutes, Shu not only deserves to be on the ballot for the 2021 MVP vote but is going to be a massive weapon for the Gladiators should they see a strong finish to their final tournament of the season.
The Los Angeles Gladiators have rightfully been painted as a team with the potential to go deep but seemingly always fails to do so—until now. Failing to perform during the May Melee, being bested by the Dallas Fuel during their march through the June Joust, narrowly missing the Summer Showdown playoffs, each time the Gladiators approach and each time they’re sent home bruised. However, with a leg up in terms of meta understanding and fire lite under them, the Gladiators looked better than we’ve ever seen. This, packaged with the pressure of travel is a nefariously deadly combination. The Gladiators must come into the Countdown Cup with the same kind of mental fortitude that has brought them here. Above any strategy or hero or statistic you can pull, what’s been the bane of the Los Angeles all season has been mentality. We saw resilience against San Francisco, but will we see it when it comes to Hawai’i?
Even with the amount of Wrecking Ball, they ran in the lead up to Hawai’i, the Seoul Dynasty look the most comfortable on Orisa based compositions. Keep Kim "FITS" Dong-eon able to be aggressive against Dive teams with his constant McCree flanks, allow Hong "Gesture" Jae-hee one of his most prolific picks, and give Park "Profit" Joon-yeong the chance to flex around and fill in the blanks with Mei, Tracer, and Hanzo. This seems to be the best recipe for success against the majority of the team reaching the finale of the Countdown Cup. When the Dynasty attempt to venture outside of this comfort, that’s when things seem to drift out of their control.
While it would be nice to see the Dynasty solely venturing out on Orisa based compositions—that’s not going to happen. And yes, Lim "Toyou" Hyeon-woo has showcased that he is willing to play Zarya, it’s far too slow in the Dive mirror. However, if the game plan from their victory over the Philadelphia Fusion is still intact then perhaps dumping resources into Profit could net them some success. Either way, keeping the tempo high is going to be key if the Dynasty wants to drum up some chaos and attempt to brute force their way through maps like Busan and Volskaya Industries.
Throughout the 2021 Overwatch League regular season, the Seoul Dynasty have a 38% win rate on Escort. However dismal that sounds, they have recently shown some interesting looks. Reviewing their win over the Fusion, Seoul does double-back and attempt to push Rialto’s first point with a composition tailored with comfort in mind. Gesture taking his signature Winston and keeping Profit on Tracer gives the Dynasty a fighting chance against most teams in the league. This coupled with the number of resources they pile into Fits does provide for a great deal of value. However, Seoul cannot afford to lose many maps and to curb their Escort woes we could see more frontloaded heroes like Hanzo and perhaps their own Pharah to really keep the enemy on the back foot.
And The Winner Is …
With our cards laid out on the table, at the end of the day flexibility is the name of the game.
With the ability to pick a given map, teams can and will be pinched out of set strategies we may have seen during the regular season matches. And while the Seoul Dynasty has shown they’re much more flexible than we once gave them credit for, they haven’t shown the same kind of looks the Atlanta Reign have showcased. However, the issue with both teams is that they have a fatal flaw. The Reign not having Pelican is worrisome and the tank rotation is a question the Seoul Dynasty seem to still be unsure on as the Zarya pick does not seem like it will hold water against the majority of the teams present.
The second semi-finals match will set the tone for the remainder of the Countdown Cup tournament and will likely decide who walks home with the title. Both the Los Angeles Gladiators and the Chengdu Hunters look to be in top form, however, the latter looks to fit the mould of the current patch and metagame nearly perfectly. Looking stellar on both Orisa and Wrecking Ball based compositions, with stars across the board, the Chengdu Hunters look to be the odds-on-favourite to capture the Countdown Cup title and position themselves well as the 2021 Overwatch League playoff quickly approach.