WCS Valencia could pin Reynor and Serral against each other in round two of the Playoffs

WCS Valencia playoffs are here and our attention turns once again to the European slayer, Joona ‘Serral’ Sotala, in his quest to win another WCS title. His last win came only a month prior to Valencia at WCS Austin and he’s now got his sights set on winning four of his past five WCS events.

However, the path to another title will already be layered with the worlds best non-Korean talent. He not only has to start off against one of the most threatening opponents in the entire event, Sasha ‘Scarlett’ Hostyn, and play a Zerg vs. Zerg in round one, but will have to follow it up with a likely matchup against GSL Code S wunderkind, Riccardo ‘Reynor’ Romiti, who looks like the next big player at the ripe age of only 16-years old.

The potential faceoff between two of the perceived most talented players in Europe will be a big moment. Serral’s essentially taken over Europe without any issues and now Reynor could bring in his heavy harass Zerg style and make things more interesting in the SC2 Europe landscape.

In fact, this would be one of the few times the two have actually played at an event. The only recorded match I could find was from Assembly where Serral swept him 3-0. That match dates back to two years ago, so by the looks of it, both players will come in almost blind to the others traits and playstyle. But with all the data on Serral, Reynor enters as more of a mystery.

Rest of the Bracket

While most of the attention will be focused on the top half of the bracket, the bottom half also will provide some excellent matchups. Starting Neeb facing Bly in round one, a matchup that could come down to the wire. Neeb will be looked at as the odds-on favorite to make all the way through to winners finals. Secondly, Nerchio, who’s had a recent resurgence in play will be a threat. He will potentially get Has in the second round.

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Looking back to Scarlett, she has a massive opportunity to beat Serral and get momentum heading deep into the bracket. This entire article could be moot if she brings her best Zerg vs Zerg micro and builds to the table.  It could be Scarlett vs Reynor that would steal the show, but obviously getting through the European champ won’t be easy.

It’s the most stacked WCS event I’ve seen all year and should provide not only great StarCraft 2, but upsets. Expecting the unexpected as Serral eyes back-to-back titles. Reynor is clearly a player to watch after beating the likes of Classic in Code S just last week, but Serral is also an entirely different beast. Either way, Serral will have to earn his victories against two of the worlds best Zerg players.

Featured photo courtesy of WCS

 

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Breaking Down the 9,000 IQ Play from the Los Angeles Gladiators on Kings Row

So, the Los Angeles Gladiators took care of business in game one of the Overwatch League playoffs over the London Spitfire despite some odd roster decisions and vague explanations of those decisions. It was one of the Gladiators easier sweeps of the season, as Surefour went absolutely off on hitscan, but that’s not the important part of this match.

The important part was on Kings Row when the Gladiators ran an unforgettable set-play to secure the map win. Now, this type of play has been run before on Kings Row for the attacking side: run through the left side apartments to behind the point, then circle all the way around to the back, head up the staircase and then fight near the point on high-ground. Simple enough to understand, but the Gladiators took it even one step further.

Running three tank, two support, and the one damage main in Surefour on Widow allowed for this to happen. First off, the Gladiators had to stay together the entire time through the apartment as to not alert the Spitfire that a member of their team wasn’t in the death ball. The Spitfire didn’t recognize that only five players made the journey to behind the point.

Secondly, using the quickest set of support heroes in Lucio with the speed boost and Moira’s shift and fast walk speed. Using these two, especially BigGoose on Lucio, clumped them up together and allowed for more AOE healing from both supports and easily pushed them through to the back. Once that was secured, it was simply a waiting game for Surefour.

Lastly is the subtleties the Gladiators added to this strategy by deceptively keeping Surefour at spawn. Deception is certainly a strong tactic in Overwatch, but it’s not often an entire set-up is focused around the deception. In a situation where the Gladiators only needed one point, running this seemingly routine strategy with a heavy-tank composition through the apartment, led the Spitfire to believe that all was required was to re-setup off the high-ground and fight on the point. Unfortunately, Surefour standing in spawn got free and easy shots onto Mercy and instantly turned the fight.

The extra month off since stage four ended has to lead to some interesting new set plays and compositions, as we saw today with HOTBA and the Philadelphia Fusion going triple-DPS. It’s allowed teams more experimentation and now we are seeing refined strategies in this current Widowmaker-focused meta. The Gladiators are at the forefront of these types of innovative plays and should inspire other teams to try new things out.

Featured image courtesy of LA Gladiators twitter

Los Angeles Gladiators Win Game One over the London Spitfire with Fissure on the bench

Shortly before the start of the second Overwatch League playoff match, the Los Angeles Gladiators sent out a press release relaying to fans that Fissure would be sitting out the first map against the London Spitfire. A move born out of some inner turmoil and a strong week of practice from iRemix, but nevertheless, the Gladiators didn’t miss a beat with their best player on the bench.

Now, the Fissure benching will take all the headlines, but the biggest story is not only how good the Gladiators looked in the win, but how badly the Spitfire looked in the loss. It was a combination of a cohesive, fundamentally sound Gladiators approach to this match against a discombobulated, miscalculated attempt at slowing down the Gladiators backline. Similarly to a Philadelphia Fusion team that came out firing, the LA Gladiators also made a statement by sweeping the Spitfire.

Starting with Surefour, the MVP of the match, who gave the supports of the Spitfire trouble all game long. On either McCree or Widowmaker, Surefour wasn’t being contested enough to throw him off his positioning or force him into tougher sightlines. It was a struggle in both the Widow-duel and trying to dive onto his spot. It was a huge game for Surefour and helped make up for a real space creator in Fissure on the bench.

Luckily for the Gladiators, the decision to bench Fissure ended up working out. The move from Bischu to Void gave that frontline a bit more firepower, but the Gladiators dominated at every position. It wasn’t just Surefour on hitscan, but Hydration tearing it up on Hanzo or Silkthread in more of an aggressive dive role. It feels as if no team is improving at the rate of the LA Gladiators, and tonight was more proof of that.

London Spitfire Meta Woes

Trying to come to terms with the Spitfire’s recent struggles that have now bled on over into the postseason, in my eyes, boils down to one thing. The drastic gameplay changes with the popularization of sniper compositions, forcing Profit onto a role he’s not entirely comfortable with or necessarily excels in like he does with every other damage role. Bridring can certainly play an effective Widowmaker, but the most aggressive-minded team in the OWL having to play more passive-aggressive sniper strategies is messing with their gameplay.

This run also comes in the midst of a number of roster changes this team has made, as they assemble a core structure to the organization.  All these subtle and big changes hit at once and at the most inopportune time right before the playoffs. This is no excuse for getting badly outplayed and generally outcoached, but it’s a factor into the recent struggles. However, more of this will lead them out of the playoffs.

New York Excelsior JJoNak Wins the first Overwatch League MVP as Zenyatta

The best player from end-to-end gets the proper recognition as the Overwatch League’s first most valuable player. Bang ‘JJoNak’ Seong-hyun, a Zenyatta main, who in many ways revolutionized the flex-support meta with his damage hybrid style wins the MVP. JJoNak ended second in total damage among all qualified players as a support player. Nuff’ said

The story of a talented, rather unknown player, to the top of the Overwatch League and the best player on the best team. The rise of the New York Excelsior is certainly a team effort, but it’s an undeniable fact that JJONak brings something to the table that no other player in the league can offer. In terms of actual value, losing JJoNak would likely hamper every aspect of the NYXL roster. He’s that much of an impact player.

JJoNak doesn’t have any glaring deficiencies in his game and even with more modest healing numbers, he uses Zenyatta’s transcendence for maximum value more than every other Zenyatta which makes up for his focus on damage. He’s the most unique player in the league. No other player can offer the type of impact he can on any given match.

He is the heart and soul of the NYXL and that the coaching staff is still finding new uses for his talent. Consider this, the Excelsior popularized pocketing Mercy onto Zenyatta to keep JJoNak alive and let him do maximum damage with the damage-buff. The entire NYXL strategy is centered around this guy finding kills and it hasn’t failed them yet.

As JJoNak takes home the MVP trophy that he rightfully deserved, the NYXL will look to not let his dominating season go to waste. A refocused NYXL team will provide a much different look in these playoffs than what we saw at the end of stage four, and a big reason for that will be JJoNak.

Congrats to New York Excelsior JJoNak!

 

Philadelphia Fusion First Team to Beat Boston Uprising on Volskaya all season as they take 1-0 series lead

The Philadelphia Fusion made a statement in the first match of the Overwatch League playoffs beating the Boston Uprising through better preparation and execution. In terms of a potential darkhorse, the Fusion now look like that team after suffocating the Uprising all over the place.

Turning immediately to the closing match on Volskaya Industries, a map the Boston Uprising finished undefeated on in the regular season and ended up getting completely outplayed in every facet of the match. Starting with the strategy coming in for the Philadelphia Fusion: Boombox out, HOTBA in while Poko sticks onto the D.va and HOTBA moves over to Tracer, to help add more close range damage aside from EQO and Carpe on their respective snipers.

In fact, this was the first time any team made massive, wholesale changes to every single approach on Volskaya against the Uprising. Take the composition for example first, but looking at how they approached the defense by playing the first choke, rather than sitting back on high-ground of the first point. This gave the Uprising plenty of trouble and they struggled to get any point presence. The changes messed with the Uprising’s entire gameplan as they looked discombobulated on the attack.

The Carpe and EQO Show

Every map this set was characterized by EQO mixing it up near the front line with Hanzo and doing big damage, while Carpe sat back on Widow and had free reign to get shots on squishy characters. In terms of the sniper duels, Carpe and EQO dominated. Now, while Carpe was winning the Widow-duel, EQO was tearing up the rest of the Uprising. Mistakes had no chance against EQO today, who in my eyes, was the MVP of match one.

It’s a snipers league, and it showed today with the better Hanzo and Widow pairing won the day. The number of impactful picks and first kills heavily fell in favor of the Fusion as the Uprising had essentially zero pressure on the Carpe and that backline. The Uprising will have to make serious adjustments on how they approach and defend against Carpe and EQO.

Neptuno Comes Out Strong

Carpe and EQO might have made the biggest impact damage-wise, but Neptuno completely dominated Kellex on the other side. Neptuno even dropped a 31k healing game on Einchewalde and had six fewer deaths than Kellex. His healing was off the charts as he contributed on most big plays throughout the match, Plenty of times where Fusion players could keep pressing with Neptuno always there for critical heals.

Take the video above, for example, Neptuno not only gets the battle mercy kill but somehow finds a way to get back to EQO and essentially turn his disadvantaged one-vs-one against notE’s Dva and eventually turning the entire fight. Neptuno stepped up in a big way and allowed BoomBox to play more of a flex role, as we saw him tear it up on Eichenwalde with Roadhog. The biggest deficit in overall play was the support mains and Neko and Kellex will have to come alive tomorrow.

Sado, HOTBA, and Poko

The revolving door of tanks on this Fusion team keeps spinning as Poko got some playing time while HOTBA found playing time not only on D.va, but Tracer as well. notE and Gamsu put up a good fight at the front-line, but the sniping advantage for the Fusion was too much for the strong performances out of the Uprising tank line.

Now back to Sado, who made so many fights changing plays in the win. His bubble placements are incredible and that was displayed through the many different ways he approaches fights with Winston’s bubble. More than anything, Sado was fantastic at blocking damage with either shields or his body. In terms of a difference maker, his coordination with the snipers on who to dive on and who to bubble was on-point.

Uprising Adjustments

Dive compositions or some way to get EQO off the backline would do wonders for this team. Striker put on a pretty great performance, alongside the tanks, but Kellex and Neko weren’t making impact plays or resurrections to stem the tide of the Fusion gameplan. It’s also clear this team was not prepared for any changes to the Fusion attack, and it showed as they were blindsided by the Fusion on both Eichenwalde and especially Volskaya with the three-damage main composition.

The Overwatch League Playoff Preview: Can the NYXL be beaten?

The anticipation for the start of the Overwatch League playoffs has hit a fever pitch for the fans. The long layoff is not only making fans nervous but the players who had two full-weeks of preparation for these three game series. The most incredible part is that with the resurgence of the Valiant and Gladiators, it doesn’t necessarily feel like an easy victory for the New York Excelsior, who enter as the favorite.

Four straight NYXL appearances in the stage finals, and a full regular season of dominating performances. Ending the season with a 34-6 record and a +83 in map differential shows a superiority to the rest of the league. In fact, the NYXL now employ five of South Korea’s starting roster, the same nation that’s barely been pushed at the World Cup the past two years. The question then becomes who will win the Overwatch League, but instead ‘who can stop the NYXL?’

Are the NYXL beatable?

Asking the Los Angeles Valiant that at this moment and time would give you a much different answer than the general public. The stage four champions, a team that’s improved immensely off the moves made by team manager Mike Schwartz, feel as if they are the favorites and can beat the Excelsior.

The Valiant has essentially caught up to the Excelsior in talent with the signings of Indy ‘SPACE’ Halpern and the trade for Scott ‘Custa’ Kennedy, who’s been arguably the biggest difference maker on the team. Now, does this mean the red-hot Valiant can take out the best team in a series?

In the season series, the NYXL lead 3-2 in overall record and that’s including the Valiant’s win in the stage four finals. Based off relevancy, that last result might be the most telling in this matchup with how much the Valiant have improved compared to the NYXL who’ve had a nice comfortable lead all season long. Combine that with SPACE playing at an MVP level, and Terence ‘SoOn’ Tarlier tearing it up on Widowmaker.

A refocused Excelsior team out of the break should get them back on track after dropping three games in stage four. It took Hae-seong ‘Libero’ Kim stepping up to push this team into a stage playoff spot, and then got handled in the stage four finals so time off felt necessary for the top seed. It’s still NYXL vs. the field.

The Field

Each team who I haven’t mentioned already has about as good of a chance of coming alive and winning the entire thing. Each team at one moment and time this season has been at or near the top. Every team earned it as the American favorite Houston Outlaws and the preseason favorites Seoul Dynasty got bounced because they couldn’t keep up at the pace of these four teams.

Starting with the Los Angeles Gladiators, who in some way have improved to the same imaginary level the Valiant have risen too. Let’s not forget the Gladiators picking to face the Valiant instead of the Dallas Fuel and losing in five games. The important thing to remember is that this team is good enough to beat every single team left, and should be looked at as the wildcard team right behind the top two seeded teams.

The other terrifying team is the Boston Uprising and the potentials of their roster with the likes of Nam-joo ‘Striker’ Kwon. This is a team that ran off a huge winning streak that lasted a stage and a half even after the loss of their second damage main. The fortunate aspect of the Uprising run is their run will bypass NYXL until the finals. It also matches them up against two teams they have winning records against.

Lastly, seeing the London Spitfire, a team who has massively underperformed this season according to their standards, with a final shot at winning the title leads me to believe they can do it. But, all the turmoil and shuffling of the roster still brings questions to their chances as a whole. Overall, their talent level is practically just as high as the Excelsior, with the GC Busan core, but they haven’t put it all together since stage one.

Predictions

  • The Boston Uprising over the Philadelphia Fusion in three games
  • Los Angeles Gladiators over the London Spitfire in three games

Semifinals

  • Los Angeles Valiant over the Boston Uprising in two games
  • New York Excelsior over the Los Angeles Gladiators in three games

Finals

  • Los Angeles Valiant over the New York Excelsior in three games

The Valiant seems to be synchronizing and gelling just at the right time. The team unison is higher with this team than any other team in the playoffs, and more big performances from their main playmakers can push them over the top similarly to stage four. Valiant over NYXL in three close games with SPACE as the MVP.

 

Meta Bellum Envy looking like his old self in win over X6 Gaming

Meta Bellum supported a higher echelon contenders team even before the arrival of Envy. The addition of the former Los Angeles Valiant flex tank Envy gives Meta Bellum a new added dimension to each aspect of their gameplan. In the 4-0 win over X6 Gaming, Envy started single-handily winning fights on both D.Va and Brigitte and showing the potential impact his role on the team will have down the line.

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Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/overwatchcontenders

First off, Envy fitting into the Brigitte role makes a ton of sense based on his style of play. If anything, Brigitte fits his playstyle even more than D.Va by having more available tools in close-range fights, which Envy takes quite often as a flex tank. It’s nice seeing him open space for his damage mains to move in, similarly to how he looked early on with the Valiant.

 

Obviously, Envy wasn’t the only Meta Bellum player popping off in this one: Naist, on a variety of different damage mains, primarily Pharah and Junkrat, completely tore up the X6 backline. Order and Godsb, that started the season looking extremely strong against World Gaming Star H2, had a rough time accounting for the Meta Bellum damage mains. For Meta Bellum, it was Naist pressuring the frontline and Happy on Widowmaker staying alive on the backline. The combination of those two fulfilling their roles perfectly combined with Envy’s space opening plays led to a route of the season one champions.

 

Equally important, is the early affect Envy’s having on the rest of the team. When Envy arrived at the LA Valiant, he was an incredible offensive-minded D.va, but his failure to last boiled down to connecting with his teammates. It had little to do with his actual play but more the attitude he brought into the building every day. On a contenders team, the pressure is off and he can focus more on himself rather than the entire spectacle and pressure of the Overwatch League.

It’s only the second time X6 Gaming has been swept (Element Mystic took them out 4-0 in season one), and the first out of the Meta Bellum squad. This result tells us that believe the hype that Envy is going to bring firepower and that this team is lined up now to make a deep run and potentially be a threat to win Contenders Korea.

Featured photo courtesy of twitch.tv/overwatchcontenders