The first season of Blizzard’s Overwatch League, or OWL, is coming to a close. It’s been a rollercoaster of a debut season, with the champions of the pre-OWL years, Lunatic-Hai (now Seoul Dynasty) and Team EnVyUs (now Dallas Fuel), both crumbling like Ozymandian kings beneath the sands of the 2018 Overwatch era. With neither preseason favorite appearing in the playoffs, the new teams scrambled in the dust for the fallen crown, but only six remain to battle for the throne.
These six teams advance to the playoffs, to be held in Los Angeles beginning July 11. The leaders of the Pacific and Atlantic divisions receive first-round byes while the other four teams battle it out to secure their spots in the semifinals.
Each of these quarterfinal matches will be played as a best-of-three series played over two days, with each series consisting of best-of-five maps. After that, the two remaining finalists will duke it out July 27-28 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Today, we will preview this week’s quarterfinal match between the Boston Uprising and the Philadelphia Fusion.
Boston Uprising vs. Philadelphia Fusion
Played on July 11 and 13, this match will show two extremes of “Overwatch.”
The Uprising are known for their discipline and strategy. They were built specifically to be “coachable” and share many of the beliefs the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, instilled in the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick. Chris “HuK” Loranger, the Uprising’s president of gaming, stated in an interview with InvenGlobal that he considered himself and the Kraft Group to be “on the same wavelength.”
Certainly, the Uprising seem to have adopted the Patriots’ “next man up” philosophy. After star player Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez was removed from the team, it seemed to be all over for the Uprising. Instead, they bunkered down, and Stanislav “Mistakes” Danilov slotted neatly into the starting roster. And off of Kwon “Striker” Nam-joo’s amazing Tracer play, the Boston Uprising became the first and only team to have an undefeated stage, going 10-0 in Stage 3, including a victory over the London Spitfire that reduced Striker to tears.
Unfortunately, things have been on a downturn for the Uprising ever since.
Mistakes is competently reliable, but not a star, and the introduction of Brigitte has made Striker’s iconic Tracer much more difficult to play. Further, the loss of coach Park “Crusty” Da-hee to the San Francisco Shock is sure to sting and make the transition to a new metagame much more difficult. And difficulties with skill is the last thing Boston wants when its opponent is the Philadelphia Fusion.
The Fusion are characterized by their looser independent play style, with success built off the backs of their individual mechanics. While Boston has a more limited bench with few substitutions, the Fusion have a 12-man roster, on which most of the players could easily be a starter for another team.
This team is known for its aggressive, flashy play style: Joona “fragi” Laine is famous as the most aggressive main tank in the league, Alberto “neptuNo” Gonzáles Molinillo has the most kills on Mercy, Gael “Poko” Gouzerch is known for his self-destruct kills on D.Va, and while any of their DPS players could contend for best in their role or on their hero, Lee “Carpe” Jae-hyeok is an MVP candidate for the entire league and was awarded with the No. 1 play of the regular season by the Overwatch League’s talk show, “Watchpoint.”
However, this also makes the Fusion easily the most volatile team in the League; they squeaked into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and can go from challenging first-place New York Excelsior to barely eking out a victory over the definitively last Shanghai Dragons. The larger team makes cohesion harder to achieve, as players routinely shuffle in and out of the lineup, and their sometimes explosive, sometimes feeble performances can be attributed to their minimal structure.
The format will be the best test of these two teams: A best-of-three, best-of-five series across two days will be a marathon.
Boston must rely on its cohesion and discipline. The team’s individual ability is strong, particularly from Striker and both of its Zenyatta players, Park “Neko” Se-hyeon and Kwon “AimGod” Min-seok, but these playoffs will heavily feature Hanzo, the recently buffed hero on which neither Mistakes nor Striker is known to be proficient. The length of the matches will put a strain on the team’s smaller roster and test its mentality and stamina.
Conversely, the Fusion DPS players are practiced hands on Hanzo and with their deep bench are less likely to succumb to fatigue. However, the accompanying lack of cohesion will make their game sloppier and make practicing and strategizing more difficult. Their map-by-map game plans cannot be expected to be holistic nor complex.
A Boston victory will require two quick series wins with concentrated strategies to swiftly dismantle the Fusion before longevity makes the match messy. A Fusion victory requires putting strain on Boston and forcing the outcome to be decided by skill and nimble familiarity with the bow and arrow.
Prediction: Philadelphia Fusion will win series, 2-1.
Michael Jeong covers esports. Contact him at [email protected].