Tournament predictions are like your stomach after eating Taco Bell. You never know when it’ll be upset.
The 2018 Overwatch World Cup had so many upsets and other unexpected results that if it were a digestive system, the gastroenterologist would have to write up a 1,000-word diagnosis. Held over the weekend at BlizzCon, the third annual tournament featured eight national teams gathering in Anaheim, California, to contend for the trophy and thoroughly disabuse expectations along the way.
Many narratives around players, teams and countries blended together to form these unexpectedly unpredictable playoffs. Of those, four teams’ stories stick out in particular, be it for the sweet taste of victory, the fiery passion of overcoming adversity or the sickening queasiness of shocking defeat.
Team United States
Well, here we are again.
In 2016 and 2017, the United States of America’s national Overwatch team finished in the quarterfinals after facing eventual champions Team South Korea in both years. In 2018, the United States drew the unassuming Team United Kingdom for its quarterfinal match, in what was written off to be little more than a warm-up match competitively.
With a roster stacked with Overwatch League talent and a well-respected coach in Aaron “Aero” Atkins, Team USA was on track for a potential title, and everyone knew it.
We’ve seen this story before.
In reality, Team USA went down in a bloody quarterfinals against Team UK in which its rivals across the pond clobbered the Americans with relentless aggression based around their mastery of Tank compositions.
This marks the latest knot in a string of disappointments for the United States in international competition. Since Overwatch’s release in 2016, no American team has claimed a title in major offline international tournaments. The sole trophy for North America in that category lies with Team EnVyUs at the Overwatch Apex tournament, when a roster comprising five Europeans and a Thai player won under an American title.
In what was meant to be the grand ascension of North American Overwatch, the team tripped at the first hurdle and landed flat on its face — a blunder that its UK rivals were quick to tease. While by no means an irrecoverable loss, this one will undoubtedly sting for many months to come.
Team United Kingdom
The common association for the English is one of refinement. Stiff upper lip, tea and biscuits, officer and a gentleman. But one should never forget that beneath the dignified class, there lies a complete sports hooligan always looking for bother.
So it is for Team United Kingdom, the self-acclaimed “LANimals,” who had the most exciting run of the World Cup. Slated for an early exit after a questionable qualifying group performance and facing tournament favorite Team USA, practically no one looked twice when team coach Elliot “Hayes” Hayes announced after the qualifying group that Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth would be the new starter on the Main Tank position.
That single change proved to be one of the most impactful, if not the most impactful, turnaround changes in the entire tournament. Bosworth’s synergy with his British Hurricane teammates Michael “MikeyA” Adams and Finley “Kyb” Adisi proved to be the linchpin for UK success. Team United Kingdom defeated Team USA in the quarterfinals, gave Team South Korea the closest series of the latter’s playoff run in the semifinals and barely lost out on the Bronze Medal to Team Canada in the third-place decider.
All of Team UK, save for Isaac “Boombox” Charles and Harrison “Kruise” Pond, are playing in Overwatch Contenders, fighting for a coveted position in the Overwatch League, and yet they stunned the world by fighting some of the most acclaimed players in the most energetic and exciting matches of the World Cup. Despite their placement outside the top three, the players of Team United Kingdom will certainly be followed with a close eye in the near and distant future.
At the Yellow River in Henan, there is a waterfall called Dragon Gate. There, if a carp is able to climb the cascading water, it is said to become a dragon.
The word “dragon” in the context of Chinese Overwatch is likely traumatic in association with the Shanghai Dragons (who notoriously set the longest losing streak in all of esports history with a disastrous 0-40 record during their inaugural season), but there is a simple satisfaction in the aptness of the myth.
China has been less a carp and more a moray eel in the Overwatch ocean. Very idiosyncratic, rarely seen outside its natural habitat and at odds with the rest of the school, Team China nevertheless possesses a nasty bite. After two years of floundering under the rapids of international competition, it has finally emerged as, while not quite yet a dragon, a fearsome beast.
Expectations were not high for this team. While it had potential for greatness, there was always a niggling doubt in the back of the mind, the specter of Shanghai. Most would have favored Finland in Team China’s quarterfinal match, and even a China hopeful would have guessed it to be somewhat close.
What was not expected was an explosive dismantling of Finland, as Team China ran circles around the Scandinavian team. Led by Qiulin “Guxue” Xu in the Main Tank position, Team China further shocked with a lightning-quick dunk on Team Canada in the semifinals. The Chinese warpath was finally brought to a halt by Team South Korea in the final event, but the message should remain clear: Chinese Overwatch should not be judged by the Shanghai Dragons.
With three new Chinese franchises announced for the 2019 Overwatch League season, the coming year will hopefully showcase to the world that for all the failures of the Dragons, there’s always a bigger fish.
Team South Korea
After an uncharacteristically vulnerable showing in its qualifying group, Team South Korea seemingly took the break to read Mark Twain and arrived at BlizzCon to note that reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. Its roster shuffle between qualifying and playoffs, the most dramatic of all teams, saw a revitalized Team South Korea make an undefeated run to the top.
With nine map wins and two draws across the quarter-, semi- and grand finals, the Koreans made a statement in their defense of the title. The switch-in of Byung-sun “Fleta” Kim, Jun-ho “Fury” Kim and Tae-sung “Anamo” Jung to the starting roster not only unlocked crucial compositions with characters such as Brigitte, Pharah and Lucio, but also boasted the depth of their country’s domestic talent.
The 2018 South Korean national team is the only squad of the top eight to not feature any returning players from its 2017 lineup. This victory was far from certain; most viewed this roster to be the weakest yet relative to their competition. But despite the questions and mutterings, Team South Korea resolutely silenced any lasting doubters. It’s players are more than just alive; indeed, they seem immortal.