Overwatch World Cup 2018 preview — nations collide on international stage

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The 2018 “Overwatch” World Cup will feature eight national squads flying to Anaheim, California to compete in its third iteration of the annual tournament held at BlizzCon. The quarterfinals will be held Nov. 2, and the semifinals, bronze medal match and the grand finals will take place Nov. 3. Each matchup features a best-of-five series, save the grand finals, which will be a best-of-seven. The first map is predetermined, while the loser picks each map thereafter.

The tournament is a fitting cap-off for 2018. With the completion of the inaugural “Overwatch” League, or OWL season, which saw the London Spitfire claim the title in July, the hunger for international competition and spectacle has flared once again. Luckily, this year promises to be one of the most entertaining tournaments yet.

The World Cup provides a unique opportunity in the “Overwatch” world. For some players, this will be their chance to shine and potentially get signed for the 2019 OWL season. For others, it is a chance to add another chapter to their story. But for all, it is a stage to defend their national pride and bring home a victory for their country.

United States of America vs. United Kingdom

Twelve score and two years ago, a fledgling union of colonies declared independence from the British Empire. In the intervening years since then, the relationship between these two powers has developed from warring foes to begrudging allies to friendly rivals in conflicts ranging from  something as globe-shaking as World War II to as petty as squabbles over ownership of the word “football.”

This latest tussle will see the two clash on the BlizzCon stage where the home-field advantage goes to the U.S. squad, in what is the first of many edges in favor of the Stars and Stripes.

Team USA dominated its group in Los Angeles, with a perfect 5-0 record and dropping only two maps during group stage qualifying rounds. Full of seasoned OWL talents, Team USA features Austin “Muma” Wilmot and Indy “SPACE” Halpern as the likely best Western Tank duo to act as the indomitable American front line.

On the opposing side, Team U.K. sports a core from the British Hurricane bolstered by veterans of the “Overwatch” scene. After a second-place finish at Paris where the team was soundly routed by the French opposition, the English side has moved Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth to the starting Main Tank position to strengthen synergy with his British Hurricane teammates.

Despite the change, Team USA remains the heavy favorite in this match. While the Supports are fairly evenly matched, the DPS and especially the Tank positions are weighted toward the United States. If Team U.K. hopes to advance to the semifinals of BlizzCon, it will have to ironically replicate the Continental Army and rely on unconventional tactics to overcome what is a much stronger opponent in conventional warfare.

Prediction: USA 3-0 United Kingdom

France vs. Canada

After the showdown between the Atlantic Anglophones, it is fairly fitting to see the French fight against their former, far frontier, giving the Canadians a crack at conquering their colonial precursor.

The French squad will come in hot as the top seed from its group stage in its capital, while the Canadians are still licking their wounds from a loss to Team USA in Los Angeles. Much like their joint history, the French side is the elite with a core from the legendary Rogue team of old, while the Canadians are a ragtag, scrappy bunch of accomplished individuals but lack that dynastic mystique.

In terms of skill, both teams are at an even keel, with give-and-take at nearly every position. Félix “xQc” Lengyel is favored over France’s Benjamin “Benbest” Dieulafait, but Gael “Poko” Gouzerch edges out over Canadian Lucas “NotE” Meissner. Notable eccentric Liam “Mangachu” Campbell gives Team Canada a veritable sack of tricks. But the true deciding factor outside of individual play — Michael “Winz” Bignet is a famed champion across multiple shooters such as “Unreal Tournament” and “Quake 4.” His leadership is likely to give Team France stronger fundamental play, as well as a better map draft, and ultimately take the French to the semifinals.

Prediction: France 3-1 Canada

China vs. Finland

China has been somewhat of an odd duck in “Overwatch.” Formerly impenetrable to the Western audience, the Chinese “Overwatch” scene made its disastrous debut to the international world with the OWL franchise Shanghai Dragons, who made good on their potential and not only set the longest losing streak in sports history but set a nearly unbeatable bar at 0-40 for a completely winless season.

In contrast, Finland has long been a powerhouse in “Overwatch,” churning out players and teams to compete at the highest levels throughout the game’s history. Scandinavian countries tend to excel in first-person shooting games, most famously the Swedes and the Danes in “Counter-Strike,” while it seems like Finland is the one that has planted its flag on “Overwatch.”

This history, however, should not make anyone underestimate Team China. Unlike in 2017 when the roster was crippled by visa issues, 2018’s Team China is likely to shock in a big way for those unfamiliar with the players. Team China finished first in Bangkok with a 5-0 record in potentially the most difficult qualifying group. Team Finland came in second at Incheon, South Korea with its sole loss being a bloody match against the mighty Team South Korea.

This matchup is likely to be the most interesting and hopefully the most entertaining. Team Finland’s habit toward Tank-heavy, brawling compositions tends to allow brute-force control of objectives. Team China is no stranger to brute force but is more an ax opposed to the Finnish hammer and will likely aim to chop ferociously at enemy weaknesses rather than crush them wholesale.

Crucially, Finnish Main Tank Joona “Fragi” Laine’s hyperaggression matches poorly against his Chinese counterpart in Qiulin “Guxue” Xu. Likewise, the star power of Xing “Leave” Huang matches that of famed Timo “Taimou” Kettunen and Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin but does so on a wider range and a higher level of heroes respectively. This match will likely serve as a major wake-up call to fans that Chinese “Overwatch” is not to be taken lightly.

Prediction: China 3-2 Finland

South Korea vs. Australia

In what is undoubtedly the biggest David and Goliath story at the World Cup, Team South Korea aims to defend its title and claim the World Cup three-peat since the tournament’s inception, and the team’s road starts with the team who is Down Under in every sense of the phrase.

Team Australia is by no means lacking in talent; every player is a well-seasoned expert in their role, and the Australians possess a star player in Ashley “Trill” Powell and strong leadership in Scott “Custa” Kennedy. They have the worst record of the second-seeds with a 3-2 showing at Bangkok, but as previously mentioned, it was likely the most difficult group. Further, the additional strain can make this team better suited against powerful opponents than those who had struggled less on the road to BlizzCon.

Team South Korea may remain the mighty colossus, but unlike previous years of imposing shine, there are definitely spots of rust dotting its form. If there ever was a year to take down Goliath, it would be this one. The Koreans’ campaign started with a scare as Finland took them to an intensely close five maps. While those would be the only two maps the team dropped in their 5-0 group-stage display, it was more than enough to simply make them bleed.

Team South Korea has since announced a roster swap, switching three positions ahead of BlizzCon in the hopes of adding more flexibility in the face of an uncertain meta, but the addition of Juno-ho “Fury” Kim as Off-Tank raises its own issues. Namely, the player was in England with the rest of his team, the London Spitfire, and thus unable to have efficient practice with the rest of the national squad.

These factors are slight, and Team Australia’s hopes of advancing remain slim, but it is still a gap in the armor where previously there was but a pinhole. Even if Team Australia is unable to overcome the South Korean giant, its match will likely play a crucial test to see if the Koreans lift the cup once more and may reveal key weaknesses that others might capitalize upon.

Prediction: South Korea 3-1 Australia.

Michael Jeong covers esports. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Michael4Jeong.