With a home crowd and a successful first two matches, Australia looked comfortable in their quest to qualify for the Overwatch World Cup finals at Blizzcon later this year. As Australia has historically done so often however, they began to falter, losing their third group match to Sweden and finding themselves staring down the barrel of a playoffs defeat to Japan. But with moments to spare in overtime, Australia flipped the final point and booked themselves a ticket to Blizzcon later this year.
After beginning the eight-team qualifiers as one of the darkhorse teams, Australia entered the final day's play as perhaps the favourite to qualify. Having swept the floor with Italy and Portugal previously, with the latter having drawn the more fancied Sweden, it seemed all but likely that Australia would book itself a ticket to Blizzcon later in the year.
But Australia has never done anything easily in esports, and Overwatch was to be no exception. Broadcast on 7mate - the first time esports has been on a commercial free-to-air network live - Australia found themselves two maps down against Sweden. Metres from the final point, Sweden redoubled their defensive efforts and salvaged their own Blizzcon hopes by locking the Australians out on Route 66.
The victory was massive, not only because it ensured Sweden's qualification but because it also pitted Australia against one of the most frightening teams of the tournament: Japan. Having pushed Finland (which was expected to qualify for Blizzcon, along with their Scandinavian cousins) to a draw on the Saturday, the Japanese and their hyper-aggressive compositions became the breakout team of the tournament.
That meant a playoff match against Australia, a match where the locals had just been taken down several pegs. Australia took King's Row with some savvy Winston play, and the second map swung in Australia's favour after taking the first round on Lijang Tower. The two countries continued to trade blows, often until the final seconds: Japan pulled two rounds on Lijang Tower, with the point flipping either in overtime or moments before, while it took extra time before Australia swung Volskaya Industries their way.
Japan only took a few minutes to push through the entirety of Dorado, refusing to let the Australians stabilise at any point. So the winner-takes-all match ended up on Oasis, and as was the case in previous maps, Australia flipped the point in overtime to keep the round alive.
The second stage of Oasis played out the same way, with Japan eeking out the initial advantage and Australia finding themselves on the back foot. Japan had held the point for the entirety of the map, but Australia once again recovered in overtime:
Some clever defensive positioning allowed Australia to get early kills in the defensive fights that followed, and the Japanese found themselves in a corner with the Australians camping the point. With one fight left in the match, a sneaky play by Australia's Jason "ieatuup" Ho - basically hiding behind a corner waiting for an enemy to run past - removed Japan's Genji from the fight, giving them a massive advantage in the final moments.
With Japan forced into a team fight a player down, their damage output was irrevocably crippled. The Japanese managed to keep the fight going a little longer with a last second sound barrier, but they lacked the raw damage needed to whittle the Australians down to ultimately push them off the point.
It was an incredibly intense finals and fitting, not just for the crowd, but for Australian esports historically. Qualifying has never been easy for a country geographically isolated from the rest of the esports world, in Overwatch or any other game. But irrespective of what happens in Anaheim in November, Australia has at least guaranteed a top 8 finish at the Overwatch World Cup.