Standing in the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California for Overwatch League season two’s debut, I heard some of the biggest cheers of the night when, after a long evening of matches, Shanghai Dragons and Hangzhou Spark flipped the script.
Tank-and-healer-heavy compositions had formed the core of every other match, but in this one, Reaper, Sombra, Bastion and Tracer made appearances on an electric third map. Then technical issues brought the fever pitch momentum sputtering to a halt.
That was the night in a nutshell: Plenty of exciting moments, but also a handful of awkward pauses and other production foibles.
It also didn’t help that a lot of matches looked very similar to one another thanks to teams’ frequent use of GOATS, a team composition generally made up of three tanks and three healers. It thrives on survivability, attrition and clutch ult timing.
It’s been Overwatch’s dominant meta since spring of last year, but it’s unpopular (even verging on reviled) among diehard fans. Coming into season two’s debut, people were worried that matches would be slow, DPS-less slogs — not exactly edge-of-your-seat viewing material.
GOATS, named for the team that first made it a mainstay in Overwatch Contenders, did form the backbone of three of yesterday’s four matches.
The hotly anticipated rematch between season one finalists London Spitfire and Philadelphia Fusion was largely a mirror match, with both teams running Reinhardt, Zarya, D.Va, Brigitte, Lucio and Zenyatta. This ended up demonstrating how GOATS can be both entertaining and frustrating to watch.
Both teams poked and prodded at each other while building ult charge, at which point superior timing and positioning on Zarya’s Graviton Surge ult became key. Whoever managed to slurp the other team into a tiny black hole would usually follow this with a windmill of Reinhardt strikes or a well-placed D.Va bomb — something that played especially well to the strengths of the league’s most notorious D.Va bomber, Philly’s Gael “Poko” Gouzerch.
These explosive multi-kill moments were a thrill to watch, but the skirmishes that preceded them were often drawn out and marked by caution.
The two teams did, however, briefly vary things up, such as when London successfully rolled out with a quad-DPS comp that relied heavily on the ranged damage of Widowmaker and Pharah, and Philly defended the second point with Ashe, Widowmaker and Hammond, among others.
Philly ultimately won the match 3-1 with better GOATS fundamentals, claiming sweet, sweet vengeance after London made them look like amateurs in the season one finale.
The next match between season one juggernaut New York Excelsior and the sneaky-good Boston Uprising once again saw experimentation pay off.
While it was disappointing to see fantastic NYXL DPS player Hae-seong “Libero” Kim confined to crucial yet plodding GOATS hero Brigitte, the team still managed to put on a show.
They cinched a close match by strategically swapping Sombra into D.Va’s usual slot in their GOATS comp, using clever hacks to disrupt Boston’s brand new, shockingly talented Reinhardt, Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth, who looks like a young Conan O’Brien but plays video games much better.
The next match, Seoul Dynasty vs LA Gladiators, was again GOATS-heavy, but it saw Symmetra improbably enter the fray for real, for the first time in OWL history.
The match also had high dramatic stakes, given that Seoul’s current tank, Chan-hyung “Fissure” Baek, spent the latter portion of last season with the LA Gladiators. The question, then, was whether LA knew Fissure well enough to counter him, or if Fissure had his ex-teammates all figured out.
In the end, LA played hard, but savvy Reinhardt play from Fissure led to a 3-1 win for Seoul.
This marks the second time Fissure got traded to another team and then stomped his previous team shortly after. During a post-match interview, an Overwatch League host asked Fissure if he believed he was the best main tank in all of OWL. “Nobody else,” he replied with a satisfied grin.
The final match of the day, Shanghai Dragons vs Hangzhou Spark, was entirely bonkers. Shanghai is best known for never winning a single match during OWL’s first season, and that sadly did not change yesterday.
A last-millisecond switch-up forced the team to acquire a new main tank, Boston’s Noh “Gamsu” Young-jin, days before season two started, and they chose not to run him due to a lack of practice time.
To make up for this, Shanghai threw out some truly bizarre compositions that mostly did not work. But when they did work, we got spectacular plays such as this last-second Reaper ult that saved Shanghai’s bacon from defeat’s salivating jaws on the match’s third and potentially final map.
This took the match to a fourth map, which — after technical issues led to one of the day’s handful of pauses — Hangzhou won pretty handily.
Hangzhou, the team best known for slick AF jersey colours, proved they can play, but to Shanghai’s credit, they didn’t look terrible either, even without a proper main tank. Fan favourite Se-yeon “Geguri” Kim — for whom the audience erupted into cheers any time she so much as appeared on the big screen — pulled off some wild plays with Hammond, such as this perfectly placed storm of mines:
It was a fun closer to a more-varied-than-expected day. The aforementioned production issues, however, marred many of the matches’ momentum, and hopefully are not a sign of things to come.
This season, there’ll be four matches per day every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, so there’ll be plenty of chances for things to go right and wrong.