The final round of the $300,000 ELeague/FACEIT Overwatch Open on Oct. 30 featured that classic matchup between a heavy favorite and a scrappy underdog, something that has long enlivened both sports movies and live sports alike. In a cinematic ending that lacked the often crueler touch of reality, it was actually the team facing the longer odds that came out on top.
The Goliath of this story, USA's EnVyUs, cruised into the LAN final in Atlanta. Blasting through the preliminaries and never facing possible elimination, EnVyUs made it through the tournament without ever having its back to the wall. This was a team, after all, with only a single match loss in nearly four months, that loss having been to Rogue in the ESL Atlantic Showdown in July.
For Europe's Misfits, the road to Atlanta was rockier. One of the team's DPSs, Nikolaj "Zaprey" Ian Moyes, retired from the Overwatch competitive scene to concentrate on his studies, leaving the team scrambling to find the best replacement just three weeks before the final. The team moved Andreas "Nevix" Karlsson to DPS full-time and added Mikaël "Hidan" Da Silva on a trial basis to reshuffle the roster.
That wasn't the last challenge Misfits faced. Tank Nicholas "Skipjack" Rosada left the team temporarily due to a serious illness in the family. Skipjack's mother passed away during the tournament and the desire to honor their suffering teammate proved to be a key motivation for the team to put on a great show in the final.
"I couldn't fly him over in good conscience," said team manager Ali "Alicus" Saba. "The boys gave it their hardest to give him something to be happy about." To fill in for Skipjack during the Open, Misfits brought in Ruben "ryb" Ljungdhal to take over a tank spot. Skipjack has since returned to the team.
In Game 1 of the final, it was Misfits that was the aggressor, going all-out on defense to deny EnVyUs the initial capture point for as long as possible. EnVyUs's Ronnie "Talespin" DuPree hit a key Reaper Death Blossom at the final point which proved essential to the capture, but vital time had been lost, which was enough for Misfits to take Game 1.
The other factor that made the Game 1 win possible was Misfits effectively planning for one of EnVyUs's key plays, a situational switch by Sebastian "chipshajen" Widlund and Talespin to a Mercy-Pharah combo, a strategy that instantly changes the spatial dynamic of the battles.
Terrence "SoOn" Tarlier, a DPS for Misfits, spoke to ESPN Esports about the team's approach going into Game 1. "We knew we could beat EnVyUs because the EU scene is stronger than the NA scene and so we started this match confidently. We knew EnVyUs by watching every VOD, so we planned for countering their Pharah/Mercy. During King's Row, they switched to Pharah/Mercy at the last point and we instantly switched to McCree."
Game 2 in Nepal featured EnVyUs roaring back. One crucial element that had been missing for the team on King's Row was Timo "Taimou" Kettunen's Roadhog play, an ingredient that helped EnVyUs crush the other North American teams previously. But Roadhog came out on the King of the Hill map and hook after hook from Taimou crushed Misfits in team battles.
SoOn explained what went wrong on Nepal and what Misfits did to compensate. "On Nepal, we tried our normal comp with Zenyatta. It worked in the first round, but after that, it didn't, so we tried some other comps and ended up losing the map. I explained to my teammates that Taimou was hooking me, so I said for the next King of the Hill, we will do the normal comp, but instead use Ana. I focused on the target with the team and it worked."
Game 2 turned out to be the last loss for Misfits in the tournament. Game 3 was a quick one, with EnVyUs failing to capture the second point in Gibraltar, something Misfits achieved with time to spare to capture the game.
Going back to a King of the Hill map with Lijiang for Game 4, you could see Misfits' strategy to contain Taimou's Roadhog paying off. While the hook remained dangerous, Misfits adopted a strategy of evading Taimou as much as possible, dealing with the rest of the team as well as they could, and then focusing on him once his position was more isolated.
Misfits did have one scare in Game 4. In round two, up 1-0 and in overtime, SoOn was dueling Talespin on the point and, believing that someone else on his team was also on the point, strafed off it for a second. Overtime ticked down faster than he could step back on, giving EnVyUs the second round.
That proved to be EnVyUs's last victory. Up 2-1 in the fourth round, there came the pivotal moment that sealed Misfits' final victory. In a brutal overtime fight, Nevix hit his Graviton Pulse, followed by SoOn's Pulse Bomb, which scored a triple kill, leaving Talespin to have to defend a 2-1 situation against ryb's Winston and Sebastian "Zebbosai" Olsson's Lucio.
"I said to Nevix, 'I've got the bomb, tell me when you Graviton,'" said SoOn. "Nevix used it just before he died, I threw my bomb and died too. It was like my Grand Final 2013 in Shootmania, a WTF moment. I didn't expect to do three kills and when it happened and watched the 2v1, I was so up. I just call like a madman to kill Tracer, because it can be the last moment of the grand final. And ryb did it."
A few seconds later, Misfits took the round, the game, the match and the tournament. They were misfits no more.
SoOn reflected on the team's victory. "I really wanted to win this tournament. It's not about the money, but the honor. It was the biggest Overwatch tournament in 2016 and winning this tournament for me was a dream. When Overwatch is bigger in 10 years, I can say 'Look, I won the Overwatch Open!' But I also wanted to win for Misfits, because they trusted this roster since the beginning and after Gamescom, everybody underestimated us."