GOATS meta gives underdog Grand Canyon University an edge at CEC

No. 18 Grand Canyon University made it to the Overwatch quarterfinals at the Collegiate Esports Championship in Houston on the back of the triple-tank, triple-support meta. Photo by Gabriel Christus/ESPN Images

HOUSTON -- Map 5. Nepal. Both the University of California at Irvine and Grand Canyon University had taken a control point apiece. The winner of the final control point, Shrine, would move on to the quarterfinals at the Collegiate Esports Championship.

Despite being the 18th seed in Tespa's collegiate Overwatch tournament and facing a No. 1 seed that hadn't dropped a series all year, GCU managed to take the 3-2 victory after flipping the point in overtime.

The reaction?

"Screaming," GCU flex DPS Ethan "Sody" Gunnerson said. "Just screaming."

"Well, I started yelling out to my team, 'I'm passing out, I'm passing out,'" flex tank Oscar "Whiskers" Esquer said. The rest of his team burst out laughing. "I think everyone heard it. My hands were shaking."

The victory propelled GCU to this weekend's quarterfinal in Houston, where the Lopes will face No. 7 Orange Coast College at 2 p.m. ET on Friday for a spot in Saturday's semifinal.

A large part of GCU's Cinderella run into the round of eight at the CEC is owed to their success with the popular triple-tank, triple-support team composition. The comp, which is called GOATs after one of the first teams to play it regularly in competitive play, happens to be a big part of the Overwatch metagame going into the Tespa tournament, and GCU considers GOATS to be their best, and most integral, playstyle in competition.

"Halfway through the transition from first semester to second semester, we actually picked up two new players to help us better run the comps that we wanted to," GCU main support and team captain Justen "Ninjacat" Johns said.

Those players were flex support David "Cuddlemaster" Cho and flex tank Whiskers. Ninjacat used to play Zenyatta in a more flex support role, but he moved to main support, and Cuddlemaster took over Zenyatta duties.

"Promoting these specific players really was key to making it here," Ninjacat said. "I was kind of forced onto the Zen [initially] in the GOATS meta."

Now in the main support role, Ninjacat also can flex onto Ana if need be, as he did in their CEC qualifying run. Cuddlemaster can also respond to the opponent's composition with Ana if need be, leaving Ninjacat on a main support like LĂșcio or Mercy.

In particular, the Winston-Ana combination also has been a large part of GCU's success. Although Kyle "Pawp" Gunnerson, GCU's main tank and Sody's twin brother, thinks the team has room to improve, the Lopes have beaten higher-seeded teams before. Now, they'll need to do it onstage in an LAN setting.

"The transition from our first semester to our second semester was pretty smooth," Pawp said. "I think our understanding's not quite there yet. On Nepal vs. UCI, I don't think we were playing it correctly, our GOATS especially. I think there's still some things that we need to fix. But in a GOATS vs. GOATS matchup, we're a lot more confident in that."

"I think I'm the fun police," Sody added. "When people try and get on DPS, I'm like, 'Hey, we're running GOATS.'"

"Know your role!" his teammates shouted in response to mimic their captain's orders.

Sody was confident that if they can play triple-triple on the CEC stage like they did in their run to Houston, they can go further in this tournament than most expect.

Regardless of the level of competition, triple-tank, triple-support compositions have dominated the Overwatch meta in 2019. Certain professional Overwatch League teams have struggled to adapt to triple-triple because it relies a much more team-oriented playstyle that requires precise timing and specific ultimate combinations.

Despite the difficulties with running a GOATS composition, especially in a less formal collegiate setting with fewer practice hours, GCU has excelled. Triple-triple is the main reason the Antelopes are in Houston, and they'll rely on their teamwork to execute it in big moments this weekend.

"It's really hard to make a play by yourself without having your team," Whiskers said. "Even if something like an Earthshatter where the Reinhardt is technically making the big play, if you don't have your team backing you up for that, you're not going to kill anybody."

Within the triple-triple meta, GCU have found a surprising amount of flexibility, not only with their supports but in some more creative looks like a four-tank, double-support setup, or a few tank and DPS flexes shown against UCI.

"I have to say, there were some comps in that game that we came up with on the spot," Whiskers said, laughing. "Our attack on King's Row where we did the double shield, that was something we had never practice before."

"No," Sody said as his teammates chuckled. "David saw it in a YouTube video."

GCU expects Orange Coast College might have some unexpected strategies to roll out on Friday as well. It'll be the first offline tournament for GCU, which could introduce some nerves. But when in doubt, like in the past, the team will turn to the triple-triple setup.

"I'm expecting them to try a bunch of other stuff to try and throw us off with some bunker or some kind of cheese and maybe DPS comps," Sody said, "but I think we can handle the DPS comps."