Stage playoffs are once again upon us. With the meta slowly shifting away from triple-tank, triple-support (GOATS) compositions, a lot more Sombra play, and a potential 2-2-2 hero lock on the horizon, the Stage 3 playoff matchups are as close as they've been all year.
Here are all of the quarterfinals matchups, how each team made it, and their keys to victory.
Houston Outlaws (7th seed) vs. Vancouver Titans (Pacific Division Leader)
How they made it: It's difficult to imagine stage playoffs without the Vancouver, who razed through Stage 1 undefeated and only narrowly lost to the San Francisco Shock in the Stage 2 finals after another undefeated stage. That being said, it's been the Titans worst stage with a few shaky wins and a surprising loss to the Los Angeles Valiant.
By contrast, few expected the Outlaws to be here, especially after a winless Stage 2. Houston kicked off the stage with a near-win over the New York Excelsior and proceeded to upset the Shock a week later. The only other blemish on the Outlaws Stage 3 is a loss to the Florida Mayhem in Week 3.
Outlaws keys to victory: When the Outlaws faced NYXL, the NYXL ran "Sombra-GOATS" or Sombra over D.Va, adding a more standard DPS element to what once was a triple-tank, triple-support base composition. Outlaws players have since said in interviews that this match is what gave them the confidence to forgo triple-triple mirrors altogether unless absolutely necessary. The Titans historically (as RunAway) have struggled in Sombra metas. This will be Houston's best chance to take advantage of that.
Titans keys to victory: In the Titans last match against the Los Angeles Gladiators, we saw the Titans adjust and adapt as necessary, running a lineup with both Seo "SeoMinSoo" Min-soo and Lee "Stitch" Chung-hee during their Sombra compositions. Despite their past struggles in similar metas, the immediate shift and adjustment was impressive, as to be expected from a team that's remained at or near the top of the league since they arrived. The Titans still have the edge here, especially if they can force Houston into a triple-triple mirror on certain maps.
Shanghai Dragons (8th seed) vs. New York Excelsior (Atlantic Division Leader)
How they made it: Due to multiple unconvincing performances throughout Stage 3, it's sometimes easy to forget that of all Overwatch League teams, the NYXL completed this past stage without a single loss. Yes, this year has been objectively worse for the NYXL, but they've also only lost a total of two matches all year, are second overall to the Titans, and have a whopping +46 map differential.
The Dragons have steadily improved throughout the year and made their first stage playoff appearance last stage, where they lost to eventual stage champions, the Shock.
Dragons keys to victory: The arrival of Lee "envy" Kang-jae opens up myriad possibilities for the Dragons. Previously, Yang "DDing" Jin-hyeok was the team's best Sombra player and Pharah player. With envy on the Sombra, the Dragons can now run a variety of multi-DPS compositions using envy, DDing, and hitscan extraordinaire Bae "Diem" Min-seong who has finally been able to flex his Widowmaker muscles this stage. If the Dragons are going to win, they'll do it with DPS.
NYXL keys to victory: NYXL began the stage with an unconvincing win over the Outlaws and have had a few shaky matches since. They've spent the majority of this stage practicing their Sombra compositions with Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol back in the starting lineup and still went undefeated. If NYXL are playing at the level they're capable of playing, they should have this match.
Seoul Dynasty (5th seed) vs. San Francisco Shock (4th seed)
How they made it: Seoul began this stage with dreams of going undefeated after they stormed through the Florida Mayhem, Guangzhou Charge, and Atlanta Reign. Those dreams were quickly ended by the Shock, but Seoul still finished a respectable 5-2, their only other loss to the third-seeded Hangzhou Spark.
San Francisco entered this stage as champions and looked a bit off and were upset by Houston in Week 2. The team they took their loss out on was none other than the Seoul Dynasty that same week.
Dynasty keys to victory: If the Shock force Seoul into a triple-triple mirror like they did in their match earlier this stage, Hwang "Marve1" Min-seo and the rest of Seoul will need to be more prepared to stand up to aggression from the Shock and Matthew "super" DeLisi. Seoul need to keep the Shock away from triple-triple and best them with Sombra and DPS compositions.
Shock keys to victory: The Shock have stubbornly stuck to triple-triple as their default more than most other Overwatch League teams. Even as the meta has shifted throughout this stage, they've stayed away from Sombra for the most part. They seem to have a good matchup against Seoul, and should have this series unless Seoul have a more specific plan of attack.
Los Angeles Valiant (6th seed) vs. Hangzhou Spark (3rd seed)
How they made it: Prior to the season's start, the Hangzhou Spark were highlighted as one of the potential top teams in the league. After a disappointing Stage 1, the Spark spent Stages 2 and especially 3 showcasing just why they were so highly-praised based on lineup alone. With the meta shifting more towards DPS compositions, the Spark have looked better than they ever have.
The Valiant are another pleasant surprise in Stage 3 playoffs. After a complete rework of their lineup and the more recent departure of main tank Koo "Fate" Pan-seung, most thought they would be a middling team at best. However, flex support Park "KariV" Young-soo is having a career stage, and main tank Russell "FCTFCTN" Campbell finally seems to have found his Overwatch League home after Houston.
Valiant keys to victory: The first time the Valiant met the Spark, it was in Stage 1 when neither team had fully formed. It was a close 3-2 in the Spark's favor. These two played each other again this stage, after Hangzhou's lineup had further gelled and the Valiant had undergone a series of roster changes, and it was still a close 3-2. Like many teams, they've stuck primarily to Sombra-GOATS. Just a slightly stronger execution and they may be able to take out the Spark, but it will be difficult.
Spark keys to victory: Sure the Spark are going to be a phenomenal team in a DPS meta, but the underrated part of how they beat the Valiant recently came from their Sombra-GOATS and standard triple-triple looks. With this amount of variety coming from the Spark and a high level of execution, they should be able to take yet another close victory over the Valiant.