Things got a little wild in the Overwatch League playoffs with the new meta. The Washington Justice, who sat at the bottom of the rankings for much of the season, very nearly beat the defending champion San Francisco Shock, and eliminated the Paris Eternal, who looked like they'd be potential title contenders barely a month ago. Meanwhile, the Seoul Dynasty absolutely dismantled both the Hangzhou Spark and Guangzhou Charge in sweeps, and are now poised to take on the Shanghai Dragons in an epic showdown.
What do our writers think of all the action as we head into the second weekend of playoffs? Let's get to it.
What were your biggest takeaways from the first weekend of playoffs?
Tyler Erzberger: I was impressed how strong the Philadelphia Fusion looked. It's been easy to brush them aside as that team with all the talent in the world who will always be the runner-up regardless of how well they play, but that could be changing if they keep up their form from opening weekend. While San Francisco Shock proved to be mortal and needed closer extraordinaire (and self-proclaimed Genji specialist) Matthew "super" DeLisi to come in to pull back a Washington Justice series they needed a reverse-sweep to win.
Right now, the Fusion have to be considered the favorites to make it through the upper-bracket and qualify for the grand championship in South Korea. Only issue? Even if they do become North America's No. 1, it might not be enough to dispatch the Shanghai Dragons, an equally talented team that might very well deliver another silver medal to the Fusion in a couple of weeks.
Arda Ocal: Shanghai and Philly are riding high, you love to see it. I'm still clinging onto the Dragons redemption arc conclusion, so in a few years there can be a longform documentary on this team going from the worst performing team in esports to world champions. Shout out to the Valiant for making it competitive, especially knocking down Florida to the losers bracket. No real surprises in Asia in terms of the teams remaining: Shanghai, Seoul, NYXL and Guangzhou. The Dragons and Dynasty emphatically beat both losers bracket participants, so it looks like we might very well have a "final before the final" on our hands.
Emily Rand: I'd say the greatest takeaway is that nothing is guaranteed. The Paris Eternal were looking like a team that could easily contend with both North America bracket favorites in the San Francisco Shock and Philadelphia Fusion. Instead, they were bumped down to the losers' bracket after a narrow loss to the Atlanta Reign, and were then eliminated by new playoff darling Washington Justice. The Shock nearly lost to the Justice in the first playoff round and had to pull off a reverse sweep to advance and stay ahead in the winners' bracket when most thought they would potentially be dropped down by Paris (had Paris beat the Reign) in a close semifinals match.
Meanwhile in the Asia bracket the Seoul Dynasty, who have been inconsistent all year, showed up when it mattered, making their way through the play-in portion of the bracket and sweeping the Guangzhou Charge to make it to winners finals.
Jacob Wolf: The Dynasty, finally! Emily and I have both been high on them all season, even in their moments of lackluster performance, because again, this roster has the potential to be very good. We've been saying that for three seasons and it's not really gotten us anywhere. But maybe it will this time. Hats off to the Dynasty.
I wasn't as much surprised by the Fusion -- as I expected them to be great -- but it's definitely refreshing to see them be even better than expected. I'm really looking forward to their match versus the Shock.
Who are the biggest winners from this new, fluid meta?
Erzberger: The Justice were stellar on opening playoff weekend and are a legitimate contender to make a lower-bracket run to South Korea if things come up. When a meta is fluid and teams are still trying to figure out how to play around it, the teams with the most talent generally overpower the rest until a team finds the correct answer, and the Justice have a whole lot of talent despite maybe not having the same amount of chemistry as the Fusions and Shocks of the world.
Ocal: Gotta agree with Tyler, Washington looked nasty in parts and took San Fran to the brink. It took a reverse sweep for the Shock to move on. Just imagine if Corey were st... nevermind. I guess that would apply to sinatraa as well.
Rand: The Justice were the dark horse in NA we were looking for all along?
This new playoff meta seems to revolve around two things, the first being what your DPS players are most comfortable with, and the second being how good a team is at playing either side of the Roadhog matchup. Roadhog effectively means eschewing a main tank option for added damage and that sweet, sweet hook and while I'm not siding with one option or the other, it's worth mentioning that a successful team needs to pick an option, preferably the one that makes them the most comfortable. If you want to go Hog and Zarya, go for it. If you're more comfortable with Winston and a traditional main tank, go for it.
I'm going to highlight Seoul here as a definite winner alongside the Justice given main tank player Hong "Gesture" Jae-hee's Hog.
Wolf: Sticking with the panel here and saying both the Justice and the Dynasty. It's really clear they've excelled with the shift, especially at DPS. I expect both teams to continue strong this playoff, with the Justice making a lower bracket run and the Dynasty giving the Dragons a run for their money.
Which region looks stronger right now?
Erzberger: North America is deeper but Asia has the best team in the Dragons. While the Excelsior got me excited with how well they played the Dragons in the first round of the Asian playoffs, I still think NA, just by the virtue of having more teams and having more teams to scrim against, has a deeper field of strong teams. Florida Mayhem aren't favored to make it to the grand championship playoffs in NA but would be a good bet to come out as No. 2 behind the Dragons if they were in the Asian region.
Really, though, we actually need to see the teams play before anything is certain. That's the excitement of any esport when two scenes are separated for months and they finally meet: who really is the best in Overwatch?
Ocal: It feels like NA has more depth but Shanghai look unstoppable pretty much all the time no matter who you put in front of them. I feel like Shanghai would win NA if they were competing there as well.
Rand: The Asian region looks more interesting to me due to their players and hero compositions but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're better. Meanwhile in North America we have ye olde parity problem with teams like the Paris Eternal already eliminated and the San Francisco Shock looking shaky while teams like the Justice are surging. There's the illusion of strength across the board that I think is more due to meta shifts and adaptation than anything else. The Shock and the Fusion are still probably going to be our grand finalists while over in Asia it's looking like Shanghai and Seoul? NYXL? Shanghai, Philadelphia, and San Francisco all seem to have the most flexibility (even with the Shock's initial struggles) so by that default you'd have to give it to North America I guess, but it's difficult for me to say definitively.
Wolf: Asia. The Dragons look like the behemoth to beat assuming an unified final can really happen in South Korea in a few weeks. Maybe I'm underestimating the Shock, but I feel like they're more challenged -- to Tyler's point that North America is a deeper region -- than the Dragons are.
Fusion vs. Shock might be the biggest game of the season so far. Who ya got?
Erzberger: My heart tells me Shock while my brain is screaming at me to pick the Fusion. I've spouted for weeks how I won't pick another team to get out of NA as No. 1 seed until they beat the Shock in the playoffs, and although the Justice got a hair's breadth away, the reigning, undisputed and defending world champions are still breathing in the upper-bracket. I might regret this, but I'm still going with the Shock to pull off the win over the Fusion. Both teams should advance onward by the end of the weekend to South Korea, though, so don't fret Philly fans.
Ocal: It's Philly's time. They unseat the champs, win the region, set up a battle with Shanghai. Great script right there. They also have history on their side as a season one grand finalist. Much like G2 in the LEC, The Shock have earned the right to always be in the conversation until proven otherwise, given their dominance in the last two seasons, but Philly to me might have the edge here.
Rand: Fusion look significantly more comfortable in this meta after one week. Yet, last year we saw the Shock drop into the losers' bracket unexpectedly after a 3-4 loss to the Atlanta Reign and they proceeded to not lose a map for the rest of their run to become 2019 Overwatch League champions. I'll never count out the Shock after a week for meta-adjustments, even with the changes from last year to this year's lineup, but after what I saw last week, I'll go with the Fusion.
Wolf: Taking the Shock here. I do think it'll be reminiscent of their series with the Justice, which was very, very close. But I still favor the reigning champions as I think their ability to come up clutch when it means the most is higher. That's not super tangible but I'm not sold on that part of the Fusion yet.
Are your picks still the same for each region?
Erzberger: I'm still loving my predictions after the first week. Shock, Fusion, Dragons and Excelsior make it to the final showdown in Seoul, and though the Fusion are creeping up my rankings, I still envision the finals being a war between the Shock and Dragons. Who would have thought back in 2018 when the Overwatch League first started that the Shock vs. Dragons could be the most anticipated Overwatch series ever?
Ocal: Yup, I'm still in on a Shock vs. Dragons final, with the Shock winning!
Rand: My poor Chengdu boys are out and while I expected it and didn't pick them, I'm still sad because I love watching them play (go watch the Chengdu-NYXL series, you won't regret it). The only other surprise for me is how uncomfortable Guangzhou suddenly looked so that pick is looking a little rough but all four of my teams (Shanghai, Guangzhou from Asia and Philadelphia, San Francisco from NA) are still in it.
Wolf: In terms of regional winners, yes, Shock and Dragons win out. We'll see if the Charge prove me right about being a dark horse.