I never got into watching sports much.  And I still don’t! But it turns out I like watching esports, namely, Overwatch League and other high level play.  It’s back for 2019, and in just the second week we got the upset we’ve been waiting for since forever: the Shanghai Dragons won.

dragons-win

If you’re not quite sure what that’s about: Shanghai had the worst record in the first season, 0-40. And despite a near total change in team roster, they seemed to continue it last week with two more losses. Yet they’ve been a fan favorite, largely because they have the only female player in Overwatch, Geguri.

(Not the longest drought for a team I’ve supported though.  That would be my alma mater, Northwestern U., whose football team lost every game during the four years I attended. Well, as we always said, our SATs were higher.)

If you know nothing about Overwatch, the rest of the post may well be undecipherable. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tonight’s match was pretty decisive, though: 3-1 on maps.  The first two maps were close to blowouts; the third was a nailbiter. It was a capture map, Horizon Lunar Colony.  Shanghai and Boston each capped both points, for a score of 2-2. But Shanghai had nearly 5 minutes more time going into the next round… still, they lost a lot of that time advantage, and both teams capped again.  Now it was 4-4.  Third round: Boston didn’t have much time, but they got 2 of 3 ticks on the first point. Shanghai had to beat the capture percentage of 79.5%… and they did, in a chaotic fight that lasted all of one minute.  (They had 1:17 left on the clock.)

The crowd went wild; whereas there are few things sadder than the panning shot over the Boston team just after their loss.  (“Someone had the break the streak… but why us?”)

The outstanding player of the match was new: Dding, on Sombra.  He was constantly behind the enemy scouting and hacking, and his timing on her EMP was spot on. This was particularly fun to watch since I sometimes play Sombra.  I’m trying to learn the playstyle: hack and shoot till you start to lose health, then teleport back to where you left your translocator.  Unless I forget to set it up, which I do at least once per game.  Needless to say, Dding does not have this problem.

Matches so far this season have been full of surprises. Last year’s top three teams were New York, Los Angeles Valiant, and Boston. As of tonight, New York is still on top, but the other two are in the bottom six; indeed, Boston is the team that Shanghai just beat. London, which won the championship last year, is also in the bottom six.

The eight expansion teams have done surprisingly well: right now five of them are in the top eight in the standings.  Matchups have also been startlingly non-transitive.  Dallas, which I also support because of streamer/coach Jayne, is 1-2, but one of those wins was against third-place Seoul. Hangzhou slaughtered two teams last week, but lost tonight to #14 Houston. Seoul has beaten Chengdu, which beat Guangzhou, which beat Dallas, which beat Seoul.

Probably things will sort out soon enough. But I’d say that at this level of play, Overwatch is not quite predictable: the game rules provide a final ranking that does not necessarily correspond to team skill.  These are all really good players who fight as a unit, and most team fights begin with a single kill.  Somebody’s gotta go, and it may be semi-random. At my level, a 5×6 fight is far from definitive, but at the pro level, it generally means a lost fight. And ults are a huge wild card whose success depends on split-second timing, and very careful tracking of enemy ults. I’ve watched a lot of team fights where you’d really have to watch several times at slow speed to figure out why it went the way it did.

Lots of people have been complaining about Goats, or 3-3 as the casters call it: the three-tank three-support meta that’s been dominant since last summer. I think most people don’t like it because you have to be pretty high level to play it, much less appreciate it. Most people want to play DPS, and as Jayne says, all but high-level games are usually played as DPS deathmatch. At my level, it’s hard to even get two tanks per game. If you play DPS, you watch pro play and don’t see anyone playing your hero. (I don’t mind so much, because my main characters are tanks, D.Va and Orisa.)

Thanks to some recent game changes, Goats is slightly less dominant; some teams have ran a Symmetra, and some games tonight featured Reaper and Soldier. A few teams have tried a one-tank strategy, that tank being Hammond, which seems really weird.

It’s been kind of cringey listening to the casters trying to pronounce Chinese names. You’d think they would have someone they could ask, like the players. If you want to do better than most of the casters do:

  • Guangzhou = gwahng joe
  • Hangzhou  = hahng joe
  • Chengdu = chung do
  • Shanghai = shahng high

The -ang has the same /a/ vowel as in hot, father, taco; it doesn’t rhyme with hang or hung. For an even closer pronunciation, see my book.

Anyway, hoping Dallas can pull it together tomorrow afternoon…

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