Overwatch Contenders Review: How Champions are Made
What’s up guys and gals CaptainPlanet here to present a truncated Tier List and an Overwatch Contenders Review. The Overwatch Contenders Season 1 LAN finals christened Blizzard’s new arena last weekend and in the process, two champions were crowned. One was expected: the NA juggernaut EnVyUs, who with their 4-0 sweep of FaZe demonstrated what an Overwatch League-ready squad looks like. The other was a surprise: the Finns of Team Gigantti, who upset the also OWL-bound Misfits in a thrilling 4-3 seven game series. By necessity, this Meta Report focus less on aggregate data, since only 26 matches were played throughout the entire tournament on a patch now two patches behind the live servers. Instead, I will be diving deep into the plays and analyzing the strategy that resulted in EnVy and Gigantti hoisting their trophies. I’ll get to that shortly, but for those who are curious about the hero usage that did occur, here are the tiers for Contenders Playoffs:
Again, remember this is based off only 26 games on patch 1.14
S Tier (>=95% Usage Rate): Lucio (97%)
Tier 1 (>80% Usage Rate): Tracer (87%), Winston (83%), D.Va (79%)
Tier 2 (>50% Usage Rate): No one!
Tier 3 (>20% Usage Rate): Zenyatta (48%), Genji (38%), Soldier 76 (27%), Sombra (26%)
Tier 4 (>5% Usage Rate): Reinhardt (18%), Ana (18%), Junkrat (17%), Zarya (12%), Pharah (11%), Mercy (11%), Widowmaker (9%), McCree (7%), Reaper (5%)
Tier 5 (<5% Usage Rate): Roadhog (4%), Doomfist (2%), Mei (2%), Bastion (1%), Torbjorn (0%), Hanzo (0%), Symmetra (0%)
I’ll keep this brief, like the sample size. The most interesting thing to me was the high Sombra usage, a highly defensive affair:
Fights on these maps were often long and focused around the ability of the attacking team to score a clutch pick on the Sombra, preventing a push-ending EMP that always seemed ready for every fight. One particular early Sombra kill kicked off a map-winning push into Temple of Anubis for Gigantti, the first of the two champions that I will be analyzing.
How did Gigantti win?
Gigantti entered Contenders playoffs as a skilled underdog relative to the favored Misfits. Gigantti had lost their previous matchup with the OWL squad 4-0, so many including the desk predicted a close match, but an eventual win for Misfits. However, Gigantti quickly tallied a 3-1 lead and eventually won the best of seven 4-3 in a thrilling finish on Ilios. LiNkzr was the team’s brightest star, alongside his DPS partner Davin who put all other non-Effect Tracers to shame throughout the weekend. But Gigantti’s run was not all LiNkzrs and Davins – the effort of the entire team lead to many small instances of “popping off” and clutch plays that ultimately lead to their hoisting the Contenders Season 1 Trophy. As a starting point, let’s check out what SoOn had to say about their win:
Ult Management and Denial
SoOn has been playing in the Overwatch scene since early closed beta, so he’s as good of a source as any to verify the skill the Gigantti possessed when it came to ultimate management. This ultimate management encompassed not only using their ultimates in the right situations, but also denying the effectiveness of their opponent’s ultimates. For example, did you know that Zappis saved Fragi from TviQ’s RIP-Tire on Eichenwalde…two separate times on the same push?
Zappis also proved his worth as a master of avoiding D.Va Defense Matrix with his Graviton Surges. Sometimes, he would do this via traditional means, by simply melting the D.Va before dropping his ult:
Other times, he juked the D.Va around objects like the Payload:
As impressive as Zappis’ ult denials and usage are, ult management is primarily a team exercise. Observe this sequence of events on Temple of Anubis, where Gigantti conservatively used its five saved-up ultimates to “ultimate”ly take a difficult second point:
It’s a long clip with a lot to unpack. First, LiNkzr scored an early pick on TviQ, which opened up room for Gigantti to push in to contest the point without having to worry about TviQ’s RIP-Tire:
At this point, Gigantti’s push could have been undone with a well-timed EMP from Zuppehw. But LiNkzr had other plans:
Knowing that Zuppehw and his EMP were taken out of the action, Biggoose was free to drop his Sound Barrier, which prevented the newly spawned TviQ’s RIP-Tire from killing more than Davin (RIP Davin). After tanking the Tire with a combination of Primal Rage and Sound Barrier, Fragi secured the kill on Logix off-camera. At this point, Gigantti had invested all of their ultimates (Davin’s death negated his Pulse Bomb) to put Misfits into a heavily staggered spawn-zerg-rush situation.
Or should I say, almost all of their ultimates. Gigantti was running a single-support lineup in order to put their flex support, Shaz, onto Reaper. This was a lineup unique to Gigantti, a Temple of Anubis special sauce of sorts:
Shaz had endured 45 long seconds without pressing Q, seeking as much value as possible from the Death Blossom burning a hole in his leathery pockets. After a flaccid, desperate EMP from Zuppehw, Shaz found himself staring at Misfits’ last reinforcements:
But, a good Reaper never Death Blossoms while a D.Va is still in her mech. With continued patience, Shaz de-meched his quarry, then let it rip – under careful protection from Zappis’ Defense Matrix:
In a minute-long engagement, Gigantti not only mitigated two of Misfits’ most powerful countermeasures in RIP-Tire and EMP, but also prolonged a fight as long as possible with efficient usage of their own ultimate stash. Had LiNkzr not picked off Zuppehw with Dragonblade, the whole push after the TviQ pick could have been wasted: Biggoose might not have been able to Sound Barrier and TviQ’s tire would have killed more than just Davin. Had these two prior sets of ultimates been unsuccessful, Shaz would have had to use his Death Blossom sooner, and Gigantti might have not secured the third and final tick. It took grace under pressure and amazing ult management to win the fight – and Gigantti had it.
Clutch Individual Plays
After Gigantti’s win, my colleague Harsha caught up with LiNkzr where he detailed how Gigantti’s game plan was never to necessarily send LiNkzr after TviQ in their Genji vs. Pharah duels on Ilios and Oasis. Instead, it was more of an individual decision left up to LiNkzr himself, as he attempted to read the opposing Pharah’s fuel levels. Judging from LiNkzr’s Dragonblade usage, his predictions were on point:
When Gigantti developed their control map strategy, they knew TviQ would do as he pleased in the skies, so they instead focused on winning the ground war. Win the ground war was exactly what Gigantti did, which then gave LiNkzr the freedom to pursue some “extracurricular” activities:
Having a solid game plan gave their team more chances to excel, because it provided them a solid base to build upon. On a separate Temple of Anubis attack, Gigantti exploited a widely accepted defensive Winston position for an easy headshot which then snowballed into a first point take:
Sometimes, it’s all up to individual plays in the moment. I showed off Zappis’ clutch Zarya bubbles earlier in the article, but all of Gigantti had individual clutch plays that had far more impact than a kill in the death log. They were as demoralizing as Shaz dropping his balls on your head from across the map:
They were as precise as a triple-Shuriken to the dome:
And they completely spoiled a push thanks to Biggoose booping a Sound-Barrier-ing Zebbosai out of line of sight from his team:
Individual plays can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. These clutch moments were what eventually brought Gigantti their trophy, and no statistic is going to tell you that. In the end, it did not matter what Davin’s first kill rate was, or how many assists Shaz had, or how many Sound Barriers Biggoose gained, all that mattered was that this situation…
Ended with this result…
Which led to this outcome:
How did EnVy win?
In EnVyUs’ last game as EnVyUs, they left everything on the battlefield and demonstrated what a true Overwatch Team should look like. They showed off their newest member, the high-flying Seagull, and in the process laid the strategic groundwork for how to sub out players on a map-by-map basis. At the moment no other team seems quite as far along with this concept as EnVyUs, but as OWL rosters crystallize we may see others attempt to imitate their resounding Contenders Finals success.
Gigantti won with the power of teamwork, ultimate management, and clutch plays, but these are the kinds of things we already expect from EnVy. EnVy, but mostly their coach Kyky, would not be satisfied by winning with a victory based on good fundamentals and skill alone. No, it had to be a massacre that simultaneously bewildered and demoralized their opponents while also demonstrating just how far ahead EnVy’s perspective on Overwatch had evolved. They waged a psychological and strategic warfare which, when coupled with their already world-class individual skill, resulted in a clean sweep to victory. While there were certainly close games against FaZe – Temple of Anubis and Route 66 come to mind – EnVy would not be denied. When they added Seagull, they unleashed the three-headed beast.
The Three-Headed Beast
Artists’ rendition of the NA 4v4 deathmatch, which hilariously illustrates the situation Shadowburn and FaZe found themselves in against Seagull, Effect, and Taimou
Caught in a frame of artwork, the three-headed flex-DPS dragon of Taimou, Effect, and Seagull was seemingly un-counterable, especially for poor Shadowburn. While Seagull stuck mainly to Control maps, his ability to play Pharah to compliment Effect’s Tracer ground war allowed Taimou to flex onto any hero he felt he needed to fulfill his duties to protect the supports and also support the Effect carry. This was just another step in the evolution of EnVy, as detailed again in Harsha’s Taimou interview where he described his role as a supportive element to the true carry, Effect. Adding Seagull added another threat and removed another level of burden from Taimou – promoting the stress-free gaming style that is key to achieving true PMA.
However, having a three-pronged attack created more problems for their opponents than it did to help EnVyUs. First, it was not widely known until shortly before Contenders Finals that Seagull was even going to play. At the very least, the news of this possibility took FNRGFE’s analyst by surprise. Just the threat of Seagull and the lineups that his addition enabled EnVy to run changed the way their opponents had to prepare – on short notice. But how do you prepare for a simultaneous ground-air assault, in the case of EnVy’s Pharah comps? FaZe initially attempted to run their own Pharah comp against EnVy’s three-headed beast and both teams subscribed to the same concept as Gigantti: they ignored the Pharahs in the air and focused on winning the ground war.
rarely did Seagull ever aim a rocket at Shadowburn
The Pharahs were initially unable to get any work done, but EnVy eventually won out due to the fact that Spree’s Defense Matrix had to run out eventually. As soon as it did, EnVy’s superior firepower quickly wiped FaZe out:
When Shadowburn was in the air, Carpe on the ground had difficulties defeating the duo of Taimou and Effect as a solo ground DPS. Faze swapped Shadowburn to Genji, but Taimou countered with a Roadhog swap to create the ultimate “Effect Carry” comp:
This lineup was one of many that it seemed only EnVy was capable of running at a high skill level. What other team has the personnel to utilize a Roadhog, Tracer, and Pharah all at the same time? Despite swapping away from Pharah to a non-hitscan hero, FaZe seemed to focus on shutting down Seagull and Chipshajen in the skies. They were quite successful at times:
This decision made sense compared to attacking the EnVy backline on the ground and dodging Taimou hooks, but this focus came with a risk – one that EnVy was more than happy to exploit. To get to Seagull and Chips, FaZe players had to commit to deep dives – leaving their backline vulnerable. With Taimou protecting EnVy’s backline on the ground, Seagull making space with rockets from above, Effect had the freedom to unleash his inner beast. No amount of peel from Carpe or Spree could deny what some consider the world’s best Tracer as he sliced through FaZe’s supports. Some plays are just unpreventable:
By trotting out lineups that no other team could run, EnVy made predicting their strategy that much more difficult while simultaneously providing extra flexibility in how they responded to their opponent. These unique team comps forced EnVy’s opponents to play reactively, putting EnVy in the driver’s seat when it came to the meta mind games. This compositional flexibility was planned by EnVy’s coach Kyky, who expressed satisfaction that the lineups they played were quite evenly distributed. The more interesting thing to me, however, was that they not only played many more hero lineups than their Contenders peers, but that they played vastly different team comps as well:
Note that EnVy clocked zero playtime under the two most-played lineups in Contenders Finals. If we focus down to the only the lineups that EnVy themselves played, we in fact find that their most played lineups were defense-heavy, Sombra-based lineups designed to break their opponents attack on Route 66 and Temple of Anubis:
While the potential flexibility of EnVy was certainly by design, the actual lineups the chose were not 100% planned. When it came to Route 66 and Seagull’s Bastion pick for example, it was a spur of the moment decision. This was the strength of a “greater than 6” player roster at work, an ability to change lineups on the fly both during and between maps. After facing the three-headed DPS beast on Ilios, FaZe had to then contend with Mickie’s D.Va and Taimou’s Widowmaker and Sombra on Hollywood and Temple of Anubis, heroes they then had to adjust to on the fly. Then it was on to Route 66, with a fresh Seagull and Taimou’s Bastion shenanigans. Few, if any teams – OWL or not – could hope to keep up.
Their Own Brand of Clutch
All of the lineup decisions and strategy behind EnVyUs’ win was certainly interesting and gave me a lot to talk about, but most viewers watch Overwatch for the hype plays in the heat of the moment. Gigantti’s “clutchness” came from spectacular individual plays built on the top of great ult management, but EnVyUs’ players feel like they all “pop off” at the same time. I’ll show you what I mean, with this sequence of events on Temple of Anubis that snatched a win from the jaws of…a draw.
To set the stage, EnVy found themselves in a 3v5, in overtime, needing to secure a single tick to avoid the draw with FaZe. Nine teams out of ten, this engagement ends five seconds later with two dead supports, one dead Tracer, and a map draw. Not so, with EnVyUs. After Chipshajen picked off Shadowburn, Harryhook continued what became an insane game-winning stall by saving his own life from a leaping FCTFCTN. He did so with something incredibly simple: a Boop.
Harry escaped to into the building and FCTFCTN turned his attention to Spree who was dealing with Effect. Effect managed to both pop Spree’s mech and escape with a last-second blink:
And then added another blink to out-range Rawkus’ hack, returning with an Orb of Harmony from Chips:
Chips then finished off Spree with the help of Harry, and Effect kited the ulting FCTFCTN away from the point, trading a death for a Pulse Bomb kill:
Chips then fell to Rawkus and Joemeister, who had just returned from spawn. However, these antics from EnVy’s remaining three players stalled for long enough for their own reinforcements to arrive:
This gave EnVy the numbers advantage, and not even a Shadowburn could re-turn the tide. Somehow in a 4-0, they managed to make it exciting.
Final Thoughts and Shoutouts
Contenders has come to an end and it – along with the GC Busan thrashing of Lunatic Hai and C9 Kongdoo – has taught us some lessons. At the present moment, it seems like not all Overwatch League teams are created equal. While EnVy wowed the competition and the viewers alike, Misfits, Team Seoul, and Team London were seemingly “exposed” in the course of two weeks. Were the Korean teams acquired too quickly? Does Misfits need to make more roster moves? Where will GC Busan and Gigantti go from here? The signing period for Overwatch League ends in three weeks, and I doubt these players will remain outside of OWL. One can only hope that by the time Overwatch League begins, the rest of the competition has taken a page out of
EnVyUs Dallas’ book! I can’t wait to watch these teams battle it out in the new arena.
Until next time,