This past weekend marked the end of the first-ever Overwatch Contenders Gauntlet tournament ... and showcased the next chapter in professional Overwatch.
Overwatch Contenders is a seasonal league where promising talents can compete and hone their skills. This is where talent is farmed for the Overwatch League. Success stories like the Vancouver Titans and the rebuild of the Shanghai Dragons are in-part thanks to players discovered through Overwatch Contenders.
Contenders, along with Showdown events, are a crucial part of the talent pipeline and Overwatch’s Path to Pro system. Everything from this season of Contenders culminated in “The Gauntlet”, a South Korean tournament in the legendary Giga Arena. The dust settled with South Korean team Element Mystic besting the North American underdogs, Atlanta Academy, in convincing fashion.
So, what does this mean for Overwatch esports?
“Our first opportunity to see a major international Contenders event did not disappoint,” Overwatch commentator Kevin “AVRL” Walker explained in an interview with Polygon. His only request for next year is the opportunity to see more teams and regions represented. “Having 12 teams that still include South America and Australia, without negatively impacting seeds from other regions, would be super valuable.”
“Obviously regional seeds are decided at the Contenders Showdowns, but I believe you could still have valuable Showdown events without placing a huge emphasis on Gauntlet seeding,” Walker said. Walker’s suggested system would weigh the later half of the year more heavily due to how important the Gauntlet is for the entire year, to allow for the seeds to maintain some recency.
Former head coach for the Montreal Rebellion Chris “Dream” Myrick agreed on a number of points, stating that he’d also like more teams for next year’s iteration citing how successful the Pacific region’s sole representative, Talon Esports, was as justification for expansion.
The team, in general, had very low expectations but performed very well against tough opposition like Seoul Dynasty’s academy team Gen.G Esports and even taking a nail biting victory over the New York Excelsior’s academy team, XL2 Academy.
“I would like minor regions to still send at least one team and major regions like Europe to have two representatives minimum,” Myrick said. It’s clear that if Overwatch Contenders is going to be a platform to facilitate player growth, then having low representation from major regions seemed was not ideal.
Myrick claimed the metagame mirrored what we saw in the Overwatch League. Doomfist and Reaper dominated on Control maps, and Bastion compositions were sprinkled in on other map types. That’s not too dissimilar from what we saw at the 2019 Overwatch League grand final. This brought up a solid counterpoint.
Teams like finalists Atlanta Academy and Element Mystic did run interesting comps, but that might not mean a shift in the overall meta game.
“The metagame was really interesting due to the introduction of Sigma,” said Walker. Sigma shook things up, as he offers a new option for teams to pick a protective anchor tank. “Going from a Mei dominated meta into a Doomfist focused meta in order to circumvent double shields meant a lot of adaptation for the DPS role in particular.”
“The additional Bastion focus then throws things into the wind further as that requires such a fundamental gameplay shift for teams to master. This basically meant teams had to be master two very opposing styles of gameplay to thrive, and the best teams were the ones who were able to do that.”
Spiced throughout the event were small surprises, like new hero picks and regional upsets.
“This was mostly due to pre-tournament expectations in regard to perceived strength from the pre-Sigma meta,” Walker said. “That patch change, in particular, meant that it became difficult to accurately gauge power levels as teams who were good during the Mei meta.”
An example of this meta change is HSL Esports, Europe’s sole representative, and how their performance differed from the Contenders playoffs compared to Gauntlet. Even strong teams were turned on their head by the new patch and hero.
With Overwatch turned on its head, the Gauntlet showed which teams were able to adapt and overcome new hero compositions. Talon Esports was one of those teams — at least in part thanks to their head coach, Sam “Face” Merewether. The post-season is still young, and there’s lots of moves to be made, but Myrick advocated for Merewhether’s promotion into the Overwatch League based off Talon’s performance in the Gauntlet.
“I also was blown away by how many teams had a very basic style of play around their Orisa and Doomfist,” said Myrick. “The difference between the handful of good teams and the rest was huge. A lot of 3-0s.”
Players to keep an eye on
“[Gil-seong ‘Glister’ Lim] is my player to watch for 2020,” Myric said, referring to the South Korean pro playing for Seoul Dynasty’s Gen.G Esports. “Patiphan ‘Patiphan’ Chaiwong is a long way away but is as exciting to watch as ever.”
While the top three teams all have pros who could play on the big stage of the Overwatch League, there are age restrictions that make that tricky. One young prospect is Atlanta Academy’s DPS prodigy, 14-year-old Kamden “Sugarfree” Hijada, who drew attention with his fantastic Doomfist play.
There were also Contenders players like Kim “Sp9rk1e” Yeong-han, Kim “Yaki” Jun-ki, and Patiphan, who have drawn attention with their past performances. “But the one player for me that stealthed his way on to my MVP list, whom no one had high expectations to perform, was Kim ‘Doha’ Dong-ha.” says Myrick. “Most of us did not believe this was going to be a viable meta for him to thrive in.”
Doha shone under pressure, however, pulling out heroes that analysts had no idea he had honed through practice.
“The fact Doha can also cover Doomfist duties while Sp9rk1e plays Pharah is the kind of swiss army knife player that enables Element Mystic to run the exact compositions they want to a high proficiency. His Bastion was also extremely key in their success of that composition and to me he was the unsung hero and that’s why he’s my MVP.”
The Gauntlet is set to return in 2020, along with the launch of season three of the Overwatch League. Season three will have Overwatch teams travelling to home cities in order to put on local showmatches for fans.