Today was the first day of the Overwatch League playoffs, with the six best teams returning to face off in a three-week series to take home up to $1 million in bonus money.
The first season of the Overwatch League had something of a bell curve when it came to the teams’ performance; the best teams were unstoppable juggernauts, the worst teams were pushovers, and everybody else was somewhere in the middle. Because of this, the first day of the playoffs were expected to be easy stomps for the Boston Uprising and London Spitfire. In the Spitfire’s case, the casters weren’t voting so much for the Spitfire as they were against the Gladiators, since their star player would be sitting the day out.
Chan-hyung Baek, better know as Fissure, is far and away Gladiators’ highest-profile player, considered the best main tank in the league and winner of the fan vote (and 2nd place overall) for the Overwatch League MVP. However, the LA Gladiators threw everyone for a curveball when they announced shortly before matches began that Fissure would be sitting on the bench today, replaced with his less-flashy backup iRemix. Nobody’s 100% sure why, though several sources seem to think it has to do with disciplinary action or internal disagreements. A particularly inflammatory tweet was making the rounds painting the whole situation in a very negative light, which was enough for the desk to unanimously write the Gladiators’ chances away.
But it didn’t turn out to be a good night for the OWL desk predictions, starting with the Philadelphia Fusion roundly defeating the Boston Uprising 3-1. Following this, the LA Gladiators took the stage to fight the London Spitfire, and iRemix proved more than capable of working as the team’s main tank. (As Fissure himself explained later, this was the very reason the team led with him; they had extensively prepared strategies that required a more team-oriented main tank, which iRemix was more suited for than Fissure.) But the highlight of the night came at the very, very end.
Gladiators have already taken the first two maps in the best-of-5, and had held the Spitfire on the second point of the third map, King’s Row. Now on offense, they only need to take two points to win the day. What happened next will go down in Overwatch history as one of the craziest opening strats seen in the first season:
The Gladiators push out of spawn, through the cafe, and past the point into the currently-useless ground between first and second. They then navigated up into the high ground while the Spitfire, casters, and audience all wonder what the hell they’re doing. Things are even stranger considering the Gladiators left Surefour, one of their DPS, standing uselessly in spawn as Brigitte.
Then the pieces fall together as the Spitfire reposition themselves in front of (they think, empty) Gladiator spawn to fight the incoming high ground push. Surefour switches to Widowmaker, grapples to the high ground, and efficiently picks off the enemy Widowmaker and Mercy. Before the Spitfire can figure out what’s happening, their surviving players are routed, Orisa and DVa fall and the remainder scamper as the Gladiators take the first point in their very first push.
Needless to say, this play set the casters, Twitch stream, and audiences everywhere atwitter, and it’s quickly become the talk of every Overwatch forum I can find. Surefour’s Brigitte prevented Spitfire from pressing tab and noticing the upcoming Widowmaker play, and LAG had previously ran a ‘Brigitte deathball’ comp on the last map, Lijang Tower, so the Brigitte didn’t look out of place. LAg has publically credited their assistant coach RealTim as the brainchild behind the self-described ‘One-time use’ strat. Reddit user jivedinmypants puts it best: “It’s one-time use because you technically only ever really need to use it just once. By putting that strat out there, GLA have more or less planted the seeds of doubt for all other teams now who run that ‘comp’. Run it straightforward without the deception, you succeed in displacing the enemy team from the high ground. If the enemy team calls your bluff and stays in their positions, they’ll still get run over. If the enemy team anticipates the strat, they’ll be out of position and unable to do their set plays.”
Jived is right, this play is going to continue to have effects beyond these playoffs. Future defenses will constantly have to wonder if their opponents are going to use their spawn advantage to pincer them at very little risk to the ‘flanking’ player. And possibly even more importantly, it rounded off a great spectator experience when it mattered most: ABC, Disney, and ESPN are broadcasting these playoffs to thousands of people who have never seen professional Overwatch before, and this moment left a hell of a first impression to end the night. eSports need to be fast, exciting, and clearly broadcast when a team has outsmarted their opponent, and no play has honored that philosophy better than the one we just saw.