Cover by Blizzard Entertainment.
Before we dive into the stage playoffs, we'll briefly go over the last regular matches of the season:
The last set of matches of Stage 4 of the OWL inaugural season were played last week from Wednesday to Saturday to determine once and for all the teams to play in the stage playoffs and to qualify for the season playoffs in July. The week-end was packed full of action for the fans as the stage playoffs were set to be played right after the regular matches on Sunday.
Although the top of the standings for both Stage 4 and the overall league were pretty much locked in place, several teams could still contend for the stage playoffs. Sitting at 5 wins in the stage and with two matches left to qualify, the Philadelphia Fusion, Houston Outlaws and the Dallas Fuel could still achieve a 2 – 0 to make it into the playoffs. Both the Los Angeles Valiant and the Gladiators were already safe with respectively eight and seven wins entering the week and NYXL was third at 6 – 2.
Wednesday started off with almost nothing at stake for the teams playing besides perhaps the first place in the stage rankings. First, the Los Angeles Gladiators inflicted their 39th loss of the season to the Shanghai Dragons, leaving them with only one match to avoid the 0 and 40 season. The Valiant followed up with a 3 – 1 win against the young San Francisco Shock lineup while Seoul Dynasty managed to get a close win over the Dallas Fuel, despite them having their best stage yet.
Thursday began with one of the most important matches for both the Houston Outlaws and the Philadelphia Fusion. The Outlaws were standing at the 7th place with 21 wins and a map differential of 16 while the Fusion had 23 wins but only a 13 map differential meaning Houston still had a tiny chance of taking the 6th place from them. The match began well for the Fusion who won on Blizzard World, unfortunately they didn’t manage to sustain the lead and gave up the next three maps to the Outlaws. Linkzr managed to contain both Carpe and Eqo on Widowmaker, being one of the best in the league on Watchpoint: Gibraltar, the last map of the series.
The next match saw London Spitfire confirm its spot in the season playoffs with an easy win over the Florida Mayhem and to conclude the day, Boston defeated New York 3 – 1.
On Friday, NYXL took away the Outlaws’ last hope of making it into the season playoffs by beating them 3 – 2. The LA Gladiators racked up another win versus the Seoul Dynasty and to the surprise of everyone, Dallas ended the LA Valiant’s perfect run in Stage 4, making it 9 – 1. Automatically qualified after Houston’s loss, the Fusion brought down London one place lower in the standings with a 3 – 1 victory.
Saturday was a loud day in the Blizzard Arena as the Shanghai Dragons played their last match of the season, an ultimate chance at winning. Under the cheering of the fans wanting to see the Dragons take one home, the team made one final effort which was unfortunately not enough to worry the San Francisco Shock.
The final standings at the end of week 5, Stage 4.
Stage 4 Playoffs :
Finally, after five weeks of exciting matches, we had our four Stage 4 playoffs teams. Despite dominating throughout the stage, the Valiant’s loss against Dallas allowed their Los Angeles counterparts to take first place at the last moment and the Fuel to crack top four. As the first seed entering the playoffs, the Gladiators had the advantage of choosing their first opponent. The obvious choice seemed to be to face the Dallas Fuel to guarantee advancing to the finals but the Gladiators decided otherwise and surprised everyone by choosing the LA Valiant, although they only won one of their four encounters.
The first semifinals was therefore one last battle for LA. Arguably the two best teams in the league behind the NYXL, the match lived up to the expectations and went all the way to a deciding game five. The match began on Watchpoint: Gibraltar where the Valiant managed to fully hold the Gladiators, but the tables quickly turned in the second and third map where Fissure played beautifully on both his Reinhardt and Winston, showing why many think he’s one of the top main tanks in the league. Rallying behind Fissure, it seemed like the Gladiators could close out the series on King’s Row but that’s when the Valiant’s DPS took the matter into their own hands.
Since the addition of Custa to the lineup to join Kariv as the other starting support, LA Valiant has looked a lot more solid as a team. The very good support duo and the growing synergy between Fate and SPACE, their main tank and flex player, has given their starting duo DPS of SoOn and Agilities way more space (pun intended) and safety to operate. While they may not have been the best at specific heroes, Agilities has proved his worth time and time again with his brilliant play on many different heroes such as Genji, Junkrat, Pharah, Hanzo and more. Similar to Carpe or even Seagull, he’s been able to be very proficient and flexible for his team, making him one of the most valuable DPS players in the OWL. On the other hand, SoOn came in the league as a Tracer main and while extremely good on the hero, the meta change and the need for more flexibility forced him to adapt and pick up Widowmaker, the dominant DPS hero in Stage 4. Shaky at the start, SoOn has rapidly improved and competed with the best Widowmakers of the league such as Pine, Saebyeolbe or Linkzr, proving to many he has the talent to play more than Tracer at the very top level. On the Gladiators’ side, Surefour had recently been very good on the Widowmaker and Hydration a constant threat on Pharah. However, the pressure from SoOn was too much and Surefour lost the Widowmaker duel one too many times resulting in a 3 – 2 win for the LA Valiant.
The second semifinals opposed the NYXL to the Dallas Fuel. Impeccable throughout the four stages, losing only 3 matches in the first three, NYXL seem to have let their guard down in the last weeks after dominating for so long. Guaranteed to play in the season playoffs, it’s possible the team decided to play one of their standard composition for the remaining of Stage 4 in order not to reveal any new strategies or tactics. The fact is, NYXL have lost as many games in Stage 4 than in the previous three combined and have been playing in a much more relaxed way lately, relying on their raw skill to win games instead of adapting. On the other hand, Dallas Fuel had their best stage so far, finishing fourth with six match wins to four losses. The arrival of new head coach Aaron "Aero" Atkins before Stage 4 began has been extremely beneficial to the squad, allowing them to upset the LA Valiant in their last game of the season.
The match began on Watchpoint: Gibraltar where the Dallas Fuel quickly took control of the high-ground, and let AKM go to work. The Frenchman outdueled Pine up until the final point, allowing his team to drive the payload all the way in overtime. It was a good effort from the Fuel but NYXL answered will a full capture of their own and with over two minutes left on the clock, got the 4 – 3. The match continued on Horizon Lunar Colony. NYXL played their standard defense composition of Widowmaker, Junkrat, Orisa, D.Va, Zenyatta and Mercy and got set up on the top left highground of the point, forcing the enemy team to rush on the point and fight without a proper set up. Dallas Fuel were fully held and couldn’t retaliate, giving New York the lead and the match point on Lijiang Tower.
After a painful second map, Dallas woke up on the third and managed to pull together during the teamfights and with the absence of a Brigitte on the side of New York, the Fuel were stronger on the point and took the 2 – 0.
It was comeback time for the Fuel who needed to win on King’s Row to go to a deciding game five. NYXL is known for being extremely good on the map, but Dallas decided otherwise and went for a triple tank composition with Seagull on D.Va, Mickie on Zarya and OGE on Reinhardt. The massive frontline of the Fuel outlasted the dive composition of NYXL and after capturing the first point, OGE displayed his expertise on Reinhardt during the street phase, landing multiple huge ultimates. On the defense, Dallas prevented NYXL from keeping a solid push going by defending each and every corner and choke of the map. Finally, a calculated D.Va bomb from Seagull deleted both Libero and Ark, completing the defense. The tiebreaker map was Dorado and this time, NYXL’s raw skill was enough to overcome the Fuel.
The Stage 4 final opposed the team that dominated throughout the league and the team that dominated Stage 4. Despite recently struggling to play as well as they did all season long, NYXL was still seen as the best team of the two if they tried their hardest. LA Valiant showed some extremely good teamplay in Stage 4, and went 9 – 1 thanks to their precise game plans and solid fundamentals. In short, the Valiant won most of their games by being prepared to adapt to whatever they are facing and by refining the core aspects of the game. Seeing as how stubborn NYXL had been in the recent weeks, the Valiant drafted an appropriate game plan and ran with it. Using the synergy between their tanks to create space for their DPS duo while pressuring JJoNaK on which New York rely for much of their damage output and also play around, the Valiant got the edge fight after fight, slowly grinding their way to victory. As much as NYXL underperformed in the match, the Valiant members all played really well. After going backand forth on the first two maps, NYXL made an interesting decision and subbed in Pine for Saebyeolbe on Oasis. Without their prime Tracer player on the server, SoOn and Agilities had the upper hand on the New York DPS who couldn't seem to find a good dup pick to match the Valiant. To close out the match, the Valiant fully held NYXL on Blizzard World, the usual dive composition from New York was no match for the Valiant who earned the title in a 3 - 1 fashion.
Again, expect more OWL coverage In July as we will be covering the season playoffs. Let us know your predictions below and if you’d like more aspects of the league to be covered in future articles!