Countdown Cup Preview: North America
With the Overwatch League season drawing to a close, this weekend’s Countdown Cup comes with some extra intrigue. Everybody is vying for playoff seeding, and the extra wins up for grabs to the top four finishers will be vital in those races. For a few teams, who’ve already played their 21 regular-season games, this will be their final action until playoffs, one last chance to build some momentum heading into the postseason.
In North America, following the Summer Showdown is going to be quite the task. After the Eternal’s dramatic run through the last bracket, everyone will be gunning for Yeonghan “SP9RK1E” Kim and company. Let’s take a look at the bracket and see who has a shot at taking the title away from the defending champs.
Last time around, the Knockout Stage delivered upsets galore. When the dust settled, Paris was the only higher-seeded team to advance. A more established meta might make that a little harder in the Countdown Cup, but anything can happen in a single-elimination bracket.
The Vancouver Titans have been underdogs all season long. Young, inexperienced players thrown straight into the deep end of professional Overwatch, they’ve been largely unable to compete with competent teams. They can pick up wins against the likes of Boston and Dallas, but further success has been elusive. They’ll need Dalton “Dalton” Bennyhoff to keep making strides on Genji if they want any chance of knocking off Atlanta.
Of all the teams at this level, Washington is probably the one with the most potential. Midseason roster moves left them reeling for a time, but now they’ve stabilized a little. The current meta seems to favor them, allowing Hoseong “Ttuba” Lee to be the carry on Genji. It was enough to get them past the Knockouts in the Summer Showdown, and they’ve got another great opportunity with a matchup against the flailing Dallas Fuel.
What a week for the Dallas Fuel. First, the team announced the release of star DPS Gui-un “Decay” Jang after a rift between Decay and management proved irreconcilable. Then they parted ways with head coach Aaron “Aero” Atkins. If that wasn’t enough, misogynistic comments from Jonathan “HarryHook” Tejedor Rua caused the team to kick one of their founding players to the curb.
In short, the Dallas Fuel are a complete mess right now, perhaps more than they ever have been. The team still has talent for sure, especially on the DPS line where Dongha “Doha” Kim and Stefan “Onigod” Fiskerstrand have been making up for Decay’s absence. Maybe they can push through to the quarterfinals if they rally together, but it seems equally likely that they crumble completely under all the strain.
The teams here are not going to win the Countdown Cup. Making it out of the Knockouts would be a successful venture for any of them. Anything beyond that would be found money. There’s some upset potential if they find the right matchup in the Quarterfinals, but only a miracle run could see any of them in the Finals.
Toronto is probably the best candidate to actually make some noise in the bracket. They seem to be playing their best Overwatch of the season right now, and the residual glow of their semi final appearance in the Summer Showdown should give them some confidence heading into this weekend.
They’ve shown an ability to catch teams off guard in the past, but the question is if they can do it again when they might be taken a bit more seriously. First up, they’ll have to get through the Gladiators.
Los Angeles has had a strange year. No longer the perennial power they were in previous years, they’ve struggled to keep up with the middle class of OWL teams. For his part, BigG00se chalks it up to problems translating scrim success to actual matches.
They’ve come close in recent weeks against Philadelphia and Florida, but haven’t quite been able to put it together. With five games left on their schedule, they could conceivably climb to the crucial fifth spot in NA, but some extra wins from a strong Countdown Cup finish would go a long way towards that goal.
It might seem strange for Houston to even be in this tier at all. After all, they haven’t won a regular-season match since June 20th. They looked lost at times in the Countdown Cup qualifiers, but that was as much a product of Orisa being banned as it was their poor performance. Last week, they got Hydration back on the horse and nearly knocked off the Valiant, their opponent in the Knockouts.
That series was close enough that it was surprising to see Los Angeles pick the Outlaws. If Houston had any ability to close out a series on Map 5, this would nearly be a tossup. Either way, the Outlaws will need a strong performance if they don’t want to end the season on a six-game losing streak.
This is where things get very interesting. In this year’s playoff format, the top five teams in NA get a pass straight into the double-elimination part of the bracket. That’s obviously a massive advantage. Based on the current standings, it’s incredibly likely that two out of the Mayhem, Reign, and Valiant will slot into the top five. With such a tight race for that last spot, getting an extra win or two from the Countdown Cup could be the difference-maker.
Out of those three, Florida is sitting most comfortably right now. Thanks to their Finals appearance in the May Melee, they have a solid lead in the standings over the other two, and they’re already in the quarterfinals of the Countdown Cup as the fourth seed. A single win in the bracket all but assures them a top-five spot.
They’ll also be looking to redeem themselves after a Knockout exit in the Summer Showdown. Since then, they’ve leaned heavily into the Genji meta and started to find results. Jun Ki “Yaki” Kim is getting back to the form that made him a Rookie of the Year candidate early on, and Florida seems poised to capitalize.
The Reign just missed out on grabbing that top-4 seed, but they should still be a safe bet to make the Quarterfinals. They’ve been great at handling competition below them in the standings, and Vancouver shouldn’t be too much of a threat.
Then the question becomes whether they can punch above their weight. It’s been a struggle so far this season, with zero wins against teams above them in the standings at the time. This is a team that fancies itself a dark horse when it comes time for playoffs, but for that to be the case, you have to eventually pull off an upset.
The Valiant are the team with the most on the line. They’re on the outside looking in on that top five spot, two losses back of Atlanta. They’ll need some help in the last couple weeks of the season, but an extra win or two could vault them over the Reign.
They’ll have their hands full even in the Knockouts, but should they get through, the selection process for the Quarterfinals will be crucial. No one wants to face off against the top three right now, but one of Atlanta or LA would have to do so. Getting a win there would be a massive upset, but the rewards are huge.
The Top Dogs
No surprises here. Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Paris are the top three in the standings, were miles ahead of the competition in the Summer Showdown, and all went undefeated in the leadup to the Countdown Cup. Seeing any of these teams lose before the semi finals would be shocking.
Paris are the returning champs, still riding high after their Summer Showdown win. They had to go through both of their rivals to get there, so they have to be brimming with confidence heading into this weekend. Having the best Genji player in the league probably doesn’t hurt on that front either. In the Summer Showdown, they relied heavily on SP9RK1E and enabling him as a brawler with Brigitte’s Armor Packs. Paris could run into problems after the nerfs to that ability made it harder to survive as Genji.
The Shock really have nothing to prove at this point, but you can bet they will still play like it. After they missed their first final since 2018, they’ll be looking for revenge this time around. They won’t have a shot at a rematch with Paris until the Finals, but they should be all but assured of making it there.
They’ll have their pick of quarter finals opponent, and both of the other top teams are on the other side of the bracket. Given their history and current form, it won’t be a surprise if the Shock sweep their way through the first two rounds. There’s some lingering questions about their Genji play, but they can hang with anyone even when they play off-meta comps. Who knows, maybe Matthew “super” DeLisi really is the answer there.
For Philadelphia, the motivation has to be at an all-time high. They were so close to the win in the Summer Showdown but just came up short. This will be their last chance before the playoffs to show they can actually get across the line.
They’ve been brilliant all year, jumping out to an early lead in the standings and never really looking back. They’ve been playing with tremendous confidence in the past few weeks, experimenting with different comps and continuing to dominate the competition.
A win here would take a monkey of the Fusion’s back. It would set them up perfectly to take the top overall seed heading into playoffs. It would also leave us with three different champions across three tournaments. Throughout their history, ultimate victory has eluded Philadelphia. Now is their chance to seize it at the perfect time.
The Countdown Cup kicks off on Friday, August 7th at 12:00 p.m. EDT with the Knockout Stage in North America.