Gladiators Claim Back to Back Titles with Midseason Madness Win
At the halfway point of the 2022 season, the Overwatch League has found its juggernaut. With an emphatic 4-2 win over the San Francisco Shock in the Midseason Madness Grand Finals, the Los Angeles Gladiators secured their second straight title following their Kickoff Clash triumph in June.
That win established them as the best in the West. This time, the victory comes with no regional caveats. The league’s top contenders from both regions were in attendance, and no one from North America or APAC could stand in the way of the Gladiators and another trophy.
LA Gets Knocked Down, But They Get Up Again
In winning the Kickoff Clash, the Gladiators made it look easy, dropping a single map en route to their title. This time around, they had to work for it. Not only did they lose the upper bracket final to the Shock, but they also fought through the Spark and Reign at the top of their game.
Hangzhou was incredibly hot out the gate, taking down East region rivals in Philly and Seoul to start the tournament. Zheng “shy” Yangjie and Kim “AlphaYi” Jun were looking like the best DPS duo in the league. It took a Herculean effort for the Glads to send them into the lower bracket.
Their greatest challenge, however, was always going to come from a more familiar opponent. Despite LA’s Kickoff Clash title, it was the Shock who earned the top seed coming into the Midseason Madness tournament. In the upper bracket, it was the Shock who looked like the better team. Kim “Proper” Dong-hyun was dominating and San Francisco very nearly took the series 3-1 before finishing it in five maps.
Knocked down into the lower bracket, the Glads took care of business against Atlanta and gave themselves another shot at the Shock. This time, they cleaned up some mistakes on Eichenwalde, Lee “ANS” Seonchang showed up big-time on Gibraltar, and the Gladiators found themselves up 3-0 in the Grand Finals.
The Shock weren’t going down without a fight and quickly responded with wins on New Queen Street and Lijiang Tower. The series looked like it was going the distance after the Shock put up a great overtime attack on Dorado, but the Gladiators would not be denied. A painful C9 left San Francisco wondering what could have been as LA celebrated their revenge and a huge international title.
The West Pulls Off the Podium Sweep
The Midseason Madness bracket was the first taste of international competition in 2022, and it could not have gone better for the West. Not only did the Gladiators and Shock meet in the finals, but Atlanta again rose to the occasion. Despite entering the event with a middling 7-5 record, they rampaged through the lower bracket for a third-place finish.
On some level, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. There were twice as many teams from the West in the tournament, and the Glads and Shock came in as the top two overall seeds. Still, very few expected the Reign to do this. They showed tremendous resilience in the lower bracket and unlike last year’s playoff run, they eliminated three East region teams on the way.
No small part of the success of these North American teams can be traced back to one Tier 2 team, American Tornado. After dominating Contenders for the better part of two years, many of the AT players made their way onto OWL rosters this year. All three NA teams on the podium tournament featured at least one American Tornado player in a key role.
Their success as rookies in the league shows that North America has the potential to produce world-class talent. Korea will likely always be king when it comes to the pipeline of new players, but this tournament proves that international scouting and development will always be viable.
Now, the East has two stages to pick themselves up and muster a response. They might be down, but they certainly aren’t out. The young talent on teams like Hangzhou and Philadelphia is tremendous, but they must fix their consistency issues if they want to compete at the highest level. Until proven otherwise, however, the league’s best squads all hail from North America.
Old Favorites Fall Flat
Where teams like the Shock and Gladiators excelled in the Midseason Madness bracket, a number of contenders sunk like a lead balloon when the tournament kicked off. Chief among them was the Dallas Fuel, the third seed coming out of North America.
Following a great 2021 season, the Fuel haven’t been able to recapture the magic coming into Overwatch 2. Tank synergy between Joon “Fearless” Kwon and Hanbin “Hanbin” Choi was a big part of their success, and now they look lost without it. While they maintain a solid regular-season record, they’re a long way from contending for titles like their fans have come to expect.
In a similar fashion, the Shanghai Dragons’ decline is becoming a real concern. They too haven’t quite figured out how to play around a single tank, and they aren’t showing nearly the level of coordination that we’re used to. This also wasn’t a great meta for them, with double flex support being so prominent. All is not lost, but it might be time to lower our expectations for the defending champs.
Finally, we have the Seoul Dynasty, whose performance is tricky to read. The quick 0-2 exit was certainly not what the Kickoff Clash champs were hoping for, but it looks worse on paper than in practice. In part, they got unlucky with the draw. A red-hot Spark sent them to the lower bracket where they played Atlanta close before going out. It’s not hard to see a world where the Dynasty swap places with the Reign. Still, questions remain about why this veteran squad couldn’t perform on the biggest stage.
The Best Tournament Ever?
Midseason Madness was a new type of tournament for Overwatch League fans. Never before have we seen this many teams from both regions competing together. It’s a far cry from the purely regional tournaments we’ve gotten in the past, or the smaller 4-team international events from last year. The result was a number of unique matchups that offered something new for fans weary of online play.
Overall, the tournament delivered exciting games and a number of teams performing at their peaks. If either Shanghai or Seoul had lived up to their potential, there would be no doubt that this was the best event in OWL history. Even absent a challenger from the East, Midseason Madness still produced excellent storylines via the Gladiators and Reign.
Individual performances were off the charts, especially from the DPS players across the league. Sojourns, Echos, and Tracers were popping off left, right, and center and the result was fast-paced, explosive action.
As we move into the back half of the season, this tournament has given us much to consider. Can the Gladiators build on their Midseason Madness title or will the Shock overtake them? Will Seoul reestablish control of the East or can the challengers in Philly and Hangzhou rise up? Can Shanghai and Dallas return to their former glory? The questions will always be there, but for now, we can revel in the joy of a phenomenal tournament and the mesmerizing talent on display.
The Overwatch League returns to action on Thursday, August 11th for the start of the Summer Showdown Qualifiers. All the action can be found on the OWL Youtube page.