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How the Atlanta Reign Lost a Shot at Perfection

Bradley Long

Across five and a half seasons, the Overwatch League has rarely seen a team as dominant as the Atlanta Reign during the first half of this year. Throughout the qualifiers and bracket stage of the Midseason Madness tournament, the Reign’s mastery of the Sombra dive meta put them head and shoulders above the competition.

Atlanta Reign

Atlanta lifted the Midseason Madness trophy, but now the competition is catching up. (Photo courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment)

After taking care of business during Midseason Madness, there was a moment when it seemed the Reign had a legit shot at an undefeated season. They dropped just two maps during the qualifiers and only grew stronger as the bracket stage progressed. Their 4-1 finals victory over Houston was an emphatic statement that Atlanta were unquestionably on top.

The back half of the season, however, has seen the Reign stumble and their challengers close the gap. After suffering losses to Houston and Florida in back-to-back weeks, Atlanta’s status as the undisputed top dog is in doubt for the first time in 2023. Have they truly been usurped, or can the Reign reclaim the throne when the playoffs roll around?

No Longer Perfect

At first glance, the Summer Qualifiers seemed like they might just go exactly the same way. Certainly, the Atlanta Reign faced a tougher schedule with both Florida and Houston standing in the way of their dream season. Still, the Reign were crushing teams with their hive-mind coordination and transcendent individual talent. Two 3-0 wins set them up for their first test of summer, a finals rematch with the Outlaws.

That’s where the cracks in Atlanta’s armor started to show. The Outlaws able to start the series with a win on Lijiang Tower, where the Reign didn’t have answers for Houston’s compositions tailored for each point. Brawl comps with Reinhardt on Night Market and Ramattra on Control Center shifted the contest away from Atlanta’s comfort zone and gave Houston the edge.

Houston Outlaws

Houston struck the first blow, taking down Atlanta 3-2. (Photo courtesy of Houston Outlaws)

The next three maps saw a return to Sombra dive primarily, but Houston was able to steal one away and force a map 5. On Oasis, they added Junkerqueen to the mix and handed Atlanta their first series loss of the season.

One loss is by no means catastrophic. Perfection is never a reasonable expectation. Still, the loss was the first sign of weakness from the Reign all year. They had won a title by perfecting one style, but Houston showed that Atlanta’s flexibility was lacking.

Although they started the year splitting tank minutes between Xander “Hawk” Domecq and Kim “D0NGHAK” Min-sung, the Reign have mostly settled on D0NGHAK as the primary option. Given the strength of Winston and their proficiency in dive comps, it’s not a surprise. However, D0NGHAK hasn’t really proven himself on any other tanks. No matter which tank they play, the Atlanta Reign don’t have the ability to play multiple styles at a high level.

When teams throw different looks at Atlanta, they don’t have the tools to change compositions and they can get outplayed in the hero select screen. This issue is most glaring on Control maps, where distinct map geometry makes unique compositions more effective. The Outlaws took full advantage of that strategic edge, taking both Control maps en route to the upset.

New Kings?

Following their loss to the Outlaws, there was suddenly a template for exploiting the Reign’s limitations. When you can, don’t give them the Sombra dive mirror and force them to adapt to compositions they haven’t studied as much. Houston showed it could work, but the Florida Mayhem decided to see just how far that blueprint could take them.

When the Mayhem started the series by breaking out the Ramattra brawl comp on Antarctic Peninsula, that was only the tip of the iceberg. They followed that up with Reinhardt on Eichenwalde and a Widowmaker setup that earned them a full hold on Dorado. All the while, Atlanta tried to stick to their bread and butter style. Even the small adaptations they made were rather ineffective.

By the time Florida closed out the series with another Reinhardt brawl comp on Colosseo, Atlanta looked completely out of their depth when it came to playing around the Mayhem’s incredible flexibility. For the first time all year, the Reign were fully outmatched and outplayed.

So, are the Mayhem the best team in the league? With a 3-0 win over Houston to go alongside their dismantling of the Reign, it certainly seems like it. Undoubtedly, they are the most flexible team in the league right now.

In Choi “MER1T” Tae-min and Baek “Checkmate” Seung-hun, they have a DPS duo that can cover nearly any combination of heroes. The support line hasn’t been tested as much in that regard, but we know that Sung “CH0R0NG” Yoo-min and Rupal “Rupal” Zaman have the chops.

The real engine of this Mayhem team, however, is Ham “SOMEONE” Jeong-wan on tank. In Overwatch 2, having one hyperflexible tank is extremely valuable and no one is doing it better right now. SOMEONE is a leading MVP candidate, full stop.

Who Is the Title Favorite?

Despite these two slip-ups, the  Atlanta Reign are still at the top of the league standings. Their +29 map differential has already locked them into playoffs, no matter their results in the final two matches of the regular season. They’ve still been an elite team in Summer, so they should be the top seed for the postseason.

That said, there’s good news and bad news for Reign fans as they seek another trophy in 2023. A new patch is coming for the end of the regular season and playoffs. A new game mode, Flashpoint, will enter the rotation. That means no more second Control map if a series goes to five maps. Atlanta was at their weakest on those maps so it should be a welcome reprieve.

Illari Overwatch

Illari, Overwatch 2’s newest support, promises to shake up the meta. (Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment)

Unfortunately, the patch will also see the end of the Sombra meta that dominated the first half of the year. Things were already starting to open up, and this patch will only accelerate that. Every team in the league will need to adapt their strategies, but the Atlanta Reign will suffer more than most. Lee “LIP” Jae-won has a proven track record on a variety of picks, but Sombra is clearly his best hero.

As for what the playoff meta will actually be, it’s way too early to say. The new hero, Illari, seems like she’ll shake up the support meta in a big way. DPS picks like Cassidy and Bastion could see increased play as well.

Given what they’ve done on the previous patch, Florida seem primed to continue their ascension in the new meta. They’ve proven they’re willing to take risks compositionally and have the skills to flex onto a variety of styles. If they continue to break new ground strategically, they might just be able to lift the trophy come season’s end.