Stakes High as Countdown Cup Closes OWL Season
The Overwatch League’s final tournament of the regular season has arrived. The matchups are mouthwatering, the meta is up to interpretation, and there has never been more on the line. Playoff hopes in both regions will rest on the performances we witness this weekend in the Countdown Cup.
Will the Hunters be able to replicate their Summer Showdown showing and snag the title now that Shanghai is resting at home? Can Atlanta finish the year strong without their MVP candidate Sehyun “PELICAN” Oh, who’s recovering from a collapsed lung? Will the Dynasty and Gladiators shine in their first tournament appearances of the season?
New Blood and a New Champion
This OWL season has undeniably delivered banger after banger during its tournament cycles. From the Fuel’s unlikely May Melee run to their ongoing rivalry with Shanghai and the Dragons’ dominance, every tournament has brought new thrills. At the same time, those two juggernauts were starting to crowd out the rest of the field.
Their absence from this tournament gives everyone some room to breathe. Two new faces in Seoul and Los Angeles have claimed their places, ready to finally take center stage. The Dynasty have been the picture of consistency in the East. Their 12-4 record is tied for best in the league, yet they’ve been shut out from previous tournaments. The Gladiators’ story is much the same. Now both teams have earned their shots with hard-fought wins in the Knockouts.
Joining them will be two squads familiar with the challenge. Twice the Reign have flown to Hawaii now, and twice they’ve left disappointed in their performance. They cannot afford another fourth-place finish here, not just for their playoff goals but also for their mentality going into the postseason.
The Hunters too have felt the sting of defeat in their two tournament appearances so far, but they’ve also come away with more to be pleased about. Their second-place Summer Showdown finish was the first sign that the Dallas/Shanghai duo was vulnerable. That performance alone makes Chengdu the favorites, but it also puts a target on their backs.
No matter who wins, it will be a new champion, not only for this season but for OWL. None of these teams have ever claimed a title of any kind. Everyone is hungry for that taste of success, and the momentum gained will surely make the champs a threat come playoff time.
An Uncertain Meta
When this tournament’s Hero Pool was announced, the initial assumption was that the Age of Hammond was upon us. To an extent, that has come true. Wrecking Ball was the most played main tank league-wide throughout the Countdown Cup with just over double the playtime of Orisa.
However, when we narrow in on the four remaining contenders, the picture changes. Only Chengdu strongly favors the Wrecking Ball, sticking with what has worked for them all season long. Atlanta is on the opposite end of the spectrum. They prefer to play slower, protecting their talented DPS line and giving them room to express their skill. The Reign will even occasionally break out Reinhardt, but we’ll see if that continues against international competition.
In the middle lie the Gladiators and Dynasty. LA has basically split Young-hun “MuZe” Kim’s evenly between Wrecking Ball and Orisa, adjusting based on the map and situation in front of them. Seoul’s approach has been similar with the only real difference being how they sometimes prefer Jaehui “Gesture” Hong on his signature Winston.
In the Summer Showdown, the meta moved in the Wrecking Ball direction and the teams from the West couldn’t keep up. If that happens again, Chengdu will likely be our champion. They’re more practiced on the comp, especially in the mirror match, and it fits their personnel like a glove.
One final X-factor will be Pharah. With Pelican out, the Hunters have the best Pharah in the tournament in Hu “JinMu” Yi. Maybe Gia Huy “MirroR” Trinh could match him, but he doesn’t have the flexibility or high-level Sombra of JinMu. Seoul likely won’t touch Pharah, instead, relying on Dong Eon “Fits” Kim to carry on Hanzo and McCree.
Playoff Security Up for Grabs
With the Fuel and Dragons both out of the tournament and secure in their top seeds, there is a remarkable amount of tension in the Countdown Cup. For Seoul and Chengdu, the outlook is simple. Whichever team finishes higher in this tournament will earn the East’s second seed and a direct birth into the double-elimination playoff bracket. The other will have to win a do-or-die Play-In match to secure their spot in Arlington for the playoffs.
For Atlanta and LA, the picture is perhaps even more interesting. Currently, the Shock occupy the second seed in the West with 12 points, the same as the Reign and one above the Gladiators. Two of those three teams will escape the danger of Play-Ins.
Atlanta needs simply to avoid a fourth-place finish to secure playoffs. Failure to do so would be a brutal blow. After making three tournaments on the year, just one bonus point is just not good enough. Their task is extremely straightforward: win one match in Hawaii and you’re in.
The Gladiators are currently in a precarious position, fourth place and set to fall to Play-Ins if they can’t perform here. They are one point behind the Reign and Shock. If they were to finish third and Atlanta fourth, the two teams would be tied in points, regular-season record, head-to-head match results, and match differential against shared opponents. The next tiebreaker, map differential against shared opponents, should favor the Reign by just one map, assuming that Knockout and Tournament results are not included.
All of this means that the Gladiators must finish second or better to jump the Shock and potentially Reign. Meanwhile, San Francisco will be cheering against their NA brethren this time. If both the Reign and Gladiators finish well, the defending champs will have to fight through Play-Ins for their spot.
The entire regular season comes down to the next three days. At least two teams will lock a playoff spot and begin joyously preparing. Disappointment will linger for any left wondering what they could have done differently. A new champion will lift a trophy for the first time. What more could we want from a finale?
The Countdown Cup Playoffs begin on Thursday, August 19 at 9 PM ET. All matches can be viewed on the OWL Youtube Channel.