As the storm broke over Jayne’s comments regarding London Spitfire’s and Philadelphia Fusion’s GOATs play, viewers of Contenders–and especially those from Europe–weren’t exactly disagreeing on that specific point. If anything, they might not be wide-ranging enough. As far as it can be argued after mere three match days, GOATs performances across the board have been underwhelming. By eye-test and scrim results, the reigning European contenders champions Gigantti might by all rights have a claim to the title of best team in the world at this point in time. We have to decide if the fact that we can even entertain that thought is a desirable status quo.
Expected Chaos and then some
Between newly built teams, an unknown meta, suspensions, inexperience and underaged players missing from their teams, stage 1 of the second season of the Overwatch League was destined to be chaotic. Scrims already indicated that we would see a high amount of variations of GOATs and the first three matchdays so far delivered on both predictions. The above-mentioned circumstances for stage 1 have to be heavily considered when trying to fairly assess the situation. However, the extent to which the level of play would suffer was surprising to many, including the coaching staffs of European contenders teams.
GOATs had revealed itself to be a team composition that first and foremost rewarded sophisticated team synergy, arguably more so than any other meta in the history of the game before. Superior individual skill became increasingly less important to the point where the highly skilled player pool of OWL couldn’t make up for their GOATs inexperience.
According to sources, Paris Eternal (who upset the London Spitfire last night and showed one of the more refined levels of GOATs play) still lost 70% and more to top European contenders teams for months on end in preparation for the season. Let’s assume that GOATs is the dominant composition and trust our eye-test that even Contenders Korea wasn’t quite on the level of Europe, probably also because of the many talents that left for Overwatch league. Then it stands to reason that European Contenders has a leg up to most international competition including OWL. More specifically, above the rest tower the champions Gigantti, led by underappreciated star talent like Davin and Vizility and a superior understanding of GOATs. Could they walk into Overwatch League and wreak havoc?
A fool who persists in his folly will become wise
For the longest time, European Overwatch had been criticized for their extensive use of tank compositions. It seemed that the Finns from Ninjas in Pyjamas (with well-known names like Fragi, Zuppeh and Zappis, as well as Paris’ coach Seita) had left a mold in which many European rosters were poured into and created an image off. Two years later the region’s contenders finals were still decided on proficiency in tank compositions. Europe seemed all-in on the archetype and they received no shortage of criticism and even mockery for it. The region kept grinding away and refining both their micro and macro strategy as time went on, despite arguably stronger alternatives.
Scepticism was not in short supply, especially for coaching staff. In a now infamous statement that looks most unfortunate when disregarding the contextual background of a different balance patch and overall understanding of Overwatch, Dallas Coach Aero criticized the lack of discipline in the scene and even suggested it was the result of inexperienced coaching staff.
I'll tank the criticism, but this text is taken out of context. Original discussion was about the Contenders scene and the coaching within. @Hayez is a fantastic coach and the composition has evolved tremendously in 3 months. Great job to the team, you did great.
— Aaron Atkins (@Aero_OW) November 2, 2018
Coaches and analysts buckled down and kept honing their craft. Half a year later, it is now arguably the case that they are the most valuable assets in the current state of competitive Overwatch, given their extensive knowledge of the compositional archetype.
To illuminate the differences, I set out to ask some of the minds behind the region’s perceived strategic superiority and find out what they believed to be the key differences.
Less acceptance in Korea
Peaking over at Contenders Korea, it appears to be true that the region had a slight propensity to go with a different variation of GOATs, changing Reinhardt for Winston. As the region had been the proven blueprint for success for at least OWL season 1, many OWL General Managers and coaches looked for answers in their roster questions in Korea.
EU Contenders finalist and Angry Titans coach Optidox sees the Winston preference as a logical conclusion from earlier metas. “Starting main tanks are largely better at Winston than Rein, and that variant of the comp has more stylistic similarities to the comps they’re used to playing from season 1”, he argued.
Coach and Analyst for Gigantti, Tanizhq put it down to player preferences, stating that “the main tanks being mainly Korean for most teams, really don’t have much experience at this level of tanks […] so you see Winston forced in a lot of places over Rein.”
“And when they are actually on Rein, their play style is so outdated, no one seems to have even told them where to hold on most points and payloads” he continued, hinting at issues in macro and micro-strategy.
Lack of strategical depth and odd choices
Most teams looked uncomfortable and awkwardly tried to give the comp their own spin by inserting DPS heroes into the mix. Just by the eye-test, what OWL teams were bringing to the table was not on the level that Contenders viewers from Europe and even North America were used to.
Reinhardts weren’t pressured when clear openings were presented such as by overly aggressive Zarya positioning. It seemed there was a collective ignorance of the opportunity and her play was merely optimized to maximize damage and not internal coherence and structural integrity of the comp to take the pressure off well-known breaking points.
“It’s not as stylistically mature, and they lack some of the nuance that EU teams have developed through months of trial and error and consistently punishing undisciplined play in scrims.” Optidox explained about his current perception of play in the Overwatch League and how European coaches had been able to raise the level in such a short time frame.
One of the big differences Optidox sees is that OWL teams seemed to have a less refined framework, elaborating that “EU teams have specific positions on maps and well-defined styles, OWL teams appear to often be improvising positioning in Rein GOATs mirrors and playing without a particular style in mind.”
Tanizhq echoed Optidox’s statement, sharing that “On the surface level [OWL teams] don’t even seem to have the basic comps right on most maps and are still trying to force DPS into GOATs on a lot of maps. Having tried and tested this, it doesn’t work, a good team will be able to counter it instantly and you just put yourself at a disadvantage with having to swap.”
When asked why a lot of teams resort to DPS heroes in their GOATs, Tanizhq delivered a damning evaluation: “Against DPS comps a lot of these teams are too scared to even play Goats themselves, so it ends up in a DPS mirror when the team who swaps first will almost certainly win. [We] keep seeing Reaper picked into a lot of these comps too and that might be the most baffling choice of them all. It is genuinely so bad I can’t even consider why you would want to swap to it.”
Lackluster Ultimate & Cooldown management
One particular difference between European and OWL GOATs seemed to be the intended purpose for ultimates. When in previous compositions there had been opportunity for individual playmaking by throwing curveball ultimates, this approach simply didn’t work in GOATs. The usage of ultimates was focused on specific combos.
In comparison, OWL teams showed errors in fundamental execution such as Graviton Surge into Self-Destruct and a majority of these combinations were being botched, but not because avoidance measures were advanced. What had been the primary win-condition of the composition (after the nerfs to Brigitte’s Shield Bash) was not netting many fight wins over the last three days.
In European Contenders, much of the ultimate economy had revolved around it, investing other ultimates in order to gain the combo back quicker. Counter to what teams had learned in dive metas, this fundamental concept was second nature to European players and proven superior by their practice.
Optidox pointed out that not only had Ultimate management been questionable, but also that cooldown discipline had been spotty and assessing that teams should have “lots of room to improve in the coming weeks should they choose to keep playing the comp.”
In more direct words, Tanizhq added that “the ult management is genuinely awful”, continuing that “[NA Contenders and OWL teams use] support and offensive ultimates at the same time for some reason, making the next fight a free loss”, a sentiment often echoed in European discord servers.
There is carry potential
While there arguably aren’t a lot of opportunities to stand out in the conventional sense of outplaying the opponent with superior mechanical skill, the community was quick to catch on that there was another extra layer to the term of “skill”. Boston Uprisings Fusions’, for example, who had come up at British Hurricane and later moved to Uprising Academy to eventually be promoted to the first team, caught the eye of the fans.
Another example was Gator, one of the members of the team called GOATs that had initially introduced the composition to the scene at large. He split time with the oft-praised Korean main tank Pokpo.
British Hurricane analyst Dream wasn’t surprised by these outcomes. “Having a vocal rein with experience in GOATs is invaluable,” he noted. Dream further assessed that ”both Fusions and Gator know when to play aggressively and how to pressure the enemy Rein but they also know when to hold up shield and demand peel. If you have a rein that understands that back and forth and also has good barrier management, you can pump all your resources into them and watch them hard carry vs uncoordinated or undisciplined teams”
Both Optidox and Tanizhq also pointed out there some of the players weren’t far behind mechanically. The Gigantti coach highlighted players like Davin, Vizility and Lullshish to possibly even be ahead of the OWL level.
When trying to pinpoint reasons as to why the situation presents itself this way, all evidence points towards systemic issues. The problems teams faced were too similar to one another to be mere happenstance. In fairness, this is the first week of competition and we don’t know how long this trend will continue. Chances are that a balance patch will fix the observed problem before coaching staffs around the league can.
If we, however, agree that it’s undesirable for OWL level of play to be inferior to contenders at any point, thinking of solutions is important.
One possible avenue of thought is that new strategies need such a level of maturity thus time that OWL teams would need more of it. While the off-season was long and offered ample opportunity, the realities of roster building and limitations in budgeting, as well as, getting everyone together didn’t make it feasible to start practicing. Matching the Contenders teams in pure effort became systemically impossible.
This line of argument would lead to the logical conclusion that whatever system plays the prevalent meta the longest would ultimately turn out superior if the talent level wasn’t absurdly below OWL calibre. Consequently, future OWL teams would either have to recruit more pointedly from these scenes or the off-season would have to be filled with incentives for these teams to practice for.
Currently, incentive structures only point toward competing against equally unprepared opponents and therefore it doesn’t hurt as much to have gone into the season in their current form. Add to that the perceived desire to have more Overwatch year-round, the League could organise off-season tournaments to set goals for teams to work towards.
When thinking of the origins of GOATs and where the innovation spawned from, it is important to note that it came from the last remaining unregulated parts in the North American scene. The team GOATs had brainstormed a composition with the back against the wall at some after-hours theory crafting session that would take the Overwatch League by storm. They proved it’s potency being an unknown team that could suddenly beat the entirety of the North American contenders teams.
It then matured in Contenders EU, a region where a lack of Academy teams and thus frequent relegation and open systems allow for natural selection to make all parts of the structure more efficient. Add the success of Contenders Korea in promoting talent to OWL to the equation and we have another scene that doesn’t rely on gatekeepers to allow them to compete and prove their ideas superior.
Perhaps it is a function of the franchise system that Activision Blizzard has built for itself and the regulatory chokehold they have on the scene. This might work directly against their desire to have the best competition in their premier league, also because their newly built organisations don’t outpace evolutionary processes by intelligent design yet. We might also have to consider the possibility by the very nature of Overwatch and its ever-changing metas, organisations may never beat organic processes.
On several occasions now, Blizzard has tried to lessen the strength of the compositional archetype and it isn’t guaranteed that the next balance changes will be the killing blow. As for coaches, analysts and players from the Europe scene who made it through the battle royale that is Contenders Europe, the current situations should provide well-deserved opportunities within the Overwatch League.