Stage 1 of the Overwatch League's second season is over, and the Vancouver Titans reign supreme after the first 10 games of the year. There were plenty of other lessons in the first quarter of the league schedule, too, from how to build teams to the strength of other expansion franchises.
Here are some of our takeaways from the first six weeks of competition at Blizzard Arena.
1. The Seoul Dynasty are (maybe) back?
The Vancouver Titans are in the midst of a historic run in professional Overwatch, but the team that made the largest splash in the Stage 1 playoffs was the Seoul Dynasty.
Seoul's 3-1 victory over the New York Excelsior -- which could have been a clean sweep if not for an incredible turnaround by the NYXL on Volskaya -- changed the entire playoff landscape. An NYXL-Titans matchup that seemed inevitable never came to be.
The NYXL and London Spitfire's inaugural season success along with more unlikely contenders in the Philadelphia Fusion and both Los Angeles teams overshadowed how disappointing the Dynasty were last year. With the Lunatic-Hai core, an all-South Korean lineup and a massive home fan base behind them, the fact that the Dynasty failed to make a single stage playoff and missed season playoffs was among the biggest shocks of Season 1.
Seoul's first foray into poststage play might not have come with a title, but the team's Sombra compositions with DPS player Choi "Michelle" Min-hyeok dismantled the NYXL. This speaks well of not only Seoul's offseason pickups but their coaching staff, which set up a Control-specific team alongside what, for lack of a better word, is Seoul's main lineup.
"We had a lot of ups and downs after the first [Stage 1] match," Michelle said. "We made it to playoffs, and I was able to show my Sombra, which I haven't practiced that much, but I'm still satisfied that we were able to beat NYXL and London and that we were able to make it to semifinals."
Michelle and fellow a fellow rookie for Seoul, main tank Hwang "Marve1" Min-seo, both gave credit to their coaches. Both players noted that the addition of new players gives the Dynasty another advantage, too: With a 12-man lineup, the team can devise even more strategies through internal scrimmages and perhaps shake up the coming stages.
2. San Francisco's waiting game worked
When the preordained matchup of the NYXL and Titans was foiled by Seoul, a large majority of the community, perhaps buoyed by the confidence of Titans main tank Park "Bumper" Sang-beom, wrote off the Stage 1 finals as an automatic Titans victory. The Titans emerged victorious but were thoroughly tested in a seven-game series that San Francisco led 3-2 at one point.
"I think we did good against them," Shock DPS player Jay "sinatraa" Won said, "but just the last map, they changed their style and started rushing really hard and we couldn't counter it."
Although sinatraa has been a key focal point due to his Zarya play, the stars of the Shock in the finals came from their tank and support lines. Main tank Matthew "super" DeLisi and flex tank Choi "ChoiHyoBin" Hyo-bin were particularly stunning (pun intended) in what was a near-upset by the Shock. If this is how strong San Francisco is while still developing coordination and synergy together on stage, the team will likely return to the playoffs and finals in stages to come.
"The experience difference was pretty hard," Shock coach Park "Crusty" Dae-hee added. "We also tried to figure out their style, but every map they changed their style, and I think that comes from their experience."
While the Shock lacked experience in playoff settings compared to the former RunAway lineup of the Vancouver Titans, this match showcased the Shock's triple-tank, triple-support composition prowess as well as the massive amount of talent that the team has organized on their hybrid roster.
"I want to keep this momentum because I think we're really angry because we could win," Crusty said. "I want them to remember this momentum, be angry and be eager to win. And next stage, we're going to make the title [match] again."
3. RunAway are Overwatch League-ready
An undefeated record thus far in the Overwatch League and the Stage 1 title should be more than enough to prove that RunAway, despite being a Contenders Korea roster just a few months ago, are currently the best team in the league.
"I think in this meta, the GOATS meta, the most important thing is team chemistry," the Seoul Dynasty's Michelle said. "Vancouver has really good teamwork where it seems like it's one person playing."
Shock players said one of the more impressive aspects of Vancouver's play was how the team adjusted from map to map, particularly the Titans' ceaseless aggression on Rialto that led to Vancouver breaking the record completion time for the map by a minute.
Main tank Bumper frequently sets the pace for the Titans. Even if he dies, the rest of the team is able to clean up, especially with the strength of the support line of Lee "Twilight" Joo-seok and Kim "SLIME" Seong-joon.
If the Titans can make it to July 22 without losing a match, they will go an entire year without a loss. This is unlikely given the strength of other teams in the league and how consistent the Titans would have to be through what would likely be multiple meta shifts, but the fact that it's at all a possibility is impressive.
4. Stage scheduling needs work
This year, the Overwatch League changed their scheduling in order to avoid team burnout and allow more preparation time, even with eight new expansion teams joining the league. The result is that teams not only play fewer matches, but the strength of their opponents can vary wildly, making it more difficult to gauge just how strong a team is from their seed and standing.
San Francisco, for example, played a very tough schedule in Stage 1 and entered the playoffs as a six-seed. Despite the Shock's seeding, however, they were considered one of the top three teams in the league going into the tournament.
"Last season we used to play against most of the teams, so it was a more accurate depiction of who has a higher standing," Shock DPS player Kim "Rascal" Dong-joon said. "But now, some teams might have easier opponents; it might not be as accurate of a depiction of the rankings."
The scheduling discrepancies were immediately apparent during these playoffs when the No. 3 Toronto Defiant were matched up against the Shock. San Francisco wholly outclassed its opponent in a 3-0 sweep. The overall records for teams should stabilize somewhat overall as matches accumulate from stage to stage, but this also has the potential to make meta shifts all the more impactful given their timing and the stage playoffs will always be affected.
5. GOATS still reigns supreme
The true winner of Stage 1 is the triple-tank, triple-support (GOATS) composition.
Outside of the Titans' Orisa-McCree composition for Ilios Well, the Stage 1 final was exclusively played with triple-tank, triple-support compositions. The reason for that was simple.
"GOATS is the best," super said.
Although Seoul mixed it up in their match against the NYXL with Sombra and DPS-heavy compositions to throw off their favored opponent, GOATS has been the name of the game throughout most of Stage 1 in both the playoffs and regular season. The slow-paced meta focused on building up ultimates and using those powerful abilities to force decisive teamfights.
"GOATS is the best, but you see a lot of teams that aren't playing really good at GOATS play random DPS," sinatraa said. "Sombra especially. That's when you know that's not a good GOATs team."
The opportunities to catch those great GOATS teams off-guard are few and far between. Even when teams like the Titans switch things up, like on Ilios, a simple adjustment for a more traditional GOATS composition can end the experiment.
"When GOATS is top-tier, if someone plays something else, it's too easy to either just counter with GOATS or make one or two small counter-swaps to beat them," Shock support player Grant "moth" Espe said.
Proving moth's point, the Shock were able to take Ilios in a close set because they forced the Titans off of their McCree-Orisa setup onto triple-triple. This gave the Shock an ultimate charge advantage over the Titans and ultimately the map victory.
Changes to the game for Stage 2, including the addition of support hero Batiste, might shake up the metagame a bit, but it's unlikely we've seen the last of GOATS.