Shanghai Dragons win Overwatch League Stage 3 in 7-map nail-biter
Last Sunday, the Shanghai Dragons won the Stage 3 playoffs of the 2019 Overwatch League—and $500,000 prize money—in a nail-biting series against the San Francisco Shock.
The playoff win concludes a marked comeback for the Dragons, who last year did not count a single win among their 40 matches in the 2018 season. The Shock meanwhile put in a strong showing after a difficult stage, but the loss denotes a fall-in-grace for the reigning champions.
Overwatch League’s playoff finals are played in a “first to four” system, meaning final series can run to anything between three and seven maps. At the end of Stage 3, fans were treated to all seven.
The Dragons started off strong, taking the first three maps confidently. San Francisco Shock seemed unable to counter the Dragons’ now characteristic wide hero pool, a stark contrast to the team compositions the Shock have been used to competing against.
But, after the Shock snatched a victory on the fourth map, Havana, the tables started to turn. Nerves settling, and finding a few new heros of their own, the Shock came back with a newfound strength and clear demonstration of why they held the Stage 2 crown.
The Shock then faced an uphill battle, however. Per playoff rules, the losing team of each map gets to pick the next. The Dragons were now permanently just one map away from victory, and they would be picking every one (though it should be noted that the Dragons had already faced this challenge in their own victories earlier).
San Francisco Shock went on to take a second map, and a third, and the two teams entered the final map, Dorado, with three-a-piece. Whoever won the map would take the series, and the stage.
The Shock were first to play and, after an almighty defence by the Dragons, managed to only scrape up a single control point. The Dragons then had a clear goal to win, but between them and the prize money were the reigning champions, themselves now comfortable on unusual heroes.
The Shock put up another excellent defence, and until the dying moments it really was unclear whether the Dragons could do it. But with some clutch rockets from Dding and sniping from Diem, they managed to push the cart just a little further than their rivals and take it all.
Players of note
With many DPS and diving characters in play, there was a lot of opportunity for impressive individual play in the playoff final. Whereas previous stages have relied on tight team cooperation, this series let individuals shine with surprise maneuvers and careful hero control.
On the side of the Shanghai Dragons, Dding surely must be mentioned first. Playing as Pharah, he controlled the air and launched rockets down at his opponents beneath. Keeping this pressure up from unusual angles, this gave his teammates the opportunities needed to break their defence (and Dding himself picked up plenty of kills).
Diem must also be congratulated for his contribution to the Dragons’ win. Playing his signature Widowmaker he provided incredible value-for-bullet, picking off the Shock’s support players and pressuring their tanks. When forced to play Sombra, he continued to control the battlefield and provide his team with the tools necessary to win.
Finally for the Dragons, Youngjin played the role of crowd-pleaser. As Doomfist he made some incredible individual contributions, disrupting the Shock frontlines and using all of the hero’s abilities with precision.
For the San Francisco Shock, attention must be payed to ChoiHyoBin. Recognised as one off the—if not the—best D. Va player in the League, Choi spent much of the finals instead playing Roadhog. As well as making fine use of Roadhog’s damage-dealing-and-taking abilities Choi drew amazement at his hook precision, pulling opponents out of the air and from backlines at essential moments. On that performance alone, expect to see more Roadhog in Stage 4.
A last hurrah?
As well as being a heartwarming and thrilling comeback story, the Dragons’ win is already an important part of the Overwatch League’s history: it almost certainly indicates a turning point in the team compositions we can expect to see.
For the last year, top-flight competitive has been dominated by a hero composition of three tank heroes and three support heroes, a tactic known as “three-three” or “GOATS” (Greatest Of All Time). This composition has been a key to San Francisco’s success, as they are probably the best three-three team in the league.
Throughout Stage 3, we’ve started to see the three-three composition under threat. First, by the “Sombra variation”, in which the DPS hero Sombra (who can hack others to disable their powers) was brought in to either punish the tightly-packed three-three team, or threaten them to spread out.
Soon after that, the “Phar-Mercy” composition became popular. This introduced the flying heroes Pharah and Mercy, who together could deal a lot of rocket damage from above. Again, this forced opponents to spread out to ensure they didn’t all suffer splash damage from the same rockets.
Other counters and compositions emerged, with varying success. The “Bunker” composition was popular earlier in the stage (and its delightfully named variant, the “Pirate Ship”); heroes like Orisa and Hanzo saw serious stage time; Ana was introduced by many as an explicit defence against Sombra.
Throughout all of this though, three-three was never truly unseated and remained a common composition for many. Not as dominant, almost always with variation, but still an essential part of the game.
The Stage 3 finals may have finally put a symbolic stop to the composition, showing that even the best three-three team in the world cannot compete with a more diverse and complex line-up. The Shanghai Dragons have demonstrated, on the biggest stage of the year so far, that three-three can be beaten.
However, a symbolic defeat may not be what puts an end to three-three. Rumours have abound for months now that Blizzard will be introducing a composition lock: every team must use two tank, two support and two DPS heroes.
With this lock anticipated for Stage 4, seeing three-three defeated in the final match of Stage 3 will bring joy to its critics.
For various reasons, Stage 3 of the Overwatch League 2019 Season has been its most exciting yet. Compositions have started to be upheaved; favourite players have moved on, and new ones have become celebrities.
Perhaps most notably, Stage 3 has seen various teams rise and fall. LA Valiant and Houston Outlaws each took 5 of their 8 wins of the season in Stage 3. Atlanta Reign took just two.
The Stage 3 playoffs provided the perfect conclusion to a topsy-turvey season. Shanghai Dragons, after a disastrous 2018 season, entered the playoffs as the lowest-ranked team. Yet, on their journey to victory, they defeated the Stage 1 and Stage 2 champions.
Shanghai’s win is incredibly important to them, but it’s also important to the League. It represents a changing of the guard, a new opportunity for teams who’ve previously been discounted. And, with the final stage of the year just around the corner, we can’t wait to see what happens next.
Overwatch League’s Stage 4—the final stage of the season—starts on 24th July with the Houston Outlaws taking on Paris Eternal.