The first day of the Overwatch League's Countdown Cup on Friday saw both blowouts and nail-biters alike, as the American region opened play with a pair of sweeps and a pair of five-set thrillers.
The in-season tournament not only teams a chance to compete in an elimination-style format for extracash, but also awards teams that go far enough into the tournament additional wins that count toward their regular-season total.
In one of the thrillers -- and what was technically the only "upset" of the day based on seeding -- the ninth-seeded Los Angeles Gladiators (7-9) outlasted the No. 8-seeded Toronto Defiant (8-12) in a 3-2 series win, coming back from down 2-1 to win. The Gladiators showed off the flexibility of their roster by shifting flex player Gia Huy "Chris" "MirroR" Tr?nh across all three positions throughout the series. MirroR would have good enough performances across the different roles, but his flexibility allowed the rest of the Gladiators to individually take over the game across the series.
The Gladiators started strong with a 2-0 win on Lijiang Tower, but then the Defiant recovered and took King's Row 5-4. After the break, the Defiant continued to roll behind strong play from their DPS duo of Andreas "Logix" Berghmans and Brady "Agilities" Girardi, taking Temple of Anubis 2-1.
With Toronto at series point, Los Angeles adjusted its playstyle on Watchpoint: Gibraltar, shifting DPS Ji-hyeok "birdring" Kim to Sombra so as to avoid a bad matchup against Logix. The strategy worked well, with the Gladiators taking the map 3-2 to force a series deciding Game 5. With some momentum behind him, birdring dominated on Nepal, securing the 2-0 win with a crazy RIP-Tire ultimate through a Symmetra teleporter that killed four and closed the lid on Toronto's Countdown Cup hopes.
Toronto looked strong despite the loss, and will have time to go back to the drawing board with a decent seed for the postseason. The Gladiators advance to the quarterfinals, where they will face the third-seeded Philadelphia Fusion (21-2).
In the day's other close series, the seventh-seeded Dallas Fuel (7-10) survived a close five-game series against the No. 10 Washington Justice (4-16). The Fuel have been no stranger to the spotlight over the last week after announcing the departure of DPS star Gui-un "Decay" Jang and the release of head coach Aaron "Aero" Atkins among other coaching and roster moves.
Once they went back to work, both teams went back-and-forth trying to figure one another out. The Justice started hot with a 2-0 win on Lijiang Tower, but the Fuel responded with a 2-1 win on King's Row to tie the series up. After the break, the Fuel had seemingly figured out how to neutralize the Justice's primary carry, DPS Ho-sung "TTuba" Lee's Genji, taking Temple of Anubis 3-2 to force match point. Washington adjusted, though, playing up-tempo and catching the Fuel off-guard to take a 1-0 win on Watchpoint: Gibraltar and tie the series. In the clutch, Dallas DPS Dong-ha "Doha" Kim came alive, dominating the last point as Genji to secure a 2-1 win on Nepal and a 3-2 series win for the Fuel.
With the win, Dallas advances to a quarterfinal matchup against the No. 1 seed, the San Francisco Shock (19-2). Washington needed to make a run at the Countdown Cup to try and dig itself out of its standings, and will now have limited control over its playoff hopes.
The other two series were blowouts, coming from two of the teams expected to make a run at the Cup. The day started with a fifth-seeded Atlanta Reign (10-7) dominating the 12th-seeded Vancouver Titans (4-12) in a 3-0 sweep. The Reign looked incredibly polished, a feat considering rookie DPS Garrett "Saucy" Roland was making his tournament debut in the starting lineup after making his league debut in Week 26.
While the Titans' DPS did respectably well in their matchups, the rest of Vancouver got dominated by their Atlanta counterparts. The Reign took a team win through a 2-0 win on Lijiang Tower, a 3-2 win on Numbani and a 1-0 full-hold on Temple of Anubis. Atlanta will take on the fourth-seeded Florida Mayhem (14-6) on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
Finally, the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Valiant (10-9) made good on a promise from DPS Kyle "KSF" Frandanisa, who said on the Watchpoint Selection Show at the end of Week 26 that Los Angeles would either win 3-0 or 3-2 against the 11th-seeded Houston Outlaws (6-15). While the Outlaws' struggles with map fives in general are well-documented over the last few weeks, especially considering they took the Valiant to map five before choking the final teamfight of the series, Los Angeles had no problems picking up a 3-0 sweep on Friday.
KSF's Genji worked wonders against the Outlaws, who were having issues getting the most out of their frontline. The Valiant's tanks dominated their matchup, giving LA's backline space to operate. Los Angeles took Lijiang Tower 2-1, Numbani 1-0 and Hanamura 2-1 to secure the sweep. The Valiant move onto the quarterfinals to take on the second-seeded Paris Eternal (16-6).
Week 27 of the Overwatch League and the Countdown Cup continues on Saturday with seven matches:
Guangzhou Charge (4) vs New York Excelsior (5)
Hangzhou Spark (3) vs Seoul Dynasty (7)
Chengdu Hunters (2) vs London Spitfire (6)
San Francisco Shock (1) vs Dallas Fuel (7)
Florida Mayhem (4) vs Atlanta Reign (5)
Paris Eternal (2) vs Los Angeles Valiant (6)
Philadelphia Fusion (3) vs Los Angeles Gladiators (9)
Overwatch League Season 3 standings, with match record (W-L), map record (W-L-T) and map differential:
1. (Pacific East) Shanghai Dragons, 23-2, 56-15-1, 41
2. (Atlantic South) Philadelphia Fusion, 21-2, 56-19-0, 37
3. (Pacific West) San Francisco Shock, 19-2, 47-12-2, 35
4. (Pacific East) Guangzhou Charge, 18-7, 44-39-1, 5
5. (Atlantic North) Paris Eternal, 16-6, 44-28-0, 16
6. (Atlantic South) Florida Mayhem, 14-6, 40-25-0, 15
7. (Atlantic North) New York Excelsior, 14-7, 47-26-2, 21
8. (Atlantic South) Atlanta Reign, 10-7, 37-26-0, 11
9. (Pacific West) Los Angeles Valiant, 10-9, 33-36-0, -3
10. (Pacific East) Hangzhou Spark, 9-11, 33-40-2, -7
11. (Pacific West) Los Angeles Gladiators, 7-9, 30-33-4, -3
12. (Pacific East) Seoul Dynasty, 8-11, 21-35-2, -14
13. (Pacific West) Dallas Fuel, 7-10, 28-37-0, -9
14. (Atlantic North) Toronto Defiant, 8-12, 31-42-0, -11
15. (Atlantic North) London Spitfire, 6-10, 24-36-0, -12
16. (Pacific East) Chengdu Hunters, 7-14, 33-47-1, -14
17. (Atlantic South) Houston Outlaws, 6-15, 32-50-3, -18
18. (Pacific West) Vancouver Titans, 4-12, 16-38-0, -22
19. (Atlantic South) Washington Justice, 4-16, 21-51-1, -30
20. (Atlantic North) Boston Uprising, 2-17, 14-55-3, -41
--Field Level Media