Day one of Group C’s matches wrapped up earlier today in Bangkok and, amidst all the gripping and exhilarating esports action, there were plenty of things going on that warrant further discussion.
Here are five talking points from the first day of action.
In my preview article yesterday, I said there’d likely be a gulf of class between host nation Thailand and the rest of the group.
While no pundit ever truly enjoys being proven mercilessly wrong, the competition has so far undoubtedly been better off for my prediction being incorrect.
Unfortunately, the hosts did find themselves mathematically eliminated after dropping their two matches today, but they were far more competitive than anyone expected.
They took a map off Denmark in the first game of the tournament to give their fans something to cheer about, while the 4-0 scoreline in their loss to Australia was not at all reflective of how much that match came down to the wire.
Dallas Fuel star Mickie (Pongphop Rattanasangchod) wasn’t at his best, but the Thai team unearthed some genuine superstars – none more impressive than DPS monster Patiphan (Patiphan Chaiwong).
The Xavier esports product downright tore both Denmark and Australia to shreds at times, with a virtual team wipe on the Genji and a near-match winning effort with Doomfist on King’s Row surely putting him in the eyes of Overwatch League scouts.
Spain, the other team tipped to struggle, proved more than competitive in their two showings as well.
While they also couldn’t quite pick up a match win, they dominated Australia on Lijiang Tower to kick things off strongly, and were very impressive holding Denmark to a draw on Numbani after putting together a three-and-a-half minute full hold in the extra rounds.
Spain and Thailand may be out of the BlizzCon running after day one, but they showed the rest of the competition they’re no walkovers and could spring an upset over the next two days.
It was looking very, very ugly for our boys when things kicked off against Spain, with a devastating 2-0 loss on Lijiang Tower silencing the large contingent of travelling fans early.
But the Aussies found their groove from them on, claiming a 3-1 win over the Spanish and then recording the only 4-0 sweep of the day with their nail-biting win over Thailand.
While Los Angeles Valiant star Custa (Scott Kennedy) was always going to be leading the way from the support role, there was a lot to like about some of the lesser-known talents on display.
CKM (Felix Murray) was just about the only player to make an impact in the first map with some great Pharah play, and he took full advantage of the unprecedented airspace other teams allowed him to work with for the rest of the day.
His awesome – and clutch – work with Genji and Junkrat throughout the two matches was something to behold – and would hopefully put him in the sights of league scouts too.
The tank duo of Punk (Leyton Gilchrist) and Trill (Ashley Powell) clearly got more comfortable with the stage environment as the day wore on too, dominating their matchups more and more.
Punk came through with some excellent stalls and well-placed ultimates as D.Va, with his aggressive but measured play often helping Australia start engagements on the right foot.
Trill, on the other hand, got downright nasty with Winston by the end of the day – even if he did have a magnetic relationship with Pannys’ (Pasavit Svasti-xuto) sleep darts.
Looking at the bigger picture, however, and there’s a case to be made for Australia being the best-performed of the ‘other’ teams (the countries that aren’t China or Sweden).
They had an easier time with Thailand than Spain did and had an easier time with Spain than Denmark did.
While we don’t have a read yet on just how far ahead China and Sweden are (they only played each other on day one), if Australia can knock off Denmark in the first match of day two, they’ll easily be the best placed to steal a BlizzCon spot from one of their more fancied rivals.
Australia may be sitting atop the Group C standings after winning both of their matches, but their day one performances were far from perfect.
Enormous credit is warranted for how well they were able to defend some of the low targets they set for themselves – but the fact is they weren’t able to complete a lot of maps.
Rialto is definitely the hardest Escort map to claim the full three points on, but two points on that map and only one on Temple of Anubis won’t be enough to upset the bigger countries.
Their decision to persist with Akraken (Dario Falcao-Rassokha) playing Ana paid off in the long run, but there were definitely circumstances where a comp change would’ve benefited.
Against tank-heavy comps, in particular, Australia often neglected to add the required extra damage to their comps and often found themselves light on follow-up after good setups.
Some worrying errors crept into their game as well, with a failure to capitalise on six ultimates at one point against Thailand proving demoralising, while they nearly lost themselves King’s Row after a massive overextension in the extra rounds.
All that said, the fact this young team has been able to respond to adversity and dig themselves out of (partially self-dug) holes is incredibly encouraging.
There are kinks to iron out, but for each member to know deep down their teammates won’t quit on a play is one of the best weapons a team can have.
After the historically poor performance by the Shanghai Dragons in the first season of the Overwatch League, you could be forgiven for doubting China’s legitimacy as an Overwatch powerhouse.
The two-time quarter-finalists entered this tournament as the number one-ranked nation for SR, but had their credentials as a genuine contender doubted after their roster had just the one Overwatch League player on it – and a released one at that.
Any doubts they were the real deal were put to bed in emphatic fashion after they took care of two-time third-place finishers Sweden 3-1.
The Chinese simply looked unstoppable at times, hitting seemingly-impossible shots and pulling off jaw-dropping ultimates – including a quintuple kill with Zarya’s Graviton Surge just seconds after they’d withstood one, and a triple kill with Junkrat’s Rip-Tire from a vantage point on Temple of Anubis barely anyone in the audience or commentary team knew of.
On the topic of unearthed talent, something has seriously gone wrong if free agent leave (Huang Xin) and LGD Gaming’s guxue (Xu Qiulin) aren’t on League rosters next season.
Playing mainly on DPS characters like Tracer, Widowmaker and Junkrat, leave cut Sweden to ribbons on more than one occasion, while guxue was easily the best user of Winston in the main tank role all day.
They’ll be incredibly hard to stop.
With the range of talent in Group C looking to be narrower than expected – something else is likely going to be the definitive decider between who moves on to the knockout stage and who doesn’t.
If day one is anything to go by, it looks like eliminating the mental gaffes will be what separates the wheat from the chaff.
The first real blunder we saw came from Thailand’s map win on Rialto against Denmark, with the Thai team well in control closing in on the third-point capture.
They had Denmark by the throat but decided to blow all of their ultimates totally unnecessarily, while tank player Teetawat (Teetawat Teerayosyotin) went in for the one-man spawn camp which, predictably, failed.
While this comedy of errors didn’t prove too costly in the end, other teams weren’t so lucky.
The all-conquering China could have achieved the 4-0 over Sweden if not for an ill-advised retreat in the extra rounds of King’s Row.
Desperate to avoid the EMP from Sombra, the Chinese team flocked off the payload during the crucial overtime period and, just like that, handed the map to Sweden in a moment that had the entire crowd bemused.
Captain Lateyoung (Ma Tianbin) took full responsibility for the error in the press conference afterward and, while it’s unlikely we’ll see a misstep of that magnitude again, moments like these and the ones that almost cost Australia could prove huge.
Disclaimer: Stirling Coates was to flown to Bangkok courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment for the purposes of covering this event.