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Australia are in the box seat for a BlizzCon spot at the Overwatch World Cup

Custa has led Australia to within an inch of qualifying for BlizzCon 2018. (Photo: Robert Paul/Blizzard Entertainment)
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5 days ago
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It was a rollercoaster of a day for Australian fans, with a demoralising loss to Denmark heavily assuaged by a famous upset victory over Sweden. That’s just one of five talking points to emerge from the second day of esports action in Bangkok.

1) Australia’s incredible turnaround has them on track for the knockout stage

Like day one, things looked grim for Australia after a comprehensive Control map loss to Denmark to kick things off.

But while they were able to turn that around against Spain yesterday and forge a 3-1 win, the Danes simply proved too strong and went on to hand the Aussies a dispiriting 3-1 loss.

Many fans and pundits had viewed the Danish clash as an absolute must-win, with the expectation being Australia couldn’t hope to walk away with wins against the top-seeded duo of China and Sweden.

But, in one of the biggest upsets an Australian national sporting team has achieved this calendar year, the Aussies pulled one out of the hat with a dominant 4-0 victory over Sweden.

With Akraken (Dario Falcao-Rassokha) getting more and more comfortable with Ana, while also strutting his stuff with great Moira play, Trill (Ashley Powell) and Punk (Leyton Gilchrist) dominating tank duels, and Custa (Scott Kennedy) calling the shots, our boys did the huge group of travelling supporters proud with a victory for the ages.

The equation is now simple; beat China (who looked very wobbly in extra-map wins over Thailand and Denmark) and they’re into the knockout stage in November. Even a loss to the current world number ones doesn’t mean elimination, provided Sweden can get back into gear against their Scandinavian rivals beforehand.

It’s definitely no guarantee, but the day looked set to finish in heartbreak and instead now fills the third and final day with plenty of promise.

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Australian esports fans celebrate a 4-0 victory by their team over Thailand at the 2018 Overwatch World Cup.

Australian fans couldn’t believe their eyes in the match against Sweden. (Photo: Stirling Coates/Conversant Media)

2) Denmark’s dominance could make them surprise packets too

Denmark have, quite unfairly, been largely viewed by Australian media as nothing more than the biggest roadblock of the also-rans, with the huge upset efforts supposedly required against China and Sweden.

The Danish had their unbeaten run ended after a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to China, but their 3-1 touch-up of the Aussies has them in mighty fine shape as they look to book an unlikely ticket to BlizzCon themselves.

They put Australia to the sword on Oasis, Numbani and Temple of Anubis, showing off frightening anticipation and adaptability to whatever strategies were thrown their way.

I earmarked Australia’s CKM (Felix Murray), Thailand’s Patiphan (Patiphan Chaiwong) and Chinese duo leave (Huang Xin) and guxue (Xu Quilin) for Overwatch League spots in the near future, and Danish academy player Shax (Johannes Nielsen) certainly deserves a spot on that list after some dominant displays with a multitude of DPS characters.

BlizzCon is no certainty – they’ll have to navigate a tricky matchup against the Swedes tomorrow or hope China can finish Australia off – but they well and truly catapulted themselves above also-ran status with two excellent performances.

3) Sweden have been the disappointments of Group C so far

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Nobody is emerging from this group with their predictions intact, but Sweden topping the group was easily one of my safest predictions for the World Cup.

Not only will Sweden not top the group, they face a huge uphill battle to even get out of the group stage.

The 3-1 loss to China on day one looked simply like a well-fought early grand final loss, but the extent to which they were dominated by the Aussies made for bemusing viewing.

They got off the mark later in the day with a 4-0 win over Spain, but that really was an ugly match where both sides made countless errors and was certainly not what anyone would call a firestarter.

They were sluggish to make or react to compositional changes, completely failed to protect their supports, showed a worrying lack of game awareness (with several instances of players just not reacting to being attacked from behind particularly inexcusable), and were tripped up by shocking decision making at times too.

The worst example was in the extra rounds on Numbani against the Spaniards – who had nothing in the time bank. The normally reliable TviQ (Kevyn Linstrom) handed his opponents an unnecessary point after bizarrely electing to spawn camp despite the payload being heavily contested.

All in all, it was a very ugly day for one of the competition favourites.

While it’s still very much possible for them to turn things around – 4-0 wins over Thailand and Denmark will see them through if results elsewhere are favourable – the wheels are very much wobbling on this wagon.

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4) Once again, the range of skill is even smaller than we thought

Despite Group C boasting both the highest-ranked and bottom-ranked nations at this year’s World Cup – this has, without question, been the most even group at the tournament so far.

I wrote yesterday that the gap in skill wasn’t that wide but, with supposed frontrunners China and Sweden only playing each other on the first day, we only really knew that the ‘other’ four countries were neck and neck.

Day two proved, however, that even the dominant duo are up to their eyeballs in it.

Sweden are, as you know, in desperate trouble but even ladder-leading China found themselves in some dogfights on day two, needing a fifth map to get past lowly Thailand and plucky Denmark.

Despite being undefeated, their underwhelming map differential means the Chinese could stunningly miss out on BlizzCon altogether if they lose to Australia and Denmark sweep the Swedes.

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You’d feel very stiff missing out on playoffs despite finishing 4-1 with a +7 map differential – but that is not even remotely far-fetched when it comes to tomorrow’s scenarios.

5) Is Sombra’s new playstyle proving controversial?

One thing I certainly didn’t see coming was the virtual necessity of including Sombra in your composition at this event. The hacking hero has had a tough time entrenching herself in the meta, but recent changes to her abilities appear to have helped her hit her stride.

With invisibility and the translocator now both indefinite, she can scout like nobody else, while the full-team EMP out of stealth mode has become the bread and butter engagement tool for many a team fight.

The question is, however, is one character hiding for an enormous amount of time to set up the glory play really what we want to see?

When announcing Mercy’s big rework just over a year ago, game director Jeff Kaplan said the development team was not a fan of Mercy players hiding once they had their ultimate ready and just swooping in for the ‘huge rez’.

Granted, the reasons were slightly different in Mercy’s case; having resurrect as an ultimate was somewhat counterintuitive given her playstyle revolved entirely around preventing your teammates from dying in the first place.

But the frustration her teammates felt when she, often without explanation, stopped healing because she wanted to use the ultimate was cited as well.

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While World Cup players would know exactly why their Sombra has gone into hiding, the same definitely can’t be said for ordinary players, while the consistency with which professional players get value from this EMP also won’t be replicated in gold or quick play.

If these lengthy periods of inactivity become ‘how to’ play Sombra at lower levels, this same frustration that saw Mercy altered significantly – for the better – may resurface.

Disclaimer: Stirling Coates was to flown to Bangkok courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment for the purposes of covering this event.