We’re already at the finals of the first stage of the 2019 Overwatch League with all teams to make it already decided.
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It’s sadly typical that the best worlds of all time (I think we’re all in agreement on that now, right?) should have such a boring pair of semi-finals.
I enjoyed the Fnatic series for other reasons (EU and NA), but as a spectacle it was disappointingly one-sided.
It will sting for Cloud 9 fans that their Cinderella story had such an abrupt ending, but eventually they will remember what an absurd achievement it was to even get this far.
The same can be said for G2, who, apart from the abysmal domestic form early in the year, followed a very similar trajectory to C9. They had to go through play-ins, were supposed to be eliminated in groups, and upset a much higher-ranked team in the quarter-final.
Both G2 and C9 have an incredible foundation on which to build in 2019, that’s for sure.
The grand-final is looking like a mouth-watering prospect, but in the aftermath of the semis I find myself looking backwards.
The tournament itself, as mentioned, has been incredible, but it has also been appropriate for a year in which nobody seemed to be able to stand above the crowd.
The defending champions were eliminated as early as possible, as definitively as possible and the tournament favourites both went out in the quarter-finals.
But when you consider the fact that three-time champions SKT didn’t even qualify, TSM didn’t make it from America and nobody knew who was going to claim the European slots until the final day of the season, it’s no surprise that Worlds turned out to be so crazy.
In years gone by, League fans have sort of known that a Korean team would win eventually. Last year’s biggest surprise was that SKT weren’t the team to do it, but they still made it to the final so they could lose to a different Korean team.
Western fans have hoped for the best but expected – well, not the worst, but mild disappointment. This year I pinned my hopes on RNG to staunch the tide of Korean dominance, expecting Fnatic to make a decent showing at quarter-finals and be done.
Instead, this was the year everything changed. Received knowledge and common sense became more and more meaningless. Even if 2019 sees Korea come back stronger than ever, we won’t go into Worlds with that same sense of foreboding that we’re used to. We will no longer know that a Korean team will win like we used to.
Perhaps inevitably, this has led to some discussion about the level of play at Worlds falling since last year. Fnatic’s former support player, Jesiz got the ball rolling with this tweet.
While Fnatic are fucking good this year, the level of play at this Worlds has to be the lowest it has ever been.
Every other year I have been very impressed by teams at Worlds, whereas this year, I haven't been impressed once, other than by individual players.
— Jesse Le (@Jesizlol) October 28, 2018
It’s an enticing argument for fans of teams that struggled this year, but it’s lazy and the lack of any real explanation of how or why the level has dropped is telling.
The game has changed. It hasn’t suddenly become less skill intensive, it’s just different. The problem is that people automatically assume different has to be better or worse, but that isn’t right at all.
The way League is played has changed a lot in 2018, but it was a series of sideways shifts. Macro play is still important, but micro management and individual skill play a bigger role than ever before.
Gone but not forgotten, we can blame ex-commentator Monte Cristo for this attitude. He famously said the perfect game of League of Legends would involve zero kills and perfect map rotations.
In the context of the lane swap meta-game at the time, he may have had a point, but that hasn’t been the way League is played for quite some time.
The sentiment clearly lingers, though, which is unfortunate because it does a disservice to the achievements of teams who have succeeded this year. It implies that the like of Fnatic and Cloud 9 only got where they did because everyone else has gotten worse, which is both offensive and absurd.
I understand that people are having some dissonance with idea that no Korean teams even made the semi-finals, but using that as ammunition to denigrate the entire tournament is just silly.
Allow me a brief aside. A friend of mine told me about a conversation he had recently, in which an older family member was explaining to him how George Best would run rings around modern footballers, citing such convincing evidence as “they’re too soft nowadays.”
To any sensible person, that argument is clearly nonsense. George best famously drank like a fish, smoked, and generally lived like a rock star. He would have collapsed, wheezing after half an hour of modern football.
The point of that story is simple: performance at just about anything, but especially sports, improves over time. Some teams or players do it faster than others, some need to take some backwards steps once in a while, but as a whole, understanding grows and so does quality.
To claim that Worlds 2018 is worse than last year just because the style of play has shifted just comes across as sour grapes and flies in the face of both common sense and observable evidence.
What naysayers like Jesiz forget is that macro play hasn’t disappeared, but skirmishing has grown in importance. One hasn’t replaced the other – both are now required for success.