Another stage dawns, but this time with an unfamiliar feeling–for the first time in their history, the Vancouver Titans are returning to the Overwatch League stage in the aftermath of a loss. Their defeat at the hands of the San Francisco Shock in the Stage 2 Finals has cemented a Shock-Titans rivalry as the definitive storyline of this season, but settling that score will have to wait for the Stage 3 playoffs. In the interim, the Titans need to regroup, identify the issues that led to that loss, and figure out how to fix those to regain their top spot.

This week, they’ll be trying out new tricks against the Atlanta Reign and the Los Angeles Gladiators. It’s not about winning, per se–at this point, I expect the Titans to win against any team that isn’t the Shock or the Excelsior–but instead about how they do that winning.

The Atlanta Reign are the unluckiest team in the league for this first week, as they’re going to have to play the Shock and then the Titans in quick succession. I’m not even sure what you do, as the coach, in that circumstance: typically you would prepare for the weaker of the two teams, but in this case there just isn’t one.

Atlanta’s roster is a very mixed KR/NA/EU one. Their tankline was the former Element Mystic duo of Pokpo and Daco, though recently they’ve swapped Dva play to frd as a result of something happening with Daco (though there were plenty of rumors, I haven’t seen anything definitively explaining the change). The DPS duo has mostly been Babybay and Erster, and the support line has had Masaa on main support and either Dogman or Kodak on flex support.

It’s hard to talk about Reign without noting their utterly incongruous results. The Reign are 7-7 in overall record, which makes them seem like a perfectly average team. Let’s look at the list of teams this average squad has defeated! Atlanta have defeated… The Florida Mayhem. Washington Justice. Houston Outlaws. Paris Eternal. Toronto Defiant. New York Excel… wait, no, that can’t be right, I must be reading this wrong.

Let’s see here… April 19, 3-1 score, winner… Atlanta Reign. Ok, so I guess they did win. But what’s this, they played NY again on May 4, where I’m sure the Excelsior got the revenge win. Flip to that day… Hold on a second. Atlanta won again, 3-2?

Yes, indeed they did. This team, which has lost to Boston, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Gladiators, Fusion, Spitfire, and even gave the LA Valiant their first victory, was able to twice defeat the 3rd-best team in the league. A lot of the credit for that goes to the support line. Atlanta has a very weird setup, where Masaa is (in my opinion) one of the best Lucios in the league, while both Dogman and Kodak have been impossibly inconsistent at flex support. But when it came time to play NYXL, both Masaa and Dogman played out of their minds. The Atlanta Lucio zoned Anamo out completely, and seemed to hit boops to displace Mano on every single attempted push. Meanwhile, Dogman was, for the day, the top dog (I know, I know) over Jjonak. It was his right clicks that found opening kills, and his trans usage that kept his teammates alive.

All of this is to say, Atlanta are clearly a weaker team than the Titans. But if you beat NYXL twice, that’s not an accident. There is talent on this roster, and when it’s firing on all cylinders, they can be dangerous. However, Vancouver is not NYXL, and I don’t think they can be exploited in the same way.

The Titans should get this one 4-0.

The other matchup is against the LA Gladiators, who by the standings are the stronger opponent, but are in my estimation less dangerous. LA has, thus far, mostly feasted on weak teams, and owe their 5th-place position in the standings to a fortuitous win against the Shock during the very first week of the OWL season. With the exception of that win, the Gladiators have done a great job beating the teams they were expected to beat while losing to the ones they were expected to lose to. That leaves them, deservedly, somewhere in the tier of “playoff alsos,” teams #4-8 in the league who can compete against each other but fall clearly short of the Titans/Shock dominance tier, or even New York’s “close-but-not-there” tier.

Their roster is another successful mix of the world, for which Bischu deserves a lot of credit. The support line is three Finns–BigGoose, Shaz, and backup Ripa–who have to coordinate perfectly with the all-Korean tank line of Roar and either Bischu or Void. The DPS duo is the American Hydration and the Korean Decay, further complicating strategizing and calls. Fortunately, Bischu speaks fluent Korean and English, and despite probably being the inferior Dva choice when Void is also on the roster, when healthy he has been the starter because it keeps the whole team more coordinated.

That’s fitting for the Gladiators, a team for whom it’s hard to identify a star. The support line is strong but not particularly flashy–you rarely see them make a big play, so much as you feel their impact when the Gladiators find little edges in fights. After Fissure’s departure, the tankline functions similarly, effectively pushing forward and creating space in a way that doesn’t show up on highlight reels. The closest thing to a star is probably Decay on Zarya. His addition took the team from a marginal squad, forced to make do with Surefour on Zarya, to a powerful unit that can beat pretty much anyone outside of the top 3.

This is a great matchup for the Titans in the first week. The Gladiators are strong enough to mostly play standard 3/3, to just about the highest standard Vancouver can find in an opponent. If mistakes are still being made, LA will at the very least try to exploit them, which is precisely the feedback Vancouver will need. If the Titans aren’t on their game, I could even see the Gladiators taking us to a map 5. But I think Vancouver will be playing hard.

A 3-1 Titans victory seems most likely.