This week, the Titans take another look at two teams they haven’t seen since Stage 1, the Chengdu Hunters and the Los Angeles Valiant. Outside of our comfy little bubble of being the best team every week, others have been rising and falling, and these two teams exemplify the different directions that can go. Los Angeles have ascended from the “will they even win a game?” tier into a respectable mediocrity. Meanwhile Chengdu have fallen from heights of promise into a spot where they just don’t look competitive against anyone at all decent.

In other words, both of these teams are pretty bad, and somewhere within the two victories the Titans will clinch an appearance in the play-ins, which is the sort of idle thinking you can do when nothing important will happen in the week’s matches.

Since we play them first, let’s start with Chengdu. The team that pioneered Hammond-and-3-DPS compositions has had a few bright moments where things almost came together. Never forget that Chengdu is one of only two teams to take the Titans to a map 5 in a normal series, and that that was a fully-deserved result. Vancouver struggled mightily against the aerial prowess of Jinmu and the bizarre hamster-ball tactics of Ameng, and the two maps Chengdu won were actually quite lopsided in their favor. A key part of that series was another moment of potential: Ameng, the Hammond one-trick, swapped to Rein and went toe-to-toe with, or even outclassed, Bumper. Suddenly it looked as if the Hunters would be able to use both whacky triple DPS and standard 3/3 at high levels: what more could you need to fear a team?

Alas for them, it was not to be. The multi-DPS, impressive as it looked, has struggled to get map wins because of how objective-unfocused it was. Ameng’s star turn on Reinhardt turned out to be overperformance, and the long-awaited arrival of their original main tank, Jiqiren, didn’t prove to be the solution either. Chengdu are now stuck in a weird spot. Triple DPS has uses, but mostly around a core of solid 3/3 play, and the team isn’t strong enough either with Ameng or with Jiqiren in to provide that base, plus they have yet to show a strong-looking Sombra composition. They’re 1-2 this stage, with losses to the Valiant and the Guangzhou Charge, neither of which indicate a team ready to challenge for anything. I’m still a bit scared of them mechanically—this team’s individual skill is just nuts—but their coordination has actually gone backwards, and without coordination you aren’t beating Vancouver.

The Titans are better, and the Hunters won’t get as close as they did last time. 3-1 Vancouver.

The Valiant, meanwhile, have improved dramatically, although I’m going to give myself credit for the brilliant insight that it would be better to have a Lucio player play Lucio than a main tank. Paycheck please.

Since putting Custa back into the main lineup, the Valiant have, well, stopped losing every single game they play in. They’ve dug themselves into an awful hole for stage playoffs, with their record still stuck at 5-12, but at least those 5 wins are coming somewhat recently. Solidifying a Zarya player in KSF has given important consistency, even if he’s not on anyone’s short list of best Zaryas in the league. Agilities has learned to play brig, and weirdly is on the short list of statistical best performers on the hero (I’m serious, it’s true). I still take that with a mound of salt because come on, but it’s better than him being bad by both statistics and the eye tes. New main tank FCTFCTN is probably less individually-skilled than Fate, but the team as a whole works around him better. And benching Izayaki so he could intently meditate on how to not press Q at the worst possible time has paid real dividends, with Kariv outputting the same amount of damage and also occasionally healing his teammates. All these adjustments have meant the Valiant are no longer complete garbage, but they’re now comfortably mediocre.

That’s not enough to hang with the Titans even a little bit. 4-0 Vancouver.