In the stage 3 break, the Houston Outlaws remembered that they didn’t have to play GOATS. This turned out to be a huge boon as they were really bad at playing 3-3. This stage, they embraced playing DPS heroes, Jake and Danteh in particular, and in the first two matches, they went to 5 games against the NYXL, losing, but winning in 5 against the San Francisco Shock. After NYXL, their only loss was to… uh… the Florida Mayhem… Yes, that Florida Mayhem.
Outside of their victory over the Shock, the teams they defeated weren’t particularly impressive. They beat the Boston Uprising, Paris Eternal, Washington Justice and Toronto Defiant. So they beat 2 of the bottom 3 teams in the league, while losing to the other one. How can a team play this underwhelming and still beat the Shock? Well it’s pretty simple, the Shock still can’t play against Sombra, and Viol2t can’t play Ana. Knowing this, we can almost count out the Outlaws win over the Shock. Yes, it was impressive considering the Shock just came off of an undefeated stage 2 championship, but the stage 3 Shock don’t look nearly as powerful as before. Their victories were plentiful, but equally underwhelming. They beat the Atlanta Reign (2-5) 3-2, then beat Seoul 4-0, then stomped a bunch of mid table teams in Boston Uprising (1-6), Florida Mayhem (1-6), and London Spitfire (3-4).
So we know the Titans are the favourites, and we know that it’s by a considerable amount, but we still need to figure out what the conditions of their victory is. Statistically, these two teams are really hard to compare because Houston greatly overperformed this stage and the Titans were average, but because the meta shifts on it’s own schedule increasing the length of time grossly exaggerates the Outlaws bad record. Despite the Outlaws record of 5-2, they were still miserable this stage on Assault and Hybrid maps with 58% and 50% winrates. When you include stage 2, they drop to 38% each, while their other map rates (both above 80%) drop to under 50%. This bodes very well for the Titans as those are their best map types and they have an ace up their sleeve here. The Outlaws are 1-2-2 on Volskaya Industries this year and the Titans are 5-0-0, while being undefeated on Volskaya going back to early 2018 as RunAway. They also share the glory of being equally terrible on Paris, so it’s nice to know the Titans won’t have a guaranteed loss. The Titans are 0-3 on Paris on stage 3, but 3-3 going back to stage 2, the Outlaws are 1-1 this stage but 1-3 going back to last stage, so while the teams do appear to be trending in opposite directions, this one is at least close.
Now Hybrid is the Titans bread and butter. The Outlaws are 1-0 on Numbani, 2-1 on Eichenwalde and 0-2 on Hollywood. Titans are 3-0 on Hollywood, 2-0 on Numbani and 1-1 on Eichenwalde. Going back farther, this gets a lot better for the Titans. Like, undefeated since 2017 on Numbani levels of elite play, so now that we have the two middle maps going to the Titans, where do they stand in round 1 and 4?
Let’s start by saying that the Titans are at 86% winrate on every map type minus Assault in stage 3. That’s because 3/7 of their Assault games have been on Paris and all of them were losses. On Control, the Titans are 8-1 on Ilios, and 5-1 on Oasis, but only 3-3 on Nepal and Houston is undefeated on Nepal this stage, the Titans need to dodge Nepal. Even going back 6 months, the Outlaws are 4-1 on Nepal, so even when they were bad, they were still good on Nepal. Getting Ilios or Oasis is going to be key for this match. This stage, the Outlaws have only lost on Watchpoint: Gibraltar among Escort maps. The Titans on the other hand are 3-0 on Watchpoint, while tying a record here against the LA Gladiators. This map doesn’t need to be played as the Titans have a very good shot at taking this 3-0, but if we have to go this far, Watchpoint: Gibraltar is going to be the best way for the Titans to close out this series.
The San Francisco Shock were the best team in the Overwatch League’s second stage. They played elite Overwatch all 6 weeks and were rewarded with the Stage 2 championship crown, so it’s even more surprising now that we need to take a look at what they do wrong, especially against the Houston Outlaws, the team who this entire post series was inspired by.
While many OWL tier lists vary, it’s clear that the Shock, Titans and NYXL are in a league of their own. The league’s top 3 teams vary greatly in play styles, but they are the only 3 teams to have completed a 7-0 stage. In addition, when you consider top 3 players in any position, all 3 will likely come from one of these teams’ starting lineups. The problem with these three being so far ahead of the competition is that the teams below them will follow their actions as gospel. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.
After their first match of Stage 2 Jake, of the Houston Outlaws, said that his pride as a competitive player is more important than winning. He was lambasted by Overwatch media for missing the point, then the Outlaws went without a win throughout the entire stage. Their stage was rather difficult, 5/7 of their opponents ended up making the playoffs that, while also playing the Fusion, a higher quality mid-table team. The real problem with their Stage 2 performance is that they only won 4 maps, 2 of which were against the Guangzhou Charge, an equally bad team. The Charge only won 2 matches in Stage 2, against the Outlaws and weirdly, the Reign right in the middle of their wins against NYXL and their solid performance against the Titans and Shock.
Now that we know low tier teams try and emulate the elite teams, we can trace the current Sombra Goats (Soats? Mexican Goats? Cabras?) popularity to a single match. At a time where the big 3 looked immortal, one team did the impossible. The Seoul Dynasty, in preparation for the Stage 1 playoffs, put their entire starting lineup to rest and opted to run their unpracticed second lineup and managed to walk away with a win that shocked the Overwatch world. While the Dynasty lost the battle, failing to take a single map off the Titans in the next round of the playoffs, they won the war. Cabras became the go-to method to unseat the top teams in the league. While Super, the Shock main tank, claimed that Sombra is a crutch, that doesn’t matter to the 17 teams in the league who can’t keep up with the big 3.
Yes, it’s true that the Shock have been one of the two best teams in the league in the first two stages, but their excursion into Stage 3 has made them look downright bad. While they were able to eek out the close win against the Atlanta Reign, the Houston Outlaws turned the script on it’s head with a win. The Outlaws are a team who have been under performing, but they looked dominant at times against the Shock. The San Francisco squad wasn’t able to adjust to Danteh’s Sombra play at all, leading to shutouts on Havana and Ilios. With the exception of Horizon: Lunar Colony, the Outlaws won every map that Danteh played. In addition, Assault is tied for their worst map type, with a 1-3 record on H:LC. It’s interesting to note, in the Outlaws’ week 1 tilt, they lost to the NYXL in 5, but didn’t opt to run the Sombra strategy aside from on Numbani, a map they won. This leads me to believe that the NYXL learned from their Stage 1 playoff failures and are much better equipped to handle that now. The Shock on the other hand, we know are a team who learn from losing, but they’ve never been upset by a Sombra strategy before, and it shows.
When it comes to playing GOATS, the Shock’s starting lineup is the least flexible among the big 3. The major offenders here are unfortunately the most important to having a roster that can swap things up on the fly. Super and Viol2t are an amazing tank and flex-support, but their main strengths are on Reinhart and Zenyatta. To the naked eye, this doesn’t seem like a problem, but when you consider it more in depth, who are the heroes that get shut down the hardest by Sombra’s hack ability? Unfortunately for the Shock, the answer is Reinhart and Zenyatta. This is why we see the Titans run a Winston based defensive GOATS roster with Ana as support on Assault and Hybrid maps, so they don’t open themselves up to a first fight hack and then get snowballed for the rest of the map. When it comes to main tank comparison, Super is definitely among the best in the league but compared to Mano, his Winston doesn’t keep up and the Shock’s supports can’t keep him alive as effectively as the Titans do with Bumper. That doesn’t even mention Viol2t, who is a top 3 Zenyatta in the league, but pales in comparison to Jjonak and Twilight’s Ana play.
Now that the Outlaws upset the Shock using Sombra, it’s very likely we see the rest of the bottom tier teams pivot to the same style thinking it can get a free win over a top tier team. The problem here, is that the only big 3 team who isn’t prepared for Sombra is the Shock. NYXL already had a playoff upset against Sombra in Stage 1, so they’ve had far longer to figure out how to counter her and the Titans knew ahead of time what to do against her. Likely from their time in Korean Contenders, they came to OWL well equipped to handle the hacker and as early as first stage we saw the Titans play Winston and Ana defensively to keep EMP at bay. Instead of huddling up behind a blue rectangle, the Titans opted to open up the court a little more, with the team out of melee range, they are less prone to damage and if an EMP does go off, fewer of them will be in range. When they do get hit with an EMP the Titans jump to action, using Primal Rage and Nano Boost to keep the enemy team at bay, using Winston’s physicality as a shield and unlike Zenyatta, Ana’s healing is done with her gun and not her hacked abilities.
The Shock need to get their act together fast, other teams saw what Houston did and will be looking to emulate that same strategy. Sure, Sombra may be a crutch but it appears useful if the stage champion loses to a team with zero wins in that same time frame. If the Shock can’t flex onto Ana and Winston well enough, they need to figure out a new plan of attack because in stage 3 they look extremely vulnerable.
From our first entry into understanding why teams throw, thanks to the Houston Outlaws, we learned that not only can fans and analysts misunderstand the game, but players can too. In the Outlaws case, fans and analysts were trumpeting the talking point of how Houston looked dominant with a DPS heavy lineup, but when the games got tighter and they had to swap to 3/3 they got smushed by the Titans. What fans, and some vocal analysts, didn’t realize was how heavily favored 3/3 is on the Rialto, Paris, and Eichenwalde.
When Outlaws’ Projectile DPS player Jake took to Twitter, it became clear that both spectators and participants had a fundamental flaw in their grasp of the game.
Let’s start by saying, first of all, everybody involved is wrong. The viewers and analysts are wrong to suggest that “just go 3DPS” is a viable strategy, as there is no other way to effectively attack the Titans on Paris, Rialto or Eichenwalde, barring extenuating circumstances. Had we seen the Outlaws try this, the Titans elite defensive style of Winston GOATS featuring Ana would have flattened them. Instead, we saw the Outlaws struggle through Rialto, and Paris, but with a rather good showing on Eichenwalde. In my map analysis of the Titans and Outlaws match, I correctly surmised that Paris and Rialto would be easy wins for the Titans while Busan and Eichenwalde would be the two closest maps in this series and the Titans would need to take one of them at least.
If you’re asking why I bring this up now, aside from bragging rights, it’s because we don’t know the quality of advanced statistics that are used by organizations. Esports are so young that the players and organizations haven’t yet figured out the tricks used by traditional sports teams to hedge bets and give themselves the best odds to win. Judging by the map stats, which I hope the Outlaws coaching staff is looking at, they had a clear pathway to victory against the Vancouver Titans. Jake’s tweet shows a huge problem with the Outlaw players mentality and mental fortitude as well as their coach-ability.
How does this connect to Jake’s tweet? Well he makes it clear that if the Outlaws were to play a 3DPS strategy against the Titans it would be preemptively accepting defeat and a hail-mary strategy. Jake’s tweet also implies that as a competitor, he can’t stand the idea of not playing 3/3, which is by far the best strategy on almost every map in the game. Seeing as how I, someone who has never played professional Overwatch and hasn’t had any coaching experience aside from getting my friend Matthew to Grandmaster solely by telling him what heroes to play, was able to figure out that the Outlaws’ best chances of winning this match were to win game 1 and 3, why didn’t the Outlaws coaching staff catch this?
Eichenwalde is a great map for Houston and their 3/3 lineup did quite well against Vancouver, but Paris and Rialto were so far out of reach for them. Why is “a hail-mary strat” here such a bad idea? Why is Jake too proud to do whatever it takes to win? Why aren’t they prepared to make the sacrifices, like in a game of chess, to win the war? The Outlaws won on Busan and statistically they were very close on Eichenwalde, almost winning there too. If the Outlaws weren’t too proud to play a cheesy Bunker or 3DPS lineup, they could have taken this win rather easily, or at least pushed it to 5 games in a legendary Hunters-esque match with how hard Linkzr and Arhan popped off on Busan. With their one win and an attempt at going 3/3 on Eichenwalde, they just needed to clutch one other map, but the Outlaws weren’t willing to sacrifice their pride for the greater good.
This same theme of sacrifice came up again in April 20th’s matchup between the London Spitfire and the Boston Uprising. Coming into this match, the Uprising were having a somewhat successful stage. With a record of 2-1, and a +1 map differential, they were right in the middle of the discussion of potential stage 2 playoff participants. Their week 3 matches included a back-to-back against two strong teams, the Spitfire and the Titans. The required record to make the stage playoffs is 4-3 with a good map differential so this was an important win for the Uprising. Their remaining 3 matches are against the Titans, the Gladiators, and the Justice. With a likely win over Justice, they will have to steal a dominant win from one of the Titans, or Gladiators. If I were the coach of the Uprising, I would have advised the team to not prepare at all for the Titans match and instead cram doubly as hard for the far more winnable tilt with the Spitfire. Instead, they got 4-0’d by London and they refused to lose the battle for a chance at winning the war. Then, when they played the Titans the next day, they put up a good fight but once again lost by a score of 4-0. Interestingly enough, they weren’t too proud to use a team composition of 3DPS like the Outlaws and they showed that 3DPS is capable of putting up a good fight on Paris after all. The Uprising proved that 3DPS on Paris isn’t a hail-mary strategy and they were really close to full holding the Titans on point A. Boston played well, which is exactly the problem, they were still completely outclassed, even after competing Gibraltar with over 4 minutes in the time bank, they got held on point A on the second push and lost 4-0.
On April 20th, the Florida Mayhem, just like the Outlaws and Uprising, showed the Overwatch world that they, as a team, are also not infallible. The Outlaws were exposed as a team too proud to do whatever it takes to make the playoffs, the Uprising were exposed as a team who lacked the critical thinking to prioritize the Spitfire game over the Titans game, thinking they had a chance to win both and the Mayhem were exposed as a team who does not understand the finer details of a GOATS mirror. They are guilty of the highest of crimes. They pretended to know why Ana is good.
That did not go how the Mayhem wanted it to. Before we can go into depth here, we need to understand what Rock Paper Scissors can teach us about GOATS. Sombra is one of the ideal counters to GOATS and usually the Zarya player is the one who is able to flex onto Sombra, this works out nicely as Sombra destroys Zenyatta, so the flex-support will swap to Ana. The Mayhem understand that Ana is better than Zenyatta against Sombra, but they don’t seem to know why. In the above clip, Hagopeun uses his Nano-Boost ultimate and selects Swon as the recipient. When Swon jumps into the Dragons to initiate the fight, Gamsu immediately Earthshatters the entire team and ends the fight.
Wait a sec, Ana was supposed to be good against teams that run Sombra, so how did the Dragons just clap the Mayhem when they had Nano-Boost? The answer here, is a lot simpler than it appears, the Mayhem are really bad and they don’t know why Ana is actually good. When a team attacks a protected area, like on a Hybrid or Assault map, the goal of the team is to stick together as close as possible, this makes Graviton Surge a devastating ultimate as it’s easy to catch the entire team, so having a Zenyatta with Transcendence is a must. Like we said earlier in Overwatch RPS, since the Zarya player usually is the one who plays Sombra, this is a handy trade. Sombra is quite good against Zenyatta and with no Graviton Surge, means no need for Transcendence. Enter: attack Ana.
At 3:59, during the Titan’s attack on point B, Eileen jumps into the middle of the objective while Bumper is in a corner fighting Happy and Hotba, then Eileen becomes visible to use his EMP. Bumper, hearing Sombra take off her invisibility cloak, immediately uses his Primal Rage and Twilight, who was so far back he was out of EMP sightlines, responds by using his Nano Boost onto Bumper. Bumper is a giant angry monkey filled with nanobots and he uses his arm swipes to swat the Charge away from his team, protecting them from Guangzhou being able to collapse onto them. When Bumper eventually gets low health, Slime immediately uses his Beat to give Vancouver the endurance to survive the fight. Bumper splits the Charge in half with his body and at 4:14 he forces Chara to use his beat so that the team doesn’t die, the Titans know that since Guangzhou isn’t running Zenyatta they have no other healing ultimate so they fake a retreat and Rio pushes, 4 seconds later Seominsoo throws down a Graviton Surge and Jjanu combos with his bomb which forces the rest of Charge back so they can’t support Rio or they will all die. They kill Hotba forcing the retreat and they wait until Rio respawns for the Charge to all jump on the objective but it’s too late and the Titans take the objective. Beautiful, when the Mayhem did everything wrong, the Titans did everything right.
There’s more to the story though, as the Titans regularly use Ana when defending.
For the Titans aggressive style of GOATS, Twilight’s elite Ana skills are a boon. Back to the Outlaws, we see above how insane Ana’s biotic grenades are, when used in conjunction with Bumper’s dive into the back line. Twilight’s pick of Ana is also placing a bet that the other team could try and play Sombra and the Titans will still have all the answers. This type of hero selection is similar to how pre-Bunker, Pharah was a suboptimal defense hero solely because a good Widowmaker, McCree, or Soldier 76 would make for an easy counter and once the surprise is out of the bag, it’s very easy for an attacking player to switch onto those heroes. Just like with Ana, it would be very easy for the Outlaws to switch to a more dive focused Sombra team composition which could sneak around the Titans and have their way with a lonely Zenyatta player in the backline who’s only way to heal players is through special abilities.
In the words of English poet Alexander Pope, “to err is human” and it proves true in all forms for Overwatch players. The Houston Outlaws were too proud to try and sacrifice pride and some map wins to possibly take down the Titans, the Uprising were too greedy to sacrifice a likely loss to try and guarantee a playoff berth, and the Mayhem walked into their match with the Shanghai Dragons lacking the knowledge of how 3/3 Overwatch works at it’s core. Do I really blame either team for this? No, they’re mostly kids and they’re allowed to make mistakes. What this does speak to is how much work is still ahead for Overwatch, not necessarily for players skill levels, but for their strategic thinking.
Joining Chris to talk about the Vancouver Titans is co-host Omni. They pick apart the Vancouver Titans wins over the Seoul Dynasty & Houston Outlaws, address if the Outlaws gave either a quick scare, and begin looking ahead to the possible placement for the Stage 2 playoffs. Plus there’s chatter about the new Overwatch archives event, Storm Rising, a few patch updates and the Dallas Homestand next weekend!
Saturday’s tilt between the Vancouver Titans and the Houston Outlaws began with a 2-0 win on Busan, but not by the team you’d expect. The Titans entered the matchup with a 4-0 record on Busan, but the Outlaws used their surprise DPS to pull out one close game and one that was decidedly one-sided. Then, the Titans did what they do and shrugged the loss off to win the next 3 maps with ease.
After Busan, the Outlaws swapped their winning DPS composition in favor of the classic 3/3, but their 3/3 skills were sorely lacking compared to the best team in the league. This led to a fan outcry from Twitter and Reddit, people didn’t understand why a middling team would swap from something that works to something that clearly did not. Let’s take a second and see what the professionals had to say.
How did the Outlaws respond? Not well, to either the tweets or the change in team composition. Of the people I quoted, I think Reinforce is the most accurate. Busan is wide open for DPS heroes, but the following maps were Paris, Eichenwalde, and Rialto, which all favor 3/3. When you look at the way you attack on Paris, heavy tanks and healers are vital. Bastion based bunker teams are great time wasters here, because there’s only one route that takes you through the choke point into the action but if your goal is to win, you’ll want to play Winston GOATS. Since there’s only one way through to the objective, the Titans get to dive the Outlaws backline at the last second as they come through the choke. This way, they get to combine the best parts of 3/3 with the best parts of the defensive counter-Dive.
Above, we see Bumper launch himself into the Outlaws defenses combined with Twilight’s Nano Boost and biotic grenade. Muma launches himself right back to try to force Bumper to peel, which he does, but the Outlaws can’t follow up on Muma’s aggression because they’re attempting to recover from Twilight’s clutch play. Despite the Outlaws losing this fight, going GOATS was the correct call here. If the Outlaws opted for their triple DPS attack, there would have been no way for Muma to distract Bumper and interfere with his feasting on the Outlaws supports. Generally, 3DPS runs either Hammond or Winston as their main tank however Hammond would have been easy for the Titans to handle without Bumper. They simply use Haksal’s shield bash while the whole team focus fires the giant hamster. With Winston, Muma is also a lot easier to kill because he doesn’t have Danteh’s protective bubbles.
This approach, the Outlaws try and switch to Reinhardt to better protect their backline with shield, it doesn’t work though. Both Muma and CoolMatt aren’t paying attention and Twilight gets another huge grenade, this time on Boink’s Lucio, the Titans then spring into action and delete him. In all of Paris, these fights are the two most important. The Titans did slay the Outlaws, but it’s important to keep in mind that the way the Titans were playing would have punished 3DPS even harder than it did GOATS, with no Reinhardt shield, no defense matrix and no energy bubbles from Zarya, there would have been nothing stopping Bumper, Twilight and Haksal from dismantling the Outlaws on their own. This same style was so much harder for the Titans to replicate on Busan because of the long sightlines and platforms that overlook the objective marker, two aspects that favor DPS. In addition, the absurd damage the Outlaws were able to deal on Busan made it incredibly hard for the Titans to push forward and still have enough health once they reached the Outlaws because of their impressive Widowmaker, Soldier 76, and Torbjorn compositions.
On Eichenwalde, the Outlaws started with a Sombra/Pharah team for point 1 but the Titans were able to take it out by swinging around the back of the objective. By the time the Outlaws switched to Sombra GOATS, the Titans had already made it to the bridge, however that’s where the Outlaws 3/3 started to work for them. They held the bridge for over 3 and a half minutes and the Titans were stopped in their tracks.
The Outlaws attack was a full GOATS assault from both sides. Honestly, the Outlaws were actually pretty good on GOATS throughout both sides of Eichenwalde. They had a good chance to move the payload when Muma and Boink combined to kill Bumper but the Titans grav/bomb combo stopped them in their tracks. Following that fight, Bumper then got 5 earth shatters in a minute and forty five seconds ending the Outlaws trip to Eichenwalde on his own.
On Rialto, the Titans are just a better team, they don’t need to be better at 3/3, because the Outlaws are just bad on Rialto with a 0-3 record. This doesn’t compare too favourably to the Titans’ 4-2 record with the 1st and 2nd fastest attacks.
The Outlaws were actually pretty good outside of Paris and the cries from fans and professionals is a little over the top. While they did look really good on Busan, there was no opportunity for them to replicate that type of attack and it seems that the Outlaws are dedicated to getting good at GOATS instead of playing 3-3.
Finally, here’s one of the Outlaws’ projectile DPS players, Jake, with a pretty bad take. 3DPS isn’t a hail-mary strategy like he seems to think it is. Hopefully the rest of the Outlaws, and the rest of the pro players don’t think that anything non-GOATS is a cheese team composition as well. Yes, the Outlaws lost a fairly close match against an elite team, but if they tried to play 3DPS while the Titans did their Titan things, they would have been flattened.