Grav Bag: All About the Flex

Hello, fellow Overwatch League fans. How are we doing today? The first 16 matches of the season are in the books, and if you missed any of it, well, we got you covered: Here’s our VOD page. In Week 1 we got everything from triple-tank, triple-support to quad-DPS to Orisa-Bastion. All 29 heroes were played, and played with the utmost respect and sincerity. We got incredible debuts, redemption stories, hype trains. We got our first final blow in league play by a player on Torbjörn. We got Gritty!

At the end of it all, we got anywhere from four to ten maps of data on all 20 teams, and it’s fascinating to see how everyone’s been approaching the meta. Some rosters have a death grip on it already; others are tiptoeing towards it like a skittish animal. But if there’s one takeaway from Week 1, it’s that the rest of the league won’t stop for stragglers, and flexibility is crucial. It’s adapt or perish in the Overwatch League, and that’s what makes it so compelling.

This year our match coverage will take the form of a weekly column, where I’ll explore gameplay trends, follow up on emerging storylines, and share behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the previous week—like a Graviton Surge, uniting a bunch of stuff together in one big group hug. Let’s dive right in.

1. Here’s a list of off-tank players who played Sombra in Week 1:

Fury (Spitfire), Meko (Excelsior), Envy (Defiant), Michelle (Dynasty), Rck (Fuel), Choihyobin (Shock), Elsa (Hunters), Coolmatt (Outlaws), Poko (Fusion).

That’s right—some of the best D.Va players in the world have swapped their mechs for translocators and hacks. Why use the off-tank rather than simply bringing in a Sombra specialist for the map? After all, we saw some excellent Sombra play from DPS players in Week 1.

For one, the recent balance change to D.Va, which increased the cooldown on Defense Matrix, makes her slightly less of a requisite despite her defensive utility, which has enabled a lot of teams to experiment with DPS-heavy comps. But triple-triple is still necessary for certain parts of maps, so overall flexibility matters, as NYXL off-tank Tae-Hong “Meko” Kim told me. “We thought about what we were going to do after quad-DPS—what heroes we were going to switch to—and then we just made the best comp for switching later.”

Simply put, being able to easily swap back to the standard triple-tank, triple-support lineup is more valuable to teams than being able to run a god-tier Sombra for the entire map.

2. Then again, if your roster isn’t flexible enough to make these in-game swaps work, then not running the god-tier Sombra could be a mistake. CC: Houston Outlaws, who tried to go toe-to-toe against the Boston Uprising using triple-triple rather than leveraging Dante “Danteh” Cruz’s skill on a hero that can help break through tanky lineups.

Boston DPS Jeffrey “Blasé” Tsang said his team was ecstatic when they realized the Outlaws were shying away from Sombra. “That’s pretty much our weakness,” he explained. “We were really confident in the triple-triple matchup, and we’re also good against the DPS variations that come out. But certain variations that are just one DPS like Sombra, it’s hard to flex off that because we have too many tanks now.”

The Uprising deserve a ton of credit for their performances in Week 1, as they played New York super close before beating Houston, despite some roster inflexibility due to Kelsey “Colourhex” Birse’s suspension. But Boston’s new arrival, main tank Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth, looked tremendous despite the short adjustment period, and the team has seemingly been able to find a comfort level in the current meta.

This is also a smart team that knows how to read their opponents quickly, as shown in the Houston match. “What we found out is that they’re aggressively bubbling first—using it on Muma or themselves—so we wait for that, don’t use our bubbles,” Blasé explained. “Once they use both their bubbles, we hard-aggro with ours, and we have the advantage after that.”

Sure, you can bet against the Uprising, but you’ll never feel fully confident doing so—unless there’s a Sombra involved, maybe.

3. There’s been a lot of early attention paid to teams that excel at triple-triple, and Paris, New York, Philadelphia, and Vancouver showed over the weekend that they’re kings of the meta. But, unlike dive at the start of last season, triple-triple hasn’t been absolutely ubiquitous, and teams aren’t afraid to get creative. The match between the Chengdu Hunters and Guangzhou Charge was especially exhilarating not just because it went five maps, but it was also a DPS enthusiast’s dream—we saw a ton of Wrecking Ball, plus triple-hitscan, double-sniper, Pharmercy, and even Genji.

Watch Full Match — Hunters vs. Charge | Feb. 15

Guangzhou’s triple-hitscan comps are fun as hell, and Hotba’s Tracer is a big part of that, along with Yiliang “Eileen” Ou’s Sombra and Jeon-Woo “Happy” Lee’s Widowmaker. “When it comes to triple-DPS, we were the original team to do that, so you can bet on seeing more of that,” Hotba promised. As for whether we’ll see more off-tanks around the league flex to DPS, he cautioned, “Not all flex tanks can successfully switch over to DPS, so it’s up to the coach to identify the potential.”

4. Hotba’s Tracer was fantastic, but the most impressive flex of Week 1, in my opinion, goes to Dae-Kuk “Kuki” Kim, a main tank who didn’t make much of an impression with Seoul last season and was acquired by the Los Angeles Valiant, presumably as a situational backup. He was a surprise starter on Saturday, not in the role he’s been practicing for the last three years, but on… Lúcio?

“Our head coach thought that we could make better mixed combos and better synergy if I changed my role to Lúcio,” Kuki told me after LA’s first match a closely fought loss to Hangzhou. “We tried it three weeks ago, and it went pretty well. I felt like I was fitting into [the role].”

Between main tank Pan-Seung “Fate” Koo, main support Scott “Custa” Kennedy, and now Kuki—who can play both—the Valiant now have a three-pronged shotcalling core that might unlock different playstyles. When Kuki is in the lineup, his job is mostly to track ultimates and handle big-picture observations, but he stresses that triple-triple really comes down to the whole team acting as a disciplined unit.

“Everyone has to be aware of what we should do and how we should use our ults,” he said. “Right now, everyone’s doing a good job and trying to focus on not just one person making shotcalls, but everyone making shotcalls.”

5. Valiant vs. Spark. Hunters vs. Charge. The Toronto Defiant’s reverse-sweep over Houston. Three tiebreakers on Sunday alone. Not great for people with hard deadlines or high blood pressure but ask the players and they’ll tell you: this is what we play for. The new players will add onto that: Contenders was great, but this is the beast we want to slay.

Many of them did just that—and looked good doing it. New teams were a resounding 6-2 in matchups against returning teams, and it could’ve been 7-1 if the Atlanta Reign had been able to pull off a big upset over Philly.

Atlanta support Steven “Kodak” Rosenberger wasn’t onstage for the final map, so I asked him if the atmosphere backstage was as crazy as it was in the arena. “Emotions left and right, everyone was hyped,” he said, an expletive slipping out in his excitement. “It was a really close game, a really intense game, and it was sad that we couldn’t come out on top at the end, but it was a good game for sure. I don’t think anybody’s really sad about this loss.”

Atlanta’s energy and desire to prove themselves was clear throughout that match, but it was Philly’s ability to stay composed—imagine typing that in 2018—that allowed them to clutch out the win. “At the end it just came down to playing more together as a team,” Kodak said. “The fights were pretty messy, and the team that stayed more calm at the end got on top.”

Taking last season’s finalists to the brink with an international roster that has to work around a language barrier is certainly a confidence-booster. Now imagine how good this team might be in June.

6. Not sure if Daniel “Dafran” Francesca’s post-match shoutout had anything to do with it, but the Reign were Week 1 Twitch darlings, with more than 1.3 million cheers. Hangzhou was not far behind, with more than 1.2 million cheers. The next five are returning teams—New York, Houston, Dallas, LA Gladiators, and Philly—all in the 600K range. The eight new teams aren’t only bringing in an infusion of fresh talent, they’re also bringing in new fans, and it’ll be interesting to track how allegiances grow and shift throughout the season.

7. Throw out your power rankings because we’ve got parity, folks. Seoul beat the LA Gladiators 3-1 on Thursday, and the San Francisco Shock swept the Dallas Fuel 4-0 on Friday. Easy call for Sunday, right? Not so fast. The Gladiators beat the Shock 3-2, while the Fuel looked like a completely different team in a 3-1 win over Seoul.

Related: both the Gladiators and Fuel were able to redeem themselves quickly after disappointing season debuts, and it’ll be interesting to see how the teams that didn’t get a second chance—the Valiant, Charge, Florida Mayhem, and Washington Justice—respond in Week 2.

8. Opening week is a fun time for media. About half of the teams did press conferences in one of the larger rooms at Blizzard Arena, and because everyone’s just happy to be back, the atmosphere is fairly loose. That’s how you get sights like league commissioner Nate Nanzer opening the Gladiators presser by saying, “Talk to me, Lane, about the decision-making when playing Symmetra onstage in the Overwatch League.”

Lane “Surefour” Roberts gave his answer good-naturedly. “I made a bunch of weird comps my first week because of stuff I experienced in ranked, and it works pretty well because all you do is hold left-click, you get permanent ammo, you just burn Rein’s shield as much as you want. It’s like a second fully charged Zarya, and you just beam people.”

The Gladiators couldn’t quite make Symmetra work, but the Shock did, in a play that looked 90 percent troll, but was actually 100 percent amazing:

So, what were comms like in that moment?

Shock support Nikola “Sleepy” Andrews said, “We were just laughing because that’s a Team USA strat, and [Dallas] has the Team USA coach, so they had to know it was coming.”

9. My favorite quotes of the weekend, though, came from Chengdu off-tank Tianbin “Lateyoung” Ma. After the match against Guangzhou, a member of the Chinese media asked about how the Hunters perceived themselves considering how low they were ranked by the community going into the season.

“When we fell behind 1-2 in maps, I told my coach I wanted to be put back in the game,” he said, “but he told me to hold tight because we’re going to a fifth map. The coaches have always had a lot of faith in us because they know our strengths.”

He’s got jokes, too: “Of course we’re more confident after this win. People said we were going to go 0-28, but now the worst we can do is 1-27.”

Watching Lateyoung’s full postmatch interview in front of the Blizzard Arena crowd was a treat. All of the Chinese teams in the Overwatch League, regardless of the cultural makeup of the roster, know the pressure they’re under to represent their region well, and Chengdu, being the league’s only full-Chinese squad, feels it more acutely than most. So when Lateyoung, in English, said clearly, “We are ready to let the world see China again,” the conviction in that statement was a profound moment that undoubtedly resonated all the way across the Pacific.

10. This is my space, so I can say it: make Gritty Hero 30. It’s what we deserve.

The 2019 Overwatch League returns to the big stage on Thursday, February 21, at 4 p.m. PST, when the Washington Justice take on the London Spitfire. Watch all 2019 season matches live and on demand on overwatchleague.com, the Overwatch League app, our Twitch channel, MLG.com, and the MLG app.