This week’s Contenders China recap was completed with the invaluable help of Eren “Kenobi” Erkey — thanks for the assist!
We are now over halfway through the group stages of Contenders China, and we’re starting to get a good picture of who will be progressing to the playoffs and who will be headed back to trials. 3 teams in each group have locked in their playoff spot – T1w Esports Club, Team CC and LinGan e-Sports for Group A, and Big Time Regal Gaming, Flag Gaming and LGD Gaming for Group B. No one has yet been eliminated from playoff contention, however, so every matchup is still important.
Lucky Future 1 – 3 Big Time Regal Gaming
The more of Lucky Future we see, the more BLACKBEAN feels like wasted talent. The majority of LF’s strategies this weekend revolved around his ability to consistently build up quick EMPs and disrupt BTRG’s backline on Sombra, but despite his best efforts, the rest of LF were never able to effectively follow up no matter how patiently he waited for them to get into position. PunkyYager’s ability to frag on Zen remains another small bright spot for LF, but overall this week felt like a step backwards for a roster still trying to find its feet.
Big Time Regal Gaming proved this week that their off-meta playstyles are an indulgence, not a crutch. They found the most success running 3-3 and Brigitte/McCree compositions that would not be out of place in North American Contenders, and the only new strategy we saw them pull out this week was an Orisa/Bastion defence on Numbani which was actually a reaction to the Pirate Ship LF was running, as opposed to a proactive choice. Effort had yet another great performance, primarily on Zarya and McCree, and Reborn deserves a shoutout for how he’s grown in the main tank role over the last few weeks.
Triple Six Legend 4 – 0 Zenith of Optimism
Triple Six Legend (TSL) proved this week that main tank DPS carrying the team is not their only path to victory. The sole Korean player on the team continued to put up great performances throughout the series, but n1ghtg0d’s Zarya was dominant throughout Lijiang against an indecisive Zenith of Optimism. TSL were less effective when n1ghtg0d played Brigitte, instead relying on Runcheng’s hitscan prowess, but they still had enough overall firepower to take this series in a clean 4-0 sweep as the first maps they’ve picked up all season. With another easy matchup against Laboratory this week, Triple Six Legend look set to secure the final playoff spot in Group A.
Zenith of Optimism (ZOO) looked marginally better this week than they have previously, with flex player Muahorse moving into the starting lineup after making his debut last week and journeyman flex support AYAN replacing the struggling Sleep. However, ZOO still struggled to make any headway against TSL. They still seem ultimately unsure of how to approach the current meta in Contenders China, and even with an upgraded roster, are not mechanically-skilled enough to rely on comfort picks. Things don’t get any easier this week either, as they face T1w Esports Club (who are looking truly dominant).
Flag Gaming 3 – 1 ReStart
This week was a breakout week for Flag Gaming’s (FG) flex DPS evillx, who had his best games yet on both Zarya and Sombra throughout the series. The biggest indicator, however, of his importance to FG this week was how much weaker the team was when evillx was subbed out for Lie on Numbani, a map they ultimately lost to ReStart. Another player worthy of a shoutout is Coldest, who is rivalled only by Team CC’s Orchid as the most dangerous flex support in China. If Flag Gaming can give him a little more support and focus less on attempting to Lie playtime, they could be favourites to win this group over BTRG. However, this is not the first time Flag Gaming have dropped maps due to questionable substitutions, and while they may be 3-0 in Group B, FG are making these series much closer than they need to be.
ReStart (RS) gave their roster a literal restart headed into week 3, with DPS player Raphael (who played as DeleteBrig in his debut, but has since changed his name back), off-tank Peka, and flex support Azt2c replacing Fengyan, XUEL1 and b612 respectively. The first two of the changes proved to be immediate upgrades, with ReStart looking much better when playing aggressively than we’ve seen previously, and Raphael in particular being a standout on Zarya. This aggression came at a cost though, as Azt2c and main support WinWinQ were consistently the first to die; as such, Azt2c has not yet been able to prove if he really is an upgrade over b612. RS has a chance at a slightly closer game this week, however, as they face Alter-Ego in the first match of the weekend. These two teams have a combined 1 map win currently, so it will be a great opportunity for one of them to distinguish themselves.
T1w Esports Club 4 – 0 LinGan e-Sports
Sunday was a day of more 4-0verwatch for Chinese Contenders. The first game was expected to be the closest match, but T1w Esports Club came out the gate with something we hadn’t seen from them before: a GOATs composition. Previously, T1w had favored standard 2-2-2 compositions with dive tanks, so this change was somewhat unexpected. Furthermore, Mijia had a standout performance on Zarya despite being regarded as somewhat of a Doomfist specialist. His bubble management and tracking were clean, and he played most of his Graviton Surges effectively. With the addition of this new composition to their repertoire, T1w is now nothing short of a force to be reckoned with.
The honeymoon period for LinGan e-Sports (LGE) ended rather abruptly with this game. LGE was completely outmatched, and seemed shocked by the T1w’s unexpected composition choice. Regardless, however, the issue for LGE continues to be a lack of set style; during this match, they attempted to mirror T1w’s strategies rather than playing to their own strengths. For example, rather than supporting star player KaMi’s potential to carry on Pharah, Genji or Doomfist, they tried to match their opponents’ 3-3 composition. Ultimately this gave T1w the advantage, resulting in LGE’s loss. LGE after this week are still confirmed to be in the playoffs, but their journey ahead does not get any easier, as they will have to play Team CC next week.
LGD Gaming 4 – 0 Alter-Ego
For LGD Gaming, this week was much better than the grueling five-map series they ultimately lost to Flag Gaming last week. This game against relatively weaker opponent Alter-Ego was a chance to regain some confidence, as well as a potential playoff spot, a chance they took in stride with a 4-0 win. Last week, we mentioned LGD’s new support hoyoqian and how he was a player to watch, and this week is only further evidence that he’s worth keeping an eye on. Hoyoqian has made a huge impact, especially with his aggressive Lucio play, and his ability to pick up environmental kills has cemented him as LGD’s star player going into the next couple of weeks and playoffs.
Alter-Ego (AE) remains towards the bottom of the standings in Group B. While we have seen flashes of brilliance from players on their team, mainly main tank KINGKONG, the team as a whole still struggles in other areas. One major stumbling block is AE’s decision-making regarding team compositions, and a seeming lack of understanding of how to maximize a hero’s impact. For example, they ran Wrecking Ball, Pharah and Genji against LGD’s Reinhardt GOATS on Route 66 without understanding how to effectively dive together or focus on the same target. If this trend continues, AE will have a long road to travel to claim that 4th playoff spot.
Team CC 4 – 0 Laboratory
Team CC cruised to an easy victory over Laboratory this week, without having to stress too hard or really show us anything new. The flex DPS rotation of KHeart, ieatuup and SonGBoos has historically allowed Team CC to play any almost any composition they want, and continues to be a key strength for the team. This week, however, aside from a brief stint on Brigitte for SonGBoos during Lijiang Tower Command Center, all three of those players spent the series on Zarya duty as Team CC GOATS-ed their way to victory. The single Brigitte swap was necessitated by Yakumo pulling out a Mei, which was cute and definitely effective against Laboratory, but that strategy could struggle against a more organised team. Next up for Team CC is a match against LinGan e-Sports, who are looking better than some of their recent opponents, but should still be an easy victory nonetheless.
Laboratory are the hardest team in China to understand. Their main tank Seeds only plays Wrecking Ball, and while this can work in certain compositions, the lack of flexibility harms Laboratory much more than it helps them. These issues have been somewhat alleviated with the addition of flex player TianKong to the lineup, but the team still has a tendency to stick to Wrecking Ball compositions in situations where Reinhardt or Winston would be much more viable. Similarly, they also refused to run D.Va against Team CC, meaning there was never a threat of an eaten Graviton Surge. Team CC continuously exploited this, no matter who was on Zarya – KHeart, ieatuup, ZiJin, or SonGBoos. If Laboratory wants any chance of staying out of Trials, something needs to change quickly.
What to Expect in Week 4, and Predictions
Week 4 could herald some of the most competitive matches so far, with three to four fairly-competitive games. ReStart and Alter-Ego will kick off the week both looking for their first win, with ReStart having a slight advantage due to a better understanding of how to play 3-3 compositions. LinGan e-Sports might give Team CC some troubles on paper, but their true abilities were exposed by T1w Esports Club last week, and Team CC’s arguable improvement will mean that a win is likely to be an uphill battle. Flag Gaming vs Big Time Regal Gaming will ultimately determine the winner of this group, barring some miracle for LGD Gaming, and could go either way. However, while Flag Gaming might be a slightly better team mechanically, particularly on tank and support, they have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot strategically and so BTRG are likely a safer bet. The final game of the weekend is LGD Gaming vs Lucky Future, which likely determines 3rd in this group and looks to be the closest match of the weekend. Lucky Future will probably take a close series, and BLACKBEAN will enter the MVP conversation for this season.
ReStart 3 – 2 Alter-Ego
Team CC 4 – 0 LinGan e-Sports
Triple Six Legend 4 – 0 Laboratory
Flag Gaming 3 – 2 Big Time Regal Gaming
T1w Esports Club 4 – 0 Zenith of Optimism
LGD Gaming 2 – 3 Lucky Future