Yesterday, the top eight teams in North American Contenders went head-to-head in four matches to determine who continues on their playoff run. Current champions Fusion University almost fell to an astonishingly good Team Envy, but came out with a 3-2 score. Successful unsigned organization Second Wind beat First Generation with another 3-2. XL2 took down Uprising Academy with a 3-1, as did their future opponents ATL Academy, who defeated NRG Esports (3-1). Read on to see who we think will move on to the Grand Finals on Sunday, January 13.
Semifinals will begin at 4PM Pacific Time on Friday, January 11. Like yesterday’s quarterfinals, they will be a best of five. The first team to three map wins moves on to the Grand Finals. And, boy, are these going to be close.
XL2 vs. ATL Academy (4:00PM PST / 7:00PM EST)
Prediction: XL2 3 – 2 ATL Academy
ATL Academy has had a mind-blowing season, running through the entirety of Group A’s teams, falling only to Fusion University. Built on the former roster of Last Night’s Leftovers, an unsigned team that proved critics wrong last season, they’re used to exceeding expectations. XL2 has had a similarly impressive season, but have proven they can bleed by falling to unsigned Second Wind. ATL shines in off-meta, wild compositions; their 4-0 loss to Fusion University shows that this way of play won’t stand up to a coordinated and proven team.
ATL Academy has true talent in DPS duo Sugarfree and Saucy, who are so skilled at playing off-meta heroes (Symmetra? Bastion?) that they have thrown off the strategies of countless teams. XL2’s Logix and Mangachu likely won’t be fooled, and Logix in particular has the hitscan capabilities to take down whatever ATL throws at his team. ATL’s Gator and XL2’s main tanks, either Cloneman16 or TiZi, are pretty evenly matched; Gator in particular was playing out of his mind yesterday against NRG Esports. XL2’s Goliath and ATL’s Dogman are both experts at being a DPS Zenyatta, so their showdowns should be fun to watch.
ATL has the advantage when it comes to Control maps, especially Busan and Nepal, on which XL2 has been lackluster. They may also have an advantage on Assault maps, especially Hanamura, on which Saucy and Sugarfree have brought out their wild composition choices. However, XL2 has the coordination and expertise necessary to take down ATL on Escort and Hybrid maps, as seen in yesterday’s quarterfinals. While Uprising Academy was able to fool them once on Control, XL2 quickly adapted to their mind games and gained the upper hand.
Second Wind vs. Fusion University (5:45PM PST / 8:45PM EST)
Prediction: Second Wind 3 – 2 Fusion University
Full disclosure: nothing would make me happier than a miraculous upset of reigning champions Fusion University by scrappy, unsigned organization Second Wind. Up until yesterday’s quarterfinal matches, I thought that was impossible. But then Team Envy pushed Fusion University to a Map 5 brawl and proved that giants can be toppled. Fusion University made repeated mistakes that Team Envy was able to take advantage of, and I believe Second Wind can get under their skin in a similar manner.
I truly think Second Wind is capable of running the better GOATs setup; MirroR’s Zarya and FrdWnr’s D.Va have wrecked the dreams of Group B with their ultimate combinations. Fusion University have shown much more luck with wilder compositions on maps that don’t rely on triple-triple, such as Hanamura, Route 66, and Numbani. Fusion’s Na1st and Snillo have such deep DPS hero pools that they can reach in to counter a variety of compositions Second Wind could bring out on those “weird” maps. It will be up to FrdWnr to shut down Na1st’s projectile DPS and Frill, likely on Brigitte or a counter-sniper, to handle Snillo.
I’d previously believed the difference maker for Fusion University may well come down to supports. Alarm and Elk have bailed their team out of questionable decisions the entire season. As seen in yesterday’s matches, it sometimes isn’t enough; main tank Changsik was often caught out by Team Envy and deleted early on. While Second Wind’s Akawa often faces the same fate, the above-average coordination from Second Wind could save him in the end. Second Wind’s victory conditions include strategically selecting maps that force GOATs compositions, in which they’ll likely win, and avoiding situations in which Fusion’s DPS and supports can get multiple kills. It’ll be difficult, but today, I think the underdogs will bring one home.
Grand Final Predictions
Grand Finals will be held at 4:00 PM PST on Sunday, January 13. Grand Finals are a best of seven series in which the first team to four wins brings home the Season 3 championship.
Second Wind vs. XL2 (4:00PM PST / 7:00PM EST)
Prediction: XL2 4 – 2 Second Wind
Second Wind has had a miracle run in Season 3, demolishing the majority of Group B and proving critics of unsigned orgs wrong. While I think they have the capability to make this a very competitive series, XL2 may have the “marathon” ability to keep up coordination and individual clutch plays throughout a best of seven series. XL2 is hoping they can redeem themselves from last season’s shutout by Fusion University and finally get out of 2nd place.
XL2’s saving grace will be their DPS. Logix and Mangachu have consistently proven why they are OWL-level players. They are able to accurately judge when to be aggressive, when to pull back, and when to play mind games with their opponents. While MirroR and Frill are truly talented players, they may not have that veteran player “sixth sense” that their XL2 counterparts use so often.
XL2’s Cloneman16 is also a high-level tank that will give Second Wind’s Akawa some serious problems. Akawa will likely be so busy trying to out-play Cloneman16 that he may miss sneakier flanks running into his backline. However, that’s where stellar Second Wind offtank FrdWnr comes in. While XL2’s Woohyal popped off in the quarterfinals (and got a great copypasta for it – Whoo Y’all!), FrdWnr has been a consistently phenomenal D.Va who will outplay his counterpart. Support lines are another question mark in this series. XL2’s Goliath and Jer have had their clutch moments, as have Second Wind’s Haku and Tehpwnzorr. If there’s any day for these supports to be out for blood, it’s today.
Map choices will dictate the flow of this match. XL2 will likely lose Control, as they have a shaky history on nearly every map. Second Wind is, yet again, better off choosing GOATs-based maps for Escort and Hybrid to avoid the potential of Logix or Mangachu getting on an actual DPS hero. The match should be relatively even early on, but the thing that sets XL2 apart for me is their ability as a veteran team to outlast their competition. By Map 5, they will still be ready to fight, because they’ve been here before; for Second Wind, that longevity may be something that settles in next season.
That said, Second Wind has a chance to pull off a miracle win here. In their previous matchup, Second Wind beat XL2 3-2. By forcing XL2 to go another round of Control, Second Wind was able to get the upper hand on their talented opponents. If Second Wind can make XL2 uncomfortable, pushing them to bend to their pace and hero picks, they have a real shot at turning this around. I think XL2 have the talent to bring the championship home, but I’ve ever wanted to be wrong, it’s right now.