For the second of the September World Cup Stages, teams from across Europe and the Pacific will go to Bangkok, Thailand. Six teams will be competing from September 14-16 for two elusive spots at Blizzcon in November. With many closer matches than previous World Cup Stages, the Thailand games might be worth staying up for.
The host team is fighting for pride. Players from MEGA Esports, the first professional Overwatch team in Thailand, and Xavier Esports make up the majority of the Thai roster. The latter team has had success in recent Contenders seasons (3rd/4th finish); the former fell to last in the most recent season of Pacific Contenders. Returning players like oPuTo (DPS), Teetawat (Tank), and Pannys (Support) are looking to redeem their team, which failed to make it to Blizzcon last year. Dallas Fuel’s Mickie (Tank) – the recipient of the Dennis Hawelka Award – is guaranteed to be a standout, whether for his cheery personality or stunning off-tank plays.
China is expected to be a formidable opponent during this year’s World Cup. Returning members Leave (DPS) and Sky (Support) are looking to repeat last year’s successes. During the 2017 World Cup, Team China swept the Shanghai Qualifiers and made it to Blizzcon, only to fall to Team France in the semifinals. With a roster built from numerous successful Chinese Tier 2 teams, such as LGD Gaming (Shy, Guxue), T1w Esports Club (Krystal), and LinGan Esports (Yveltal), the goal is bringing together separate talents to form a devastating team. Watch out for Krystal’s stellar DPS plays.
Australia’s play this World Cup is building a new team with experienced talent; former players (rqt, Gunba) make up the coaching and management staff, while new players culled from two divisions of Contenders teams fill the ranks. Blank Esports, a Pacific team, makes up the majority of the team, bringing in Trill (Tank), cKm (DPS, and Hus (DPS). The synergy of these players should bring renewed success to the Aussies; the team was able to make it to Blizzcon 2017, but lost to Team Canada in the semifinals. Keep an eye on Trill, who has been dominating with Wrecking Ball, and Custa (Support), whose shotcalling partially led the Los Angeles Valiant to a stage victory.
For Sweden, this year’s World Cup is about redemption and a little bit of revenge. Almost the entire roster is made up of returning players, a formidable group built of Overwatch League talent. TviQ (DPS) and former Mayhem teammate Manneten (Tank) partner up with Fusion’s dark horse DPS Snillo and chipshajen (Support), formerly of the Dallas Fuel. Luddee (Support) and Sharp (DPS) are two new faces who have shown promise in the Contenders scene. This is a team full of players who may or may not have been dropped from their teams and are looking for a chance to showcase their talent. Their DPS line, especially TviQ’s projectile and Snillo’s Tracer, are to be feared. But keep the closest eye on main tank Reinforce, making a (hopefully) triumphant return to professional Overwatch from the OWL analyst desk.
Denmark is putting forth a roster pieced together from a major Contenders organization and several successful Danish players. The Copenhagen Flames bring three players to the team – naGGa (DPS), Nerfdd (Tank), and Ding (Support) – despite mid-range performances in the last few seasons of EU Contenders. However, they add fischer of GG Esports Academy and Shax of Mayhem Academy, two formidable DPS who have the talent to carry a team. Look for them and Kellex, main support for the Boston Uprising, to put up most of the fight against the other teams in the stage.
Spain stands to be the team with the most freedom; BromaS (DPS), ToxikeN (Flex), Networkz (Tank), and dhaK (Support) are all free agents for this year’s World Cup. The remaining members have either participated in mid-range Contenders showings, like the Copenhagen Flames’ DPS PoPiFresH (who has the best name this stage), or are in Overwatch League, such as Dallas Fuel support Harryhook. With three support line members and a flex, Spain has the most “off-meta” team. However, if any team can use and abuse the three-support, three-tank meta, it’s Spain. Watch OWL/Former OWL supports Harryhook and Dhak show off their healer moves.
Matches: Watch or Skip?
Because of time zones, some of these matches may be a far reach for North American or European fans to catch. For you, I present my guide of which matches are worth staying up for, waking up for, or sleeping through.
Friday, September 14
(Starts Thursday, September 13 for North America – listed times are Pacific/Eastern US)
- SKIP: Denmark vs. Thailand (8PM PST/11PM EST)
- Worth the watch if you’re missing Overwatch – Denmark should bring some DPS heat vs. Thailand’s tank line. But if you’re staying up all night, take a nap; Denmark should take this one.
- SKIP: Spain vs. Australia (9:45PM PST/12:45AM EST)
- Australia easily wins against Spain, because Spain will likely put up a three-support play and Australia already knows it. Keep napping.
- MATCH OF THE DAY: China vs. Sweden (11:30PM PST/2:30AM EST)
- Wake up or stay up for this one. China and Sweden are both widely considered the favorites to move on to Blizzcon, so watching these two behemoths take each other on so early in the stage will be a blast. It should be a 5-map, double overtime brawl.
- WATCH?: Spain vs. Denmark (1:15AM PST/4:15AM EST)
- If you’re still up, keep watching. Spain and Denmark are at about the same level of competitive play with tricks up both of their sleeves. It could be a close and captivating match.
- WATCH…OR VOD: Thailand vs. Australia (3:00AM PST/5:00AM EST)
- This time slot is pushing it for even the most dedicated of Overwatch fans, but it could be worth watching later in the day. Australia is the anticipated leader here, but if Thailand builds confidence earlier in the day, they could give the Aussies a run for their money.
Saturday, September 15
(Starts Friday, September 14 for North America – listed times are Pacific/Eastern US)
- SKIP: Australia vs. Denmark (8PM PST/11PM EST)
- Denmark’s DPS might be able to out-play Australia’s damage dealers, but the Australian tank and support line is much more solid. Might not be easy for Australia, but if you’re saving hype, you can miss this one.
- SKIP: China vs. Thailand (9:45PM PST/12:45AM EST)
- China is a dominating force in this battle for the Pacific, and it shouldn’t be too difficult for China to make a clean win here.
- MATCH OF THE DAY: Sweden vs. Australia (11:30PM PST/2:30AM EST)
- Listen, I know it’s another weird time to stay up until, but it’s so worth it. Much like China, Sweden and Australia are two of the biggest forces in this stage. Both teams’ warring tank lines will be a treat to watch, and if either support line goes Battle Healer, it’ll be even more epic.
- SKIP: Denmark vs. China (1:15AM PST/4:15AM EST)
- The Dutch have the chance to give China a hard time for map counts going into Blizzcon, but China will likely shut them down pretty quickly.
- SKIP: Spain vs. Sweden (3:00AM PST/5:00AM EST)
- Even all of Spain’s supports can’t heal through Sweden’s solid tankline and DPS. Should be an easy match for Sweden.
Sunday, September 16
(Starts Saturday, September 15 for North America – listed times are Pacific/Eastern US)
- SKIP: Thailand vs. Sweden (8PM PST/11PM EST)
- Sweden should be able to take out Thailand very quickly; however, at this point in the stage, they’re looking for as many map points as possible, so they’ll be giving them no mercy.
- SKIP: Spain vs. China (9:45PM PST/12:45AM EST)
- Much like Sweden, China will be looking to collect as many map points as possible to push them to Blizzcon. Spain might give them some trouble, but not too much.
- WATCH: Sweden vs. Denmark (11:30PM PST/2:30AM EST)
- This European battle could be very interesting considering the timing of the games. Of all the teams (that aren’t Australia and China) that could give Sweden trouble, it’s Denmark. They may be looking to play spoiler for Sweden’s Blizzcon chances, which will make this match very tense.
- MATCH OF THE DAY: Australia vs. China (1:15AM PST/4:15AM EST)
- With China likely looking to solidify their Blizzcon trip and Australia rooting around for map points, this match should be thrilling. China wants to take out Australia as clearly as they can; Australia wants to upset the map count China already has. With a battle of great DPS vs. great support lines, it’ll get really ugly – and wonderful for viewers.
- SKIP: Spain vs. Thailand (3:00AM PST/5:00AM EST)
- The two teams qualifying for Blizzcon will likely be decided at this point, so this is a match for pride. Worth catching if you’re emotionally invested in either team, but other than that, you can start catching up on your sleep now.
Fortunately for viewers (and unfortunately for analysts everywhere), this stage is particularly hard to predict. Unlike the LA World Cup Qualifiers, many – if not all – of these teams are at the same level of skill. There are commonly predicted “winners”, but their fates are not inevitable in the way that Team USA and Team Canada’s were. Each team has specific strengths and weaknesses, but depending on how they’re countered by meta or coaching decisions, it could be up in the air.
What’s easier to predict are the teams that will likely fall short of going to Blizzcon. Thailand has positivity, pride, and Mickie; unfortunately, that may not be enough to win a stage qualifier. With a mixed bag of Contenders players that haven’t reached the top of their own seasons, it may be too much to ask of them to compete with OWL-level teams. Team Spain is also in this category. While they have standout supports, the entire team is built around them. They’d win the World Cup in Lucioball, but against stacked teams like Sweden and Australia, they may not fare so well. It’s likely they’ll get sniped down by DPS or overrun by a multi-tank meta they’re not prepared for.
This leaves the winners. China and Sweden are the expected victors of the Thailand Group Stage; many armchair analysts will have you believe this is a done deal, but don’t write off their competitors. China had a solid performance at last year’s World Cup and this year’s team is stacked with individually talented players. However, if they can’t capitalize on that talent or rein in the new “triple triple” or double sniper meta, they could get out-played. Team Sweden has the opposite strength: their team is made up primarily of old friends and teammates who are used to each other, with a few new talented players thrown in. Their DPS standouts and tank line are scary good, but if they lose confidence early on in the stage, they may not be able to keep up a winning streak.
Australia and Denmark are also serious rivals for a spot to Blizzcon. Denmark is touted as the dark horse pick for this stage; their DPS line is solid and terrifying, which may make trouble for support-based teams like Spain and Australia. If any team could capitalize on the mistakes made by the teams ranked above them, it’s Denmark. However, if those mistakes aren’t made, I believe Denmark will be sitting at a solid – and impressive – 4th place. Australia is the team that truly has to hustle to elbow out a place between China and Sweden. With impressive players in each category, they have the capability to make it to Blizzcon. The challenge for them is to hold on to a meta that plays to their strengths, enhances the existing compatibility between Blank esports members, and protects their support line.
I’m predicting China and Australia make it to Blizzcon, but if China loses speed, Sweden will not hesitate to take advantage. The most likely result: China manages to come out on top in this stage because of standout talent, looking for another chance at Blizzcon glory. Sweden puts up a good fight but loses confidence after an early loss. Either that, or they drop too many maps too early in the game. While Sweden has a stacked team, they may fail to rally together as so much emotional baggage (redemption, team drops, OWL reorganization) is weighed upon them. Australia has the scrappy, dedicated kind of team that’s been doing scrims on 150 ping and building strange comps. I believe they have what it takes to make it to Blizzcon.