NEW YORK – Malik Forté's eyes widened and he clapped his hands and thought about how someone unfamiliar with Esports would react to it after completing the first regular season had a significant change of the game during the last stretch. In the end, it was a change that completely transformed the playoff image and set the stage for a surprise match in the league's Grand Finals on Friday and Saturday in Brooklyn with $ 1 million in prize money.
"It would be a jumble," said Forté, an analyst for Overwatch, Blizzard's hero-based six-by-six first-person shooter game. "But for [esports players] that was no different than many of the other updates … Flexibility is everything in Overwatch."
This will be a long and costly lesson for a regular season Goliath who missed a potentially big payday After the team proved too inflexible when the league games began. The New York Excelsior, winner of 34 of the season's 40 season games, broke the schedule and appeared to be a glorious end to the league's first season – earning the first title at his home game at a sold-out Barclays Center. Instead, the team watched its deadly, speed-based strategy short in the process of optimizing the game. And now the Philadelphia Fusion that ousted the Excelsior will fight the London Spitfire when the finals begin.
The OWL Grand Finals – which airs on ESPN and re-aired on ABC – are a prime example of what happens when a Update or "patch" somehow changes the "meta", or what the players call the contest conditions. For most of the season, the Excelsior champions were a quick strategy that the opponent had no answer for – until the game itself provided one. When Blizzard introduced the game to a new playable character, the enemies of the Excelsior now had a counter that could test this strategy of rapid attack. It was quickly hugged by many league teams, leveling the field along the way.
Compared to the traditional sports world, the dynamics would have been similar to the Golden State Warriors, which squeezed the lives of teams throughout the season with their "Stephen Curry" wearing a weighted vest in the playoffs, giving the opponents of the Warriors a defensive specialist, to turn off Kevin Durant. In another way, it would be like golf "tiger-proofing" its courses by adding yards to counteract long drivers like Tiger Woods … but this change after the third round of a major.
To a traditional audience, such a change would seem breathtaking. In the context of eSports, patches of this kind are common, as leagues like the OWL try to prevent outdated scenarios or too much dominance by one or some of the characters in the game. Players expect a meta-variation, and OWL commissioner Nate Nanzer said she actually attracts some fans as patches prevent games from playing.
"You've seen a baseball game, you've seen them all," said Philadelphia team president Tucker Roberts. "One of the most exciting things about eSports is that they change the game and give a reason to keep watching as it evolves."
The OWL gave players almost a month off the start of the playoffs between the last regular season game and the tournament to practice and formulate new strategies. But the decision, Forté said, had a "tremendous, formidable" impact on the Grand Finals matchup.
This is largely indicative of the rapidly changing digital culture in which Overwatch exists. Every professional sports league reflects on rule changes when trying to improve its product, but most officials wait until after the season to dispel reservations because they have agreed to governance before the year and want to avoid upheaval. Metas needs to change because, as one gaming manager puts it, "we're always beta." In gaming, change is the normal form of governance.
So, after the last patch, the teams hurried to "Scrim" – eSports stenography for scrambling – and solve the puzzle on how to best adapt. Philadelphia specifically observed the flexibility of the Los Angeles Valiant when switching characters and adopted similar principles, Yann said "Kirby" Luu. Then the merger put them into practice against their cotton partner, London, and when a new roster composition emerged as a dependable basic tactic, both began to occupy it heavily. These specific maneuvers are the main reason why both teams are in the Grand Finals, said London's Jae-Hui "Gesture" Hong. It certainly helped Philadelphia New York 3: 0, 3-2 in the semifinals, as Excelsior seemed unable or unwilling to adapt to the changed meta.
"The patch has definitely favored us," said Simon "Snillo" of Philadelphia Ekström. "Especially against New York Excelsior, it would have been very hard on the old patch [to win] although we were still very good, but now, with the new Meta … our team is super strong."
When the lights go up in Brooklyn on Friday night, these two teams will present a poetic beginning to the end of an important season for Esports.
"This meta as we read it resembles rock, paper, scissors," said Josue "EQO" Corona of Philadelphia, one of the league's most versatile players. "A lot of strategy is now much more involved, if you do not spend enough time and thought to understand it, you'll never be successful, a good example is New York … You always have to contradict and you can not Just choose [composition] and be the best.
"You can not play rock against everything."
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