This article is part of our Overwatch series.
It’s that time of year again, folks. For the next few months, players will trade in their Overwatch League and Contenders team colors for national jerseys and play for international bragging rights during the Overwatch World Cup. The first group stage kicks off this week in Korea, where the standings should be straightforward, even if the manner in which things shake out isn’t as clear. Only the top two teams will advance to the OWWC Playoffs at BlizzCon, and with a new meta throwing a wrench in the works, the teams will need to show adaptability if they want to have a shot at competing in the top 8. Without further ado, let’s get right into the projected rankings.
1. South Korea
Tank: Koo “Fate” Pan-Seung (LA Valiant), Kim “Meko” Tae-Hong (NYXL)
DPS: Park “Saebyeolbe” Jong-Ryeol (NYXL), Kim “Libero” Hae-Seong (NYXL), Lee “Carpe” Jae-Hyeok (Philadelphia Fusion) (Sub)
Support: Bang “JJoNak” Seong-Hyun (NYXL), Hong “ArK” Yeon-Jun (NYXL)
South Korea has won the last two world cups in convincing fashion, and this year looks to be no different. Inaugural OWL MVP JJoNak might not be able to play his devastating Zenyatta since the meta has heavily shifted since the OWL playoffs in July, but with the resurgence of Ana, JJoNak might be even more devastating. The rest of this all-star lineup is both flexible in hero pool and yet predictable in playstyle. The decision to field Fate over the LA Gladiators’ Baek “Fissure” Chan-hyung was deliberate to create a more conservative frontline, allowing the overwhelming fragging power at SK’s disposal to carry it through. In theory, Fate’s Reinhardt might not be his best hero, and the supports might not be completely comfortable with their new hero obligations, but there’s nothing to suggest that South Korea won’t dominate the group stage.
Tank: Joona “Fragi” Laine (Philadelphia Fusion), Joonas “Zappis” Alakurtti (Florida Mayhem)
DPS: Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin (Houston Outlaws), Timo “Taimou” Kettunen (Dallas Fuel), Tuomo “Davin” Leppänen (Contenders EU: Team Gigantti) (Sub)
Support: Jonas “Shaz” Souvaara (LA Gladiators), Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni (LA Gladiators)
Who knew there were so many Fins in the OWL? With the meta moving towards aggressive meat sticks like Reinhardt and Zarya, not to mention the introduction of Wrecking Ball, the hyper-aggressive Fragi should be right at home charging in with reckless abandon while Zappis probably protects his main tank as Zarya. If the frontline can work together seamlessly, the rest of the team will be free to wreak havoc. The proven support duo of BigGoose and Shaz are reliable and adaptable, LiNkzr is a machine with a deep hero pool (which will be crucial due to the buildup of hitscan talent in Finland’s DPS core), Taimou can take over games against any opponent in the world, and don’t sleep on Davin, one of the best players currently not in the OWL. If for some reason the meta doesn’t work out and Finland fails to take the proceedings seriously, it might risk crashing and burning out of the World Cup, but it’s unlikely a lineup with this much talent fails to break the top 2.
Tank: Kazuki “SamuraiD” Nouno (Contenders PAC: CYCLOPS), Kaito “kenmohororo” Yoshida (Contenders PAC: CYCLOPS)
DPS: Sean “ta1yo” Henderson (Contenders PAC: CYCLOPS), Kenji “AmeKen” Hisano (Contenders PAC: CYCLOPS), Yuuma “dep” Hashimoto (Contenders PAC: CYCLOPS) (Sub)
Support: Ryoma “Sabagod” Tsuji (Contenders PAC: CYCLOPS), Takahiro “CLAIRE” Watanabe (Contenders PAC: CYCLOPS)
Before the internet accuses me of weebery for putting Japan over Russia, let’s look at some facts. Fact 1: Russia hasn’t been internationally relevant since the first World Cup, back when fans voted for one famous person from their nation to draft a team. Fact 2: Japan’s lineup consists of the Pacific Contenders team CYCLOPS athlete gaming, which finished second in Contenders Season 2 in the region. Fact 3: the most well-known member of this lineup, ta1yo, has been praised by his peers time and time again, and always shows up to play at international events, almost bringing Japan to last year’s World Cup playoffs before losing in a tight 3-2 series to Australia. Admittedly, barring Finland imploding, the gap between 2nd and 3rd place will be a gulf too big to cross for any remaining team in the group. Of the remaining squads, though, Japan shows the most promise.
Tank: Denis “Tonic” Rulev (Former Contenders EU: Bazooka Puppies, Current FA), Ilia “Txao” Makarov (Contenders EU: Winstrike Team)
DPS: Stanislav “Mistakes” Danilov (Boston Uprising), George “ShaDowBurn” Gushcha (Philadelphia Fusion), Andrei “uNFixed” Leonov (Contenders EU: Winstrike Team) (Sub)
Support: Aleksandr “MayN” Katarskii (Contenders EU: Winstrike Team), Andrey “Engh” Sholokhov (Contenders EU: Winstrike Team)
Right behind Japan comes Russia, which exited last year’s competition after being swept 3-0 by South Korea in the 2017 Katowice World Cup qualifier. Bad news for Russia: getting swept by the Koreans continues to be a national legacy in Overwatch. ShaDowBurn, the only member of this team to compete in all three world cup competitions, will have some decent backup in Boston’s Mistakes, but the rest of the lineup is where this team will rise or fall. The backbone of this team consists of Winstrike Team from EU Contenders, which has found modest success, consistently placing around 3rd-4th. Still, it’s a big step up for this team to take to the international stage, and it’s not like the OWL talent on this side inspire confidence either. ShaDowBurn has lived on the Philly bench for a long time and is a known, if fading, quantity. The biggest X-factor will be Mistakes, as he needs to show vast improvement from his days on Boston, where he played second fiddle to Kwon “Striker” Nam-joo, in a new meta where his pool probably won’t be favored.
5. Chinese Taipei
Tank: Chao-Hua “ATing” Chen (Contenders PAC: Hong Kong Attitude), Jing-Han “TenTen” Liao (Contenders PAC: Hong Kong Attitude)
DPS: Keng-Yu “ShaiuLin” Lin (Contenders PAC: Hong Kong Attitude), Erh-Fu “BLUE” Kao (Contenders PAC: Nova Esports) (Sub)
Flex: Wei-Teng “kant” Kao (FA)
Support: Shiao-Chin “Craz1S” Wei (Contenders PAC: Nova Esports), Ruei-jhou “OYO” Gao (Contenders PAC: Nova Esports)
Team Taiwan/Chinese Taipei has an uphill battle in front of it, only getting the nod above Team Hong Kong due to having members play for a better team in Contenders PAC. Captain and true flex kant has to be careful where he inserts himself in the starting roster, since he doesn’t want to disrupt any pre-existing synergies on his squad. That being said, this lineup should beat Hong Kong, look kind of serviceable against the teams in the 3-4 slot, and get dominated by Korea and Finland.
6. Hong Kong
Tank: Chan-Yuan “YiWind” Ho (FA), Ka-Chung “GZQQ” Wong (FA)
DPS: Chi-Yeung “Moowe” Yip (Contenders PAC: Hong Kong Attitude), Tsz-Kit “Mikouw” Wan (Contenders PAC: Hong Kong Attitude)
Flex: Chung-Ching “JazZy” Pak (Contenders China: LGD Gaming)
Support: Kin-Long “ManGoJai” Wong (Contenders PAC: Hong Kong Attitude), Cheuk-Pang “AmCrazy” Lai (FA) (Sub)
Well, someone has to finish in 6th. Hong Kong has decent talent, with flex JazZy playing support/tank depending on what the team needs, not unlike his current role on LGD Gaming in Contenders China. The only recent data on this team is a showmatch they had against Australia, where they got summarily dumpstered. Hong Kong isn’t expected to win much, so any games they manage to take in Korea, especially against teams like Japan and Russia, who are on the fringe of being contenders, shows promise for the future.
Overall, this group stage is cut-and-dry on the surface, but that doesn’t mean that the action will be dull by any means. With a new meta, and the grandeur of international competition, look for the World Cup hype train to pick up serious steam in Studio Paradise in Incheon, SK.