This past weekend, the top eight teams in the 2017 Overwatch World Cup battled for national bragging rights at BlizzCon. Many of the rosters were full of players who struggled to keep their heads above water during the troubling era leading into Overwatch Contenders season zero, as top organizations were releasing their players left and right due to complications with Overwatch League and uncertainty over the future of Overwatch esports. Through all this, the community persevered and brought us the Overwatch World Cup. Of the teams playing in the final round, France and Canada's stories were most compelling, full of the grit and determination that best encompass the heart of the esports world.
Rogue's former roster stays strong to the bitter end
Of the existing esports organizations people expected to walk into Overwatch League, Rogue was at the top of many people's lists. As a new team, they handed EnVyUs their first loss at ESL Atlantic Showdown in August of 2016, then went on to win the entire tournament with a three-map victory over Reunited. After a three-way trade with Luminosity Gaming and Misfits in December, they were on their way to becoming the all-French roster we all came to know and love. With the addition of Nico in February 2017, the Frenchmen went on one of the most historic runs in Overwatch esports history, placing first in several consecutive Overwatch tournaments heading into Overwatch Contenders.
Even with a lackluster performance in Contenders season one, Unkoe, Knoxxx, Winz, AKM, Soon, and Nico were still one of the most formidable teams on the planet. After being appointed by a national committee to represent France in the 2017 Overwatch World Cup, things started looking up once again. They destroyed the competition at the Shanghai Qualifier, dropping only two rounds in the process and earning their spot at the BlizzCon finals. All was going well until early October.
In one of the most shocking announcements of the last few months, Rogue officially announced that they were disbanding their Overwatch roster on October 8 since they were unable to secure a spot in Overwatch League. Then, just days before BlizzCon, the Los Angeles Valiant Overwatch League team announced that both Unkoe and Soon would be part of their roster for the inaugural season, marking the end of an era for a team that had accomplished so much together. Emotions running high, they would march into the Overwatch World Cup finals to show everyone what they were made of one last time.
They started off strong against China, whose roster changed right before the competition. Junkertown was particularly interesting, with France even using Bastion in a successful payload push. Even against South Korea, the Frenchmen stood their ground and put forth a great fight. Brandon Padilla is an Overwatch analyst for OverwatchScore, and he had some thoughts to share on France's performance.
"They beat a hamstrung Chinese squad in one of the best matches of Junkertown ever recorded, and versus South Korea, they showed that titans could bleed," Padilla said. "Knoxxx held his own against Mano, who stands as one of the best Winstons in the world. AKM has been super vocal about not getting his OWL spot, and played out of his mind almost the entire tournament. He was the only Pharah to ever give Fl0w3r (DPS for South Korea) pause."
France would play their final match as a team against Sweden. As the commentators said, this was about as poetic an ending as anyone could have asked for, given these teams' histories both against and with each other over the last year. Alas, ex-Rogue could only fight for so long, eventually falling four maps to two against Sweden. As a bittersweet punctuation to the whole thing, it would be Tviq, their former teammate, who would send them home with a Tactical Visor:
Canada was the beating heart of North America
When Canada's World Cup berth was first announced, many people questioned the talent of some of their players. Particularly scrutinized were xQc and Mangachu, two of the most popular pros in the community. For xQc, it mostly came down to his aggressive Winston style and huge personality on his stream. "Tell me when xQc feeds" became a meme on Twitch, not that it was ever an accurate representation of what was happening. Mangachu's skill was never up for debate, though some consider him one-dimensional to this day. It was his in-match antics and often disrespectful play that got people riled up by his selection.
The first test for the Canadian team was the Katowice Qualifier in Poland, one of the most viewed streams of the Overwatch World Cup. Also at Katowice were Russia, South Korea, and the Netherlands, all teams with formidable rosters. In the end, Canada would only drop two rounds as they qualified for the BlizzCon finals. The other team to qualify would go on to face Canada in the Grand Finals of the World Cup: South Korea.
When the matches were picked for the BlizzCon finals, the United States got paired with South Korea for their first match. Not that it was a guaranteed loss, but the majority of fans and analysts didn't see the US advancing past this initial hurdle. Indeed, they would not. It was up to Canada to keep hope alive for the North American region.
Things didn't go as smoothly as they should have in Canada's first match against Australia. DPS didn't show up as needed, but they were able to squeeze out a victory to stay alive. From here, history was written. Their second match against Sweden was likely to be their demise. The Swedes were composed entirely of players signed to Overwatch League teams (Florida Mayhem, Dallas Fuel, Philadelphia Fusion), four of whom had played together on Misfits for a very long time. On paper, they should have easily won.
The Canadians had other plans. Even with Joemeister's struggling Mercy and xQc as the only true tank, they managed to clutch out the set against Sweden after dropping two consecutive maps. This sent Sweden to the third place match against France, and meant that Canada would face off against South Korea in the Grand Finals.
If there was one hole Canada needed to fill in their game against South Korea, it was definitely tanking. xQc can hold his own in a triple DPS setup, but that's not a great composition to throw at a seasoned roster like South Korea's. They were using dive comps before it was considered "meta". Mangachu would have to step up his D.Va game if they'd want to see any true success, though Zunba, his direct opposition, had one of the strongest offtank games in the world.
Hanamura best exemplified Canada's resilience and adaptability. After trying a triple DPS dive out of the gate, they switched to a triple tank composition by having Agilities flex to Roadhog, and Mangachu flex to D.Va. Their damage mitigation and high HP carried them deep into the map set even though they lost.
The Canadians went on to take Junkertown, and on Numbani, the final map of the tournament, Mangachu raked in some style points by getting a kill with Torbjorn's hammer. South Korea went home with the gold in the end, but it wasn't the bloodbath everyone expected. xQc even won the T-Mobile MVP award, as voted on by fans, beating out South Korea's Widowmaker expert Fl0w3r. Even though they lost, it was a treat to see a North American team in the Grand Finals, especially since many thought it was going to come down to Sweden and South Korea.