By: Ollie Powell and Ian McCafferty
Stage Two was….. Not kind to the Pacific Division.
After Stage One it was abundantly clear that the Atlantic Division was the better of the two OWL divisions, but despite the playoffs being NYXL, London and Houston, both Seoul and LA Valiant were top-tier squads. Well, Stage Two saw Seoul miss the playoffs again, Valiant implode down the stretch and while Gladiators rose to prominence, Shock, Fuel and Dragons combined to win five matches.
Right now the only sure thing in the Pacific is the Seoul Dynasty, although another solid stage from Gladiators might change that. As the Valiant deal with internal strife, it looks as if the bottom of the Pacific is finally starting to figure things out.
Will the Pacific’s struggles continue in Stage Three?
Dallas Fuel (5-15, 2-8 Stage Two)
Where to even begin? Fuel, plain and simple, are a mess right now, and that’s even excluding the drama involving xQc earlier in the stage. The “Taimou on main tank” experiment was a complete failure, and a clear lack of a plan B left Dallas in a mountain of trouble. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They performed well in their final two matches against NYXL and London Spitfire, pushing the former to a close game five. It is imperative though they keep hold of Effect, Rascal and Custa. The first two have the potential to form one of the best DPS duos in the league, and the latter offers a positive mindset that the team sorely needs right now. If Seagull can continue to play well on off-tank, the Fuel finally have a solid core that looks ready to win a few games.
Their first game of Stage Three against Shanghai Dragons is a big one and will give us a better idea of where this team is right now. Let it be known though, this Fuel squad has serious quality across the board, and if the management and coaching staff continue to flounder throughout the season, other teams will not hesitate to tempt that talent away.
Los Angeles Gladiators (10-10, 6-4 S2)
Easily the most improved team from Stage One, the signing of Fissure from London Spitfire was the catalyst that sparked Gladiators surge from the middle of the pack into title contention. His smart space creation and chemistry with Bischu allowed the Gladiator’s DPS trio of Hydration, Surefour, and in particular, Asher, the opportunity to really shine in a way they were not afforded in stage one. A convincing win over London, Fissure’s first game against his old team, proved they could mix it with the big boys. A 0-2 final week against Philadelphia and Boston cost the Gladiators a playoff spot, but their overall quality was even better than their record shows.
In Stage Three the signing of Void will add some much-needed flexibility to their off-tank role, but don’t expect Bischu to join iRemix on the bench; the value he brings in communicating in both English and Korean cannot be underestimated. Another strong showing is on the cards this stage.
Los Angeles Valiant (11-9, 4-6 S2)
Valiant, what happened? LAV were one map away from making the Stage One playoffs and even started Stage Two with a 4-2 record before imploding the last two weeks of the stage, including a loss to Florida Mayhem. Management issues and a strained relationship between the players have really started to take its toll on the Valiant, with trade rumors circling about half their roster hardly filling any fans with confidence. It’s reached the point where the Fusion literally made a parody video of the Valiant. The team currently sits at a point where multiple different players may or may not be on the roster moving forward and even if they keep the current lineup, they now have six DPS players, unless they move Kariv back to support full time. The fact that their first match of the Stage Three is against Seoul doesn’t help matters.
Despite the amount of DPS on the roster, the acquisition of Bunny is still a move in the right direction. Still, why jeopardize the potential synergy with the starting tank line with the trade speculation surrounding Envy? If they can move into Stage Three with Bunny, Fate and Envy all on the roster, they will be far better off. They also finally have Space eligible as an off-tank sub, but at this point it’s unclear how he’ll be worked into the lineup. This is a worrying time for LAV, and a poor Stage Three performance would not be a surprise.
San Francisco Shock (6-14, 3-7 S2)
Another team on the rise, the second half of stage two saw a significant improvement in performance by the Shock. While their only impressive win was against the Outlaws, the quality of Shock’s play has risen each match. If a couple fights go their way in Week 5, they easily could have finished the stage at 5-5. The team’s play has improved and now the reinforcements are finally here.
With Sinatraa now available and Architect inbound, their DPS line up shows promise, especially with Danteh shining on Tracer and Sombra, a hero expected to see a lot more play time. Moth has looked to solve their support issue, and with the recently available Super practicing Winston, look to him to take that main tank berth away from the struggling NoMy. Until we see all the pieces in place don’t expect too much of Shock in Stage Three, but if everything fits, you could see at least a .500 record if not better.
Seoul Dynasty (14-6, 7-3 S2)
While sitting comfortably at the top of the Pacific Division and in third overall in the league standings, most will agree Dynasty have underperformed so far having failed to make either of the stage playoffs. Sloppy play has seen them drop maps, and indeed, even matches, when they shouldn’t, but this old Lunatic Hai squad has a ludicrous amount of world-class talent and bundles of experience. They just have to be able to kick their late-stage struggles. In Stage One they started 5-0 before finishing 7-3 with a Week 5 loss to the Valiant knocking them out of the playoffs. In Stage Two, in a meta seemingly perfect for them, they started 6-0 before once again finishing 7-3 with a Week 5 loss to the Outlaws knocking them out of the playoffs. They haven’t beaten NYXL or London yet either. In fact, they haven’t even taken a map off of London yet.
Despite their patchy form they do still sit 14-6, so a Seoul that can finally start to hit the heights they’re capable of will be hard to stop. Honestly a Seoul that continues to “struggle” will still coast into the league playoffs. But to make a splash in Stage Three they’ll need to find a way to overcome their British (Korean) kryptonite, London Spitfire. Even if they can’t, Dynasty will be in and around the playoff places once more.
Shanghai Dragons (0-20, 0-10 S2)
For the Dragons, the only way really is up.
After an overhaul of their squad and coaching staff, with Undead and coach U4 making way for fresh talent. Ado and Fearless will inject some much-needed quality, and while Geguri will garner much of the attention, she has the potential to be one of the best off-tanks in the league and her ability on D.Va will be key to any success Shanghai has going forward. However, the biggest new addition will be Sky (formerly Zhufanjun), considered one of, if not the, best supports in China. With Zenyatta likely to remain a key figure in the meta, and Ana slowly making a case, Sky will have a huge part to play. The Dragons start Stage Three against Fuel and Valiant, so if the new roster can gel quickly, there is real potential for Shanghai to pick up their first win. Even if they don’t the team appears to be moving in the right direction and shouldn’t finish the stage at 0-10.
Pacific Division Rankings Pre-Stage Three
- Seoul Dynasty
- Los Angeles Gladiators
- Los Angeles Valiant
- San Francisco Shock
- Dallas Fuel
- Shanghai Dragons
This list is not as pretty as the Atlantic’s at the moment. Seoul is the clear top team and Gladiators are the only other team here near the heights of the Atlantic. Valiant are only at No. 3 because the other three teams won a combined 5 games in Stage Two. But while Valiant slide, Shock and Fuel are beginning to put things together. Shanghai still has a LONG way to go to get out of not only the 6th spot in the division but the 12th spot in the league, but things are looking up.
It honestly feels like heading into Stage Three that 11 teams are on the rise or at least feeling good, and then there’s the Valiant. LAV may very well return to form in Stage Three if they can work out their internal problems, but the end of Stage Two was not pretty. It would be easy to say that they have the talent to compete and they did almost beat Philadelphia in Week 5, but for the time being they’re on a downward trend. Beat Seoul in Week One and maybe the ship will right itself.
Aside from that Stage Three should be an exciting time for some of the cellar dwellers as hopefully we can finally see more of a true parity in OWL, or at least some closer matches when Fuel, Dragons or Shock play. Stage Three should be the best one yet.