Way back on January 17th APEX Season 2 began with EnVyUs taking on MVP Infinity in a close 3-2 game that eventually saw the westerners' payload prowess secure the win and kick off their title defence. Yet despite their dramatic playoff run and emphatic Season 1 victory, the air was thick with uncertainty even at that early stage of the competition. The gathering clouds of Korean dominance were looming ever closer with Lunatic-Hai strengthening, the Kongdoo sister teams continuing their upwards trajectory and the recently reshuffled IEM Gyeonggi champions Luxury Watch Blue looking to bottle that lightening. The western champs taking on the mounting might of Korea's established elite was set to be the story for APEX Season 2.
Fast forward to now with the April 8th Grand Final only two days away and the dashed dreams of western fans have all been but forgotten. The rise of RunAway has become the dominate narrative, with even long-time fan-favourites Lunatic-Hai forced to battle for the limelight. Miro and ryujehong's flashy plays have been exciting fangirls and analysts alike for as long as we can remember, but RunAway have captured hearts and minds with their passionate, rough-around-the-edges Overwatch.
The impending finale will be one of the most hotly anticipated matches in Overwatch's relatively short history. On one side you have the kings without a crown, Lunatic-Hai; stuffed to the brim with talent and geared towards playing dive. Their signature composition gravitates around WhoRU and Miro getting all the support to facilitate their aggression and create pandemonium in the opposition's backline. After finishing 2nd at the APAC Premier, 5-8th in last season's APEX, 2nd at IEM Gyeonggi and more recently being eliminated during the Nexus Cup Qualifiers to challenger side X6-Gaming, the desire and drive will be there more than ever to try and take their first major title against the only side to beat them in APEX Season 2.
Whilst over on the other side you have the pink-jumpered people's champions, RunAway. After finishing 13-16th in last season's APEX the team had been fairly anonymous. Without the same financial support and resources as the larger teams they have struggled, expanding to an eight person roster trying to balance school and home life alongside professional gaming. This season they have metamorphosed from "that team with Haksal" to an elite outfit capable of beating the best, with every player on their roster having emerged as genuine best-in-role candidates. It really has been an incredible transition.
Despite beating them in the quarterfinals, RunAway are still seen by the majority as the underdog. Lunatic-Hai have long been regarded as one of the best, if not the best, Korean teams and their form in APEX Season 2 fully supports this. They have dropped 6 maps out of 26, 3 of those to RunAway. In fact, they had only dropped 1 map up until they first faced RunAway. Meanwhile, RunAway have had to battle their way through every encounter, suffering a 3-0 loss to Kongdoo Panthera and having a more evenly split map record of 15-8. Despite this, both teams find themselves in the final competing for the trophy and ₩100,000,000 ($85,629) in Overwatch's fiercest competition to date.
This match is going to revolve around Lunatic-Hai's dive composition and how well RunAway are able to deal with it. In their most recent game, Lunatic-Hai, had to take their favoured comp to new heights to surpass Meta Athena with a typecast EscA abandoning McCree to showcase a flank heavy Tracer. Expect to find him playing behind the enemy team as much as possible and looking to add a new dimension to their attack. This subtle new threat from Lunatic-Hai relieves a lot of the burden on WhoRU to carry the DPS duties - a crucial factor when you consider how he has been shut down in several matches this season. Lunatic-Hai certainly have the talent and coordination to take the Grand Final but have shown a weakness on Hybrid/Payload maps which account for 4 of their 6 losses.
RunAway have proven themselves against dive comps, taking victories over both Lunatic-Hai and Luxury Watch Blue in their last two games. Feats they have achieved through not only matching their opponents' dive but flexing onto triple tank. This is perhaps the biggest advantage RunAway have; they are significantly more adept at non-dive comps than L-H. Combined with a proven track record on Payload and Hybrid maps, this puts them in a much better standing.
Kaiser has been the standout player during RunAway's campaign. He has dominated the Rein vs Rein match-ups and has produced the clutch plays consistently when RunAway's fate has hung in the balance. Supported by KoX, who has been a revelation since moving over to Ana, and Stitch, who has gone from strength to strength, adding to the already star quality play Haksal brings - it seems like all of RunAway's roster are peaking at the right time.
Player for player these teams are evenly matched, both have phenomenal tank lines. Haksal and Stitch have been more consistent on DPS, but if EscA and WhoRU perform as they did against Meta Athena they can rival their counterparts. On Lucio, tobi is the more talented, but Runner more than makes up for this with his calling and the energy he brings to the team. ryujehong and KoX are both insanely talented, but ryujehong has a wealth of experience which may prove invaluable. There is not a lot separating the teams in terms of raw skill, though Lunatic-Hai have been considered one of the world's best teams for so long it would still be a huge upset for RunAway if they can slay the Korean giants a second time.
However, RunAway may have the edge when it comes to map selections. Lunatic-Hai have been dominant in all game modes except Payload throughout Season 2, with a 7-1 record on Control, 5-1-1 on Assault and 7-2 on Hybrid. Notably, their 2 losses on Hybrid were both against RunAway. RunAway won all Payload/Hybrid map types against Lunatic-Hai, with their superior use of tank heavy compositions and the fact that Kaiser was able to dominate Miro in Reinhardt duels proving to be the decisive factors. This could be the deciding factor as the maps for the best-of-seven final will include two Hybrid and two Payload maps, meaning if RunAway can repeat their quarterfinal feat of only winning these map types they can still take the title. Even with both teams performing at their peak, this can give RunAway the upper hand, delivering the scenarios where they can foreseeably upset the crownless kings and complete their fairy-tale story. How Lunatic-Hai approach pushing payloads will be key, whether they decide to match Kaiser's rock-solid Reinhardt or continue to play their battle-tested dive compositions into him.
This is really only scratching the surface of the tactical and strategic considerations no doubt being poured over in the lead up to this final. It will be fascinating watching the battle of minds unfold live across a potential seven maps - not to mention tiebreakers! The individual skill on show speaks for itself. All five previously played maps have gone right down to the wire - whatever happens it sure to be a spectacle for the ages.
The show kicks off at 05:00 EDT / 11:00 CEST / 18:00 KST this Saturday. Find all the details, stream links, live updates over on our match ticker.