The inaugural season of the Pacific Championship was a landmark event for competitive Overwatch in the Asia-Pacific region, showcasing talented teams in a lengthy tournament featuring a significant prize pool. The championship, however, was not perfect. The eleven week regular season stretched on for far too long, prolonging the struggles of the lesser teams in the competition and wearing down the cream of the crop. With only three teams advancing to the playoffs, many games lacked impact.
Changes to the format and teams competing in the competition have shored up these weaknesses. Season 2's regular season, comprised of two round robins, is half as long as the inaugural season's, with four teams advancing to the playoffs instead of three this time around. The lesser Japanese teams have also been removed from the competition after the qualifier, boosting the quality of matches and helping to close the gap between the top three teams that have returned from last season. To top this all off, the tournament has retained it's mammoth 8,300,000 TWD ($272,000~ USD) prize pool, the largest prize pot of any tournament this year.
With less games in the regular season, each match is vital to the participant's chances of making playoffs. The key story lines from the first week of play can be found below:
Flash Wolves prove they are still the alpha dogs
Flash Wolves only had a single game this week but it was perhaps the most important of all the matches played. The Wolves were pit against ahq eSports Club, rival for the title of the best team in Taiwan. Coming off disappointing performance in the World Cup qualifiers, the Wolves were in desperate need of a win in their first match back home to boost confidence. On the other side, ahq were looking revitalized after bringing in up-and-coming Tracer player Rapid.
Alarm began to build in the ranks of Flash Wolves fans when they dropped the opening map, Lijiang Tower, albeit in closely contested fashion. This panic was soon put to rest, as the Season 1 champions stabilized, taking Hollywood, Horizon and Watchpoint: Gibraltar, finishing the map 3-1. As the game progressed the gap in skill we witnessed between the two teams last season became more evident. While ahq were a playoff team, they scraped in at third place, capitalizing on the lack of other significant competition. Flash Wolves on the other hand were in a league of their own, accumulating a twenty one game win-streak in the latter half of last season.
The match wasn't all doom and gloom for ahq. The team has looked surprisingly effective with its new DPS player, Rapid; ahq were forced to make changes to their starting roster after c0wman left due to military service. Whilst lacking starpower on any one hero, c0wman often bore the responsibility of filling the gaps in ahq's hero pool, running a wide variety of DPS and tank heroes. However, in a meta where Tracer thrives, this flexibility is less valuable to the team than Rapid's ability on the hero. ahq isn't a challenger for the number one spot in Taiwan, or the tournament, but don't count out them out against teams like Blank Esports and Ardeont just yet.
Here comes Korea
Ardeont qualified for Season 2 of the Pacific Championship without a loss, garnering a reputation as a playoffs favorite along the way. As the first and only Korean team in the event's short history, Ardeont features some highly experienced players. The team is the result of a merger between the remnants of Mighty AOD's Apex Season 3 roster and another Korean esports organisation. Three players remain from AOD, joined by a host of Korean talent from the tier two scene and Republic, a skilled tank player sourced straight from matchmaking.
As was expected from the Koreans, Ardeont tore up their competition in week one. The team defeated Hong Kong Attitude, Libalent Supreme and most impressively MEGA Thunder without dropping a map. Ardeont appears to not have missed a step since playing in the Season 2 qualifiers, despite losing experienced players Dayfly and ThornCut. ErsTer has already proved himself as a star player in the tournament, providing his fair share of highlight plays on Doomfist.
Nine map victories in a row, although their match against Hong Kong Attitude was at times closely contested, is a big statement from the Korean's in their first week of play. It seems likely, if not inevitable, that the team will be seen competing in the playoffs after the conclusion of the regular season. The question remains, where in the top four will Ardeont place? Until they play against the top teams, specifically Flash Wolves and Blank Esports, this will remain a mystery.
Different team, same old Japan?
Japan was represented by two teams in Season 1 of the Pacific Championship, DeToNator.Gold and SunSister. Unfortunately, the duo of Japanese squads struggled against their competition, with a combined 4-56 record. This led to many writing Japanese Overwatch off as the two teams returned to Japan with their tails in-between their legs.
The performance of Team Japan at the Sydney World Cup qualifiers wiped this reputation clean, as the national squad overcame Finland to make the round-of-16 before falling just short against Australia. This placed high hopes on Japan's team in Season 2 of the Pacific Championship, Libalent Supreme. Featuring deartn and Jasper from the Team Japan squad, Libalent had competed at the heights of Japanese Overwatch before qualifying for the tournament.
Despite this, Libalent's performance in week one was all too similar to that of the Japanese teams that came before them. Libalent dropped all three of their fixtures, losing all maps played. It is worth noting that two of these matches came against ahq and Ardeont, likely playoff teams. Their sweep at the hands of Hong Kong Attitude was the most concerning, as HKA were last season's fourth place team and likely a mid to bottom team on the standings this season. The improved array of talent does not leave Libalent much more room for more 3-0 sweeps, with the bottom two teams facing risk of relegation. Things don't get any easier either, with matches against Flash Wolves and Blank Esports coming up in week two.
The fight for fourth
MEGA Esports were a considered a likely playoff team before the season kicked off, as they had garnered hype since combining western talent with the best Thailand has to offer. A mixed performance in week one has cast doubts on this prediction, as the Thunder suffered an interesting sweep at the hands of Machi Esports.
Machi Esports have brought back the exact same roster that placed fifth in Season 1 of the Pacific Championship. With the players only earning 14 wins last season, eight of these against the lowly Japanese teams, Machi were not expected to challenge for the top. Nevertheless the Taiwanese team finds itself in fourth place at the close of the first week. While MEGA will likely improve as the tournament goes on as chemistry grows between the Thai players and the western imports, Machi made a statement in their first week of play. If Machi can steal a win against Blank, Ardeont or the Wolves in week two they will be able to place themselves in a favorable position for a run at fourth place. A victory against this fearsome trio will not come easily and a repeat of Machi's victory over Flash Wolves last season may well be beyond their grasp. However, the team's best chance to do so is now as Blank have only recently changed up their roster.
Notably absent from the fixture for week 1 were Blank Esports. Still in the process of finalizing their roster moves, Blank did not have a scheduled game in the opening week of play. To compensate,they have a four game week 2 coming up.
This will be a great chance to see the team's new recruits, HooWoo and Hus, in action. The team's limited time to practice together as a unit kept in mind, matches against Machi, MEGA, Hong Kong Attitude and Libalent Supreme will act as a measure of how the new roster will perform going forward. While the team's ability with their new members is still uncertain, week two gives them a chance to forge chemistry in the fires of play, conveniently against teams not named Flash Wolves, Ardeont or ahq.
Week 1 Standings
The standings at the conclusion of week 1 can be found below: