Overwatch's latest new character, Wrecking Ball, is all about momentum.
A hamster in a suit of mechanical armor, his gameplay style is all about hitting hard and hitting fast. Latching onto part of the map and then throwing yourself into the enemy team. In the right hands, Wrecking Ball is able to scatter even the most cohesive of teams out of position.
Positioning has been always been part of the tactical equation in Overwatch. Good positioning allows teams to manage mitigate threats and exploit opportunities. It's as vital as it is invisible. The secret ingredient. However, it's usually more-abstract. Something that's easy to see when cited by casters, but more difficult when you're bogged down in Kings Row.
Wrecking Ball makes the usually-unseen rules of positioning visible in a very immediate way: by attacking them.
The formula isn’t too simple. Hook. Swing. Send in the rest of your team to deal with the pieces. Finding the right window to execute? That’s the trick. Other heroes use guns and swords. Wrecking Ball weaponizes physics. Well, he does also use guns. But his best and most powerful weapon? Definitely physics.
And yet, despite this over-the-top concept and mechanics, Wrecking Ball comes across as a authentic extension of the Overwatch's existing lineup. Even among a roster of misfits and heroes, cowboys and mecha, Wrecking Ball fits right in.
And part of the reason for this is that - when it comes down to it - Overwatch is a game that's defined by momentum. Especially at a professional-level. Matches are almost-always won by the team that's able to find momentum and almost-always lost by those that can't.
Sometimes, this is literal and represented in the rules of play. In Overwatch's escort and hybrid maps, one team has to push a payload from one of the map to the other. In control point, the momentum that comes with being the first team to capture the point can define which way the game goes. Other times, it comes down to knowing how and when to change your team's composition to best match your opponents and regain that inertia.
The power of momentum was on the minds of many during the Overwatch Contenders Australia grand finals.
Taking place at the inaugural Melbourne Esports Open, the day started with the playoffs between the final four: Kanga Esports, Dark Sided, Melbourne Order and the Sydney Drop Bears. It ended with an intense showdown between the Sydney Drop Bears and Dark Sided.
Who are the Sydney Drop Bears?
Underdogs-turned-top-dogs, the Drop Bears emerged victorious in the first season of Overwatch Contenders Australia and fared even better in the second. A feat more-or-less unprecedented in Overwatch Contenders, they failed to lose a single match and only a single map over the course of the entire season.
And in build up to their appearance in the grand final, members of the team didn't shy away from their ambition to built this feat into something more. For the Sydney Drop Bears, the Melbourne Esports Open was a chance to build a dynasty. They already train alongside the LG Dire Wolves at Sydney's Esports High Performance Center. Some would say it’s only natural that they should command a similar reputation.
Who are Dark Sided?
The short version is that they’re the team the Drop Bears took out to win the crown in last season's grand final. And this time, they were determined to secure a different outcome. Of course, before swinging at the king, they had to fight their way up the mountain.
Acting as a prelude to the main event, Dark Sided faced off against Melbourne Order in a fierce best of five series where almost every round came down to the wire. Niche heroes like Symmettra and Bastion found themselves into desperate, unconventional strategies as both teams strained to find something that would give them an edge.
Dark Sided eventually prevailed, paving the way for their rematch with the Drop Bears.
Unfortunately, if any members of the Sydney Drop Bears expected Dark Sided to be fatigued by their fresh bout with Melbourne Order, this possibility was quickly quashed. Right out of the gate, the team took the first map from the Drop Bears in stunning fashion.
"In that one map, AVRL, Dark Sided have managed to doubled the number of maps that the Drop Bears have lost this season," one of the game's commentators exclaimed as it went down.
From there, the series see-sawed back and forth between the two teams.
In the Overwatch League, maps are selected ahead of time. However, In Contenders, the team that loses gets the opportunity to select the next map. A team can still be rattled another early on, but the Contenders format gives them ample room to regain momentum. This format can make for a more dynamic and exciting competition. And the clash between the Drop Bears and Dark Sided didn't prove an exception to this rule.
More than once, narrow map finishes measured in milliseconds were rewoven into dominant leads. More than once, near-catastrophic team-wipes recouped into defiant victories. More than once, the Drop Bears star DPS player ColorHex delivered the goods - rattling off barrages of rockets and securing victory.
What does it mean to win?
The final score of 4-1 saw the Drop Bears emerge triumphant once again.
But it doesn't reflect how close they came to losing. A few seconds here or there and any one of the series' maps could have gone the other way.
The Drop Bears' sophomore celebration was also cut short by one bittersweet detail. Only a few days before the grand final, Toronto Esports acquired ColorHex. Like Custa before him, ColorHex is heading abroad to advance his esports career into the global arena.
A large part of the branding around Overwatch Contenders is the idea that players are on a "Path to Pro" and ColorHex is only the latest example. Excel in Overwatch Trials, you'll be hired for Contenders. Get noticed in Contenders, and you could get picked up by the Overwatch League. Get picked up for the League, and you could be making big money playing full-time against the best Overwatch players in the world.
Undoubtedly, it’s an incredible opportunity for ColorHex. But it does leave the Sydney Drop Bears in a bit of a bind.
After all, it's one thing to build a dynasty. It's another thing entirely to keep it in power.