Even if you are an Overwatch fan, you might not have been aware that the World Cup was happening, or that it was going to be in our neck of the woods. This is totally excusable considering how much trouble Blizzard has had bolstering the competitive Overwatch scene, which despite the continuing success of the game, has yet to set the esports community on fire.

However, these issues appear to be organisational, rather than an issue with the game itself. If the games coming out of Shanghai last weekend are any indicator, the action, strategy and drama of competitive Overwatch play itself is alive and well.

The competition involves 32 countries from all over the world. Players from each country were voted in and competed to establish their nations ranking. The top four teams in the standings are:

1. China
2. South Korea
3. USA
4. Sweden

Both Australia and New Zealand are in the competition and ranked 13th and 30th respectively.

Overwatch World Cup Sydney primer

This weekend will see competitions in groups C and D. Across the three days (Friday 21st – Sunday 23rd) the teams in each group will get the chance to compete with the other teams in their group. Each day will see four pairs (two from C and two from D) compete in a four-match set of games.

Overwatch World Cup Sydney primer

Ignore the dates here, they are aimed at the US audience. Australia and NZ audiences can tune into the competition live at PlayOverwatch on Twitch and Youtube:

Friday July 21: 9:30am – 5:30pm AEST / 11:30am – 7:30pm NZST
Saturday July 22: 9:30am – 5:30pm AEST / 11:30am – 7:30pm NZST
Sunday July 23: 9:30am – 7:30pm AEST / 11:30am – 9:30pm NZST

The four matches in each set follow the game type structure – hybrid, control, assault, escort. The team with the highest ranking chooses the first map and each subsequent map is chosen by the loser of the previous match.

At the end of these pairings on Sunday afternoon, the team with the highest wins in each group will compete with the team with the second highest wins in the other group. The finals will be a first-to-three single-elimination competition. The winners of these two finals will qualify as one of the top eight teams in the grand finals, which take place at Blizzcon in November.

The teams

Overwatch World Cup Sydney primer

As the highest-ranked team in this weekend’s competition (and forth ranked overall), Sweden is the team to keep an eye on. It placed third in last year’s world cup, and includes two professional players, so if you’re looking for examples of the highest calibre play, keep an eye out for its matches.

However, many are saying that Australia is in with a chance of making it to the finals at BlizzCon. Its team includes the entire Blank Esports roster, a professional team who placed second in the Overwatch Pacific Championship this year. Many of the teams in this world cup are cobbled together, so being an established team could give Australia a real edge. Plus, the home team advantage is not to be underestimated – many an underdog has elevated its game in front of a supportive home crowd.

Also worth keeping an eye on are Finland and Japan, who have both stacked their teams with professional players hot off of leagues in Europe and Asia.

The meta

Overwatch World Cup Sydney primer

If you have played Overwatch but never seen it played competitively, you might be surprised by some of the differences.

The first thing you might be struck by is how little variety there is in team composition. I would be surprised if we see more than 1/3 of the roster in play this weekend. Don’t expect to see some of your favourite characters – there is little to no chance of seeing Roadhog, Torbjorn or Mei.

Popular characters in competitive play moved around quite a bit in the last year, shuffling each time Blizzard made adjustments to characters. The most prevalent characters in the competitive meta right now are Winston, Tracer and Zenyatta, so it is likely that every match played will include these three characters. There are a number of characters which are brought in for particular situations, or to throw off the opposing team's strategy, such as Sombra and Widowmaker.

It takes a couple of matches to get used to the frantic nature of competitive Overwatch, but after a while, you will notice just how strategic and considered each action is. For instance, you will often see players hanging back instead of engaging. This is because the ‘push’ is integral to high end play, so teams will wait in order to make coordinated moves together. On the other side, you might see players intentionally delaying a kill so that their opponent’s deaths will be more staggered, making these kinds of pushes more difficult.

More than anything else, you need to be aware of the importance of ultimates. The selection and use of ultimate abilities are the fulcrum around which all competitive Overwatch revolves. If you are new to watching competitive play, pay special attention to the ultimates each team has accrued, and how that affects their approach to moment to moment play.

We'll be wrapping the Overwatch World Cup Sydney leg next week – stay tuned!