If you were to pick a winner based on commentator’s reactions this weekend – the clear winner was the Australian audience. Not an hour went by without several mentions of the rabid energy coming from Aussie fans. To Australians and Kiwis, it’s taken as granted that fans would be enthusiastic and vocal. But from the comments, it was clear that our normal level of vigour was a new, unique and welcome addition to esport proceedings.
Of course, as expected, the fans found a way to take it to the next level. Before the finals, a proud Australian stood up on his chair and partook in the age-old tradition of a ‘shoey’ before conducting the crowd in a rousing round of ‘Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!’.
The success of Sydney's crowd is great news for Oceania esports fans. The next step for esports is to try and grow large mainstream crowds, and for that to be feasible, events need to have the energy of mainstream sports. I would bet good money that after this weekend, Down Under will be on the mind of esports organisers going forward.
Despite the crowds, the real winners of the Overwatch Sydney event were the two teams now heading to the finals at BlizzCon in November. After a fierce and surprising three days of matches, the finals came down to Sweden vs. Spain and Japan vs. Australia.
Despite being the highest ranked team of the weekend, Sweden (#4) didn’t have a clean shot to the finals. In their first match on Friday, they went 2-2 with Portugal, a team ranked #29 and all but written off as a mere contender. Sweden managed to claw their way into first place in group C, squashing an under-prepared Italy and just managing to secure three wins against Australia, but it wasn’t the sure thing many expected.
This theme continued all weekend. Going in, rankings suggested Sweden and Finland (#5) were the teams to watch. Australia, ranked #13, and Japan, ranked #12, appeared little more than speed bumps on the higher ranked teams' road to the finals.
However, after the initial upset for Sweden, the rankings seemed to no longer apply to any of the teams. For instance, in group D, Spain (#21), caused a real upset when they beat Finland 4-0, essentially knocking them out of the running in the process. Spain would go on to take second place in the group, behind Japan.
Although these upsets provided the weekend with ample drama, the real tension came from the Australian team. They came out strong on Friday morning, showing an incredible level of coordination and prowess when trouncing Portugal 4-0. Suddenly, Australia didn’t seem like an underdog anymore, but a real contender, and were easily the most entertaining part of this weekend’s competition. This was partly because the fans turned out in force to support the home team, but also because as an established team they best exemplified the strategy and skill involved in the highest end play - it was a bloody hoot to watch them.
The home team and crowd were feeling fine for the first two days, with Aussie winning both their matches 4-0. But there was a tone shift come Sunday morning when it came time for their match against Sweden. The Australians started out strong winning the first round, but Sweden brought a heavy offensive in return that won them the match and seemed to break Australia’s synergy in the process. The Australians fought back hard, but they had lost the confidence that had propped them up. It wasn’t until the third match of the set that Australia managed to scrape through with a win. In the end Sweden won 3-1, securing first place in the group and pushing Australia down into second.
Australia spoke confidently all weekend about coming first in their group, giving them a more comfortable final against the team in second in group D. Knocked into second, they were now in for a tough match against the leading team, Japan.
Sweden vs. Spain
It’s unfortunate to say, but within five minutes it was clear Spain didn’t have the chops to take on Sweden. Bolstered by their decisive win against Australia that morning, Sweden swaggered in to the lead, set up shop and stayed there comfortably for the three matches they needed to win their bracket and secure their spot at Blizzcon.
Japan vs. Australia
Thankfully, the second final wasn’t such a sure thing. In fact, it could not have been more of a nail biter, especially if you were an Australian fan. Both teams were playing ferociously, and based on the scrunched faces of the players, they all knew they were in for a hard-fought win.
Australia’s performance across the weekend made it clear how important an early win would be for them. They are a team that seems to run on confidence – soaring when they are doing well, but plummeting the moment things turn against them. They needed an early win to put some wind in their sails and carry them forward. Fortunately, that is exactly what happened. Though the teams were smashing head on with fairly standard tactics, ultimately the higher skill of Australian DPS players Aeter and Ieatuup meant that Australia would come out on top in most clashes. It was hard fought, but Australia claimed the first match.
Though Japan then went on to win the second and forth matches, you could see that Australia was rallying around the little wins, fighting hard off two match wins and even bolstering themselves off each skirmish or 1v1 they secured.
With the teams on two wins each, the final came down to a sudden death match. It was to be a control map – a mode that Australia had performed poorly on all weekend, including to Japan earlier in the set. But it was a wonder to behold, as Australia busted out some of the most inspired and fresh strategies that had been seen all weekend. All credit must be given to team leader RQT for the coordination and thought involved in the strategies Australia executed in that match.
The best was a brilliant ambush with a Winston, in which Australian tank Trill nestled on a barely existent ledge above an entranceway. Only when the entire Japanese team had swept in did Trill drop down like something out of Planet of the Apes, scattering them in confusion and picking them off one by one. It was a beautiful way to secure Australia the win and an even more beautiful way to cap off a weekend of fierce – but increasingly stale – combat and strategy.