OGN APEX Season 4 Final Preview – GC Busan.

Founded in 2017 and qualifying second in the APEX Contenders for season 4, nobody expected GC Busan to go as far as they have. Their first match on the main stage against first place qualifiers LW Red was solid if messy, showing only glimpses of the skill and coordination that would take them to the season 4 final.

It’s impossible to talk about GC Busan without mentioning their star DPS player Park “Profit” Joon-Yeong. “The best Tracer player in the world” is a category with fierce competition, and after his recent performance Profit has to be in contention. Given space to work he carved through the backline of Cloud 9 KongDoo (formerly KongDoo Panthera), cutting off their healing and swinging the momentum of team fights.

Though he can play other heroes, Profit is effectively a dedicated Tracer player. His DPS companion Lee “Hooreg” Dong-Eun on the other hand has shown a flexibility that many professional DPS players lack. Flexibility that has been vital to GC Busan’s success. From Pharah, to Widowmaker, to McCree, there are few heroes Hooreg isn’t competent with. After his prevalence in the early stages, the hotfix adjustment to Doomfist’s Rocket Punch hitbox has seen him used less as the tournament has progressed. A rare selection, it’s one that Hooreg can still pull out when required. Where DPS players usually focus on either projectile or hitscan heroes, Hooreg can make the most of both giving GC Busan a tactical depth that even some of the more established teams lack; Lunatic-Hai we can all see you.

If their DPS duo have a weakness to exploit it’s Profit’s tendency to be overly autonomous. Hooreg’s flexible hero pool and willingness to switch things up steer GC Busan toward a style that sees them attempt to catch their opponents between Hooreg’s long range damage and Profit’s backline harassment. Unable to directly protect each other, this formation can be punished if either of the two DPS players can be isolated and targeted.

Trying to ensure that doesn’t happen is the tank line of Hong “Gesture” Jae-Hee and Sung “WOOHYAL” Seung-Hyun. Where once it was common to see Gesture’s Winston leap in first and be punished for it, over the course of the tournament he’s calmed down, developing a more measured approach that has seen his first encounter survivability increase dramatically.

On paper the GC Busan sub-tank player is Moon “Ariel” Ji-Seok, though for their recent matches against Lunatic-Hai and Cloud 9 KongDoo it has been nominal flex player WOOHYAL stepping up to fulfil D.Va duties. The always smiling WOOHYAL has shown an ability to time his Boosters perfectly, knocking more than one opposing player to their death mid-ultimate; saving his team through an aggressive in your face play style combined with well targeted Defence Matrix use.

Up there with WOOHYAL for environmental kills is Jung “Closer” won sik on Lucio. Able to deal with more powerful opponents through smart positioning and use of the map, his Sound Barrier timing has also been lifesaving. Alongside Closer is Jo “HaGoPeun” Hyeon-Woo on Zenyatta. The support duo of GC Busan has shown a steadily increasing sense of coordination and timing. Smartly staggering their ultimates to give their team the sustainability to stay in fights longer, and win out against opponents with a clear numbers advantage.

Unrelentingly aggressive in attack, GC Busan are still able to maintain that momentum should matches go into overtime. Combining this “all in” approach with surprisingly conservative ultimate usage, and top tier support play, has allowed them to draw their opposition into using ultimates in team fights that GC Busan go on to win. Setting them up to enter subsequent engagements with an ultimate advantage that regularly snowballs into a map win.

Growth. Of their confident. Of their teamwork. Of their fanbase. This is the defining characteristic of GC Busan over the course of APEX season 4. They have grown steadily as a team while others have fallen back into too familiar, too predictable patterns.

It would be easy to make excuses for GC Busan’s season 4 performance: “Lunatic-Hai haven’t been playing well”, “Cloud 9 KongDoo underestimated their opponents”; however, excuses don’t explain their ability to defeat the two-time APEX champions Lunatic-Hai 3-0, not once but twice. A best of seven semi-final match was always going to be challenging for a new team, especially against season 3 runners up Cloud 9 KongDoo. Yet GC Busan made it look easy, taking the match without dropping a single map.

Since losing their first match, GC Busan’s only defeat this season has been a close 3-2 loss against fellow finalists RunAway; a team as skilled as there are unpredictable. The GC Busan that are gearing up for the final on October 21st look subtly different to the one that lost in September; more consistent, with a better sense of their own strengths and weaknesses.

Coming into the final having defeated two of the best teams in Korea, and without dropping a single map out of the last seven, GC Busan are the underdogs only because RunAway have been here before. As incredible a sight as it would be to see Runner lifting the trophy in tears, I have to admit that this is probably GC Busan’s year.

OGN APEX Season 4 Final Preview – RunAway.

From the lowest scoring team in APEX season 1, to season 2 runners up, only to be knocked out early in season 3. The pink jerseyed RunAway head into the season 4 final looking better than ever. There were some wobbles in the group stages, concerns that were largely put to rest after their 4-0 win over RX Foxes (formerly NC Foxes) in the semi-final.

With former off-tank player Park “Bumper” Sang-beom now their primary Lucio, DPS player Kim “Haksal” Hyo-jong has been freed to return to his beloved Genji, where his comfort level is evident. It’s been over a year since Overwatch launched, and professional teams have had hundreds of hours to practice against Genji. Despite this Haksal is still able pull off multi-kills with his ultimate Dragonblade, turning the tide of the fight in RunAway’s favour, or simply forcing the opposing team to retreat. Even when he’s not leaping in with his sword drawn, his confidence playing alongside his long time DPS partner Lee “Stitch” Choong-hui on Tracer can be seen in the way the duo position themselves before and during fights. Individually strong, they are formidable when working together. Coordinating attacks from multiple directions that divide the attention of their opponents, catching them between the Tracer on the ground and the Genji diving in from above.

Whereas in other teams the dive (the aggressive leap onto the opposition, for which the current Winston, D.Va, Tracer, Genji, Zenyatta, and Lucio meta is named), would generally be instigated by the Winston, here it’s all on Haksal’s Genji. Winston player Hwang “TiZi” Jang-hyeon tends to stay back, leaping in only after the engage has been initiated. Dropping a bubble to isolate the fight from long range damage and splitting the opposing team’s focus even further. A stoic presence on the team, TiZi’s willingness to let Haksal take the lead in engages has seen him survive longer than other Winstons, keeping RunAway in fights their might otherwise lose.

Supporting this aggressive front line is either Bumper, or Choi “JJANU” Hyeon-woo on the D.Va. While one uses their mech and Defence Matrix to block and absorb enemy fire the other switches onto the Lucio to provide sustained team fight healing. Recently Bumper has adopted the more consistent support role where he brings the same defensive mindset he exhibited as D.Va to his Lucio play. Able to consistently peel (force attacking players away from their intended target) for his team, he keeps his fellow support player Kim “KoX” Min-soo alive with smart use of his speed and healing auras, along with clutch “boops” from his Soundwave to push attackers back. KoX for his part brings the aim of a DPS player to Zenyatta. Able to headshot flankers while supporting his teammate’s dive with skilfully targeted Orbs of Discord and Harmony. As with several other Korean teams it’s the support player KoX who moves onto the Sombra when needed, co-opting his own awareness of support positioning to locate and eliminate the opposing Zenyatta with targeted EMPs that strip the Omnic monk of his shields, removing a three quarters of his health pool.

Though the individual players of RunAway’s primary roster are highly skilled on their preferred heroes they have long shown a willingness to switch up their composition when needed. Haksal’s tracking making for solid Zarya play in defence, while Stitch’s hitscan skills transfer smoothly to McCree. KoX meanwhile is always ready to step up to a DPS role, whether that be long range hitscan from Soldier 76, or a more brute force close range attack with Reaper. Triple DPS isn’t really a style favoured by RunAway but they have the players to pull it off.

Always a team of high individual skill and flexibility, where RunAway suffered in earlier seasons was in their coordination and patience. Two aspects that were above reproach against RX Foxes where they settled into an aggressive counter dive style that looked near unstoppable. No longer did we see Haksal initiating his ultimate and diving in alone. In multiple instances he held off using it entirely, instead letting his teammates Stitch and TiZi finish off the opposition. Sacrificing the crowd pleasing plays to ensure his teammates could build their own ultimates. A more mature, selfless mentality shown throughout RunAway, one that has seen their consistency rise steadily over the course of APEX season 4.

Though these six players form the core roster of RunAway for APEX season 4, should the need arise their have a pair of substitutes to call on. Technically his role as a main tank means he’s also a Winston player, in reality Ryu “KAISER” Sang-hoon has one hero: Reinhardt. That’s hardly a weakness when you’re as good a Reinhardt as he is. His sense of exactly when to be aggressive and when to stay back and protect his team is superb, and his Earthshatter timings are pure .gif fodder.

RunAway’s true secret weapon though is to be found in the form of their founder, manager, and technically still active Lucio player, Yoon “Runner” Dae-hoon. He’s not been in the starting roster for the last several matches, yet he’s always in the booth until the last possible moment encouraging his team. His passion is palpable, from the tears when his team win, to the sheer unrestrained joy that saw him accidentally break part of the booth after one match, and headbutt his teammates Stitch after another (fortunately no long-term harm was done to Stitch, Runner, or the booth). A popular streamer in Korea, Runner’s tactics and ability to analyse other teams are the reason RunAway seem able to adapt to opposition plays even before they make them. Originally the team’s Lucio player, and honestly not the most reliable in that role, he’s stepped back from that this season, and instead serves as the team’s real-world Lucio, pumping them up emotionally and psychologically before every game.

If RunAway have a weakness it’s here, their performance is feast or famine. On roles they enjoy, with momentum on their side, they make a good case for being considered one of the best teams in the world. If the necessities of role switching mean they have to play out of their comfort zone. If they get tilted to the point that even Runner himself can’t break them out of it, their coordination falls apart. Though a strong performance can rally them again, often not even the individual mechanical skill of Haksal, Stitch, or KoX are enough to grind out a win.

It’s telling that their only loss so far in this season of APEX was against the defending champions Lunatic-Hai. Having suffered a reverse sweep defeat against them in the season 2 final RunAway seemed overly wary of Lunatic-Hai and suffered for it. For their own part Lunatic-Hai have had problems themselves this season, and were eventually knocked out by the other APEX finalists GC Busan, a team RunAway themselves beat 3-2 in the round of sixteen quarter finals.

Going into the APEX season 4 final on October 21st, Runner and his team need to remember that despite GC Busan having knocked out both the defending champions Lunatic-Hai, and season 3 runners up Cloud 9 KongDoo (formerly KongDoo Panthera), they are a team that RunAway can and have beaten. If Runner doesn’t try to over complicate things with new tactics and team compositions, if he allows his team to play their comfort picks, it could well be their time to lift the APEX trophy.

A trip down the Skill Rating rabbit hole.

I really like Overwatch, probably too much for my actual level of skill. I watch professional games, like the recent OGN APEX Season 2, and discuss the character selections and tactics used. I’ve used videos, articles, and podcasts to try and improve my game. I also  just like talking about Overwatch, from its convoluted and occasionally contradictory fiction to the design of its characters; I can talk for hours about how fascinating I find the design of my favourites like Ana, Zarya, and Zenyatta.

I avoided playing competitive Overwatch for the initial season, I wanted to wait until the quirks were worked out. I finally started playing with my Overwatch group mate in season 2. We’d queue as pair, one of us tank the other support; usually D.Va and Lucio; I got shouted at in team chat for picking Ana on Dorado attack during one match. It was a thrilling if occasionally frustrating time, and after only a few hours of play we topped out with a Skill Rating (SR) in the 1800s (high Silver) by the time the season ended. I felt confidant that with some work we could break the 2000 barrier and reach Gold tier.

With the changes to how SR functioned in season 3 it was no surprise that we placed lower initially, around the 1200 mark (Bronze). Again playing mostly as a tank and healer pairing, we finally reentered Silver, but the games were a little more frequently frustrating. We’d also ended end up playing more often when the other wasn’t available. Together we closed out the season with an SR in the 1500s (low Silver).

Former Olympic weightlifter Aleksandra “Zarya” Zaryanova uses projected barriers on herself and her allies to channel incoming fire into increased damage.

Since season 3 I’ve really started to focus on a core of characters, ones I find: mechanically interesting, enjoyable to play, and that can be useful in most compositions. Those are Zarya, Ana, and Zenyatta.

Zarya is a secondary tank, she projects barriers around herself and her allies that can absorb all forms of incoming damage. These barriers last for 2 seconds or 200 health before dissipating, each point of damage absorbed is redirected into increased power for her particle cannon. At 100% charge the particle cannon is one of the most power weapons in the game, able to burn through nearly 200 hit points per second. Her own hit points are made up of 200 health and 200 shields, the latter of which recharges after a period of taking no damage. She plays best as with an aggressive style, taking a few hits to her shields before deploying a bubble and using the redirected energy to burn through the enemy. Her Ultimate ability, Graviton Surge, is a launched projectile that pulls all enemies within 8 meters together into a single point, setting them up for a multi-kill. This is especially powerful when paired with one of the direct damage Ultimates of the rest of your team.

A support sniper, Ana uses her rifle to shoot health into her allies and inflict brief damage over time to her enemies. Her Biotic Grenade can be thrown to increase the healing applied to any allies it hits, and prevent healing on any enemies. Many characters in Overwatch have self-healing abilities and being able to shut them down allows Ana’s team to focus fire and kill them rapidly. She can also fire a Sleep Dart that will knock out an enemy for 5 seconds, this can be used to cancel an enemy Ultimate, take opponents out of a fight temporarily, or as a last second defense when Ana is being attacked. The victim of the dart will wake again if they take any damage, making it a risky proposition when you cannot communicate your target to your team. Ana’s Ultimate is a Nano Boost that can be fired at a teammate to increase both their damage output and damage resistance for several seconds. When used on the right target this can be game changing, allowing a team to push through an entrenched defense or repel a dedicated attack.

Zenyatta is a combination of support and DPS, his standard attack is a projectile that flies fast with a flat trajectory and low spread, making it easy to target enemies. In addition he can throw out an Orb of Harmony and an Orb of Discord. The former attached to allies healing them for 30 hit points per second, provided Zenyatta can maintain line-of-sight. The latter attaches to enemies and increases the damage they take from all sources by 30%, again provided Zenyatta can maintain line-of-sight. Targeting an enemy tank with an Orb of Discord can be devastating, causing even a Reinhardt to go down quickly. His Ultimate, Transcendence, makes Zenyatta immune from all damage for several seconds while increasing his movement speed and healing all allies within 10m for 300 hit points per-second. This Ultimate can also be used to block line-of-sight for enemies, any damage that would be inflicted on teammates behind a transcendent Zenyatta will instead be absorbed.

For a variety of reasons we weren’t able to maintain our group for competitive this season, though we still play quick play and arcade. So I entered the placement matches on my own. Ana is a difficult character to play, but I’d worked at it for over thirteen hours and felt that I was above average for the level of play I was at. So she was my focus. I lost the first placement match which wasn’t the best experience, but then followed a win, and a draw. Eventually with all ten placement matches done I had another several hours on Ana, alongside time on Tracer and Zarya when needed to rush to a point or provide a tank that could help keep our DPS heavy team alive. By the time the game revealed my SR for season 4 I was sitting on three losses, one draw, and six wins, which resulted in starting Bronze with an SR of 1191, a full 500 lower than my final rating at the end of the previous season. Disappointing, though I understood that Blizzard’s desire was for people to start low and work their way up to their “true SR”.

A support sniper Ana Amari (mother of Fareeha Amari, aka Pharah), literally shots health into her teammates. She also looks like a Metal Gear Solid character.

My first few games went about as expected, there were some losses, a larger number of wins (some unfortunately due to leavers on the opposing team), and after a day I had reached an SR of 1323, still Bronze, but closer to where I had started last season. Furthermore I had received praise from several other players about my Ana play. I never got a Play Of The Match, as a healer that was entirely expected, but my general stats for Ana were good for the level of play. Also I had never had a single person complain about my selecting Ana.

I can’t say I was playing the best I have, but there were some games where I really do feel I was working as hard as I ever have. This is especially true of one game on Route 66 where one of our team left a few minutes into our attack. Somehow our team of five managed to push the payload all the way to within 20m of the final point. Then we had to defend again as a team of 5 verses a team of 6. At the request of my team, who had earned my respect with their tenacity and been polite and calm in team chat throughout, I switched to a DPS so we could build our 5 person team around a pair of tanks, a pair of DPS and a single healer. I picked up Pharah, the DPS character I have most experience with, and we did what we could. We forced the enemy team into overtime but eventually failed to stop the payload. An incredible game with one of the best teams I’ve played with, it was still demoralising to lose in a situation like that. But, I didn’t let it affect me, or so I thought.

Then, something happened.

The next day I started playing again and everything seemed to go wrong. Each match was a loss, often in what felt like one-sided fights. Team mates would shout at each other in the chat, complaining over character picks, and tactics. Everything seemed to spiral downward. I wasn’t immune to this urge to blame others, especially during one match on Lijiang Tower. As Zenyatta I was matched with our Roadhog for the most eliminations on our team after the first round. It was only 4 but that just made it feel worse as this was on a team with a Soldier 76 and a Genji, two dedicated DPS characters. We changed our composition but still managed to lose that match.

The next match I tried to make sure I selected a character that would fit our composition, so with a Reinhardt, and several defense and support characters on Dorado defense I picked up Soldier 76; a character I’m not great with but which I felt fit best for the composition we had. The moment we’d begun setting up our defenses our Reinhardt switched to a Mei leaving us without a tank. We struggled to defend the first two points, and by the time we were pushed back into the final area I checked my statistics for that game and found I had the most healing of anybody on our team, at a meager 900. This was with a Zenyatta on our team, a character who had been instantly picked when the game started. I lost it, I shouldn’t have, but I tilted. I typed an angry message about it in the team chat passively aggressively berating the Zenyatta for never healing. It was particularly frustrating as somebody who’s spent hours trying to learn how best to play Zenyatta; I would have gladly taken that role if they hadn’t wanted to be a healer and said so. Our team dissolved into a mess and another loss.

I should have stopped playing, I should have taken a break and calmed down. I didn’t. I kept playing, and kept losing, and unsurprisingly I was always able to find a reason for our loss besides myself. By the time I finally quit out of the last match (yes, I had become the very thing I hated), I had dropped to an SR or 924.

Omnic monk Tekhartha Zenyatta uses buffs and debuffs to support his team. He can also deal a fair amount of damage, but has the lowest health of any character in the game.

I don’t usually care about numerical indicators in games, numbers getting bigger holds little sway. Unfortunately, I want to get better at Overwatch. This investment has caused a lot of emotion to become wrapped up in my SR rank. I’m aware enough of my own abilities to never expect to make it to Platinum or Diamond, but I feel that I should be able to reach low Gold, or high Silver at the least.

I might conceptually understand how the game is played at a high level, but that’s not where I’m playing. What I feel are the correct choices are leading me into plays I don’t fully understand, that simply don’t work without the full support of my team. This desire to apply “collective wisdom” to a situations where it doesn’t fit is a theme in Bronze. A lot of people will request that a team form a 2-2-2 composition: two tanks, two DPS, and two healers. Yet usually when we would lose it’s to teams that weren’t running that composition. At this level Junkrat and Mei (both defence characters) are devastating, yet whenever anybody picked one they’d provoke somebody’s ire. The “meta” of Bronze is very different to that of higher level play. This has been the biggest shock to me, the difference in play between Bronze and Silver is significant. The best matches I had in Overwatch were as I was approaching Gold , getting back there is going to be a slog, and may not even be possible.

More “common wisdom” is that if I simply wanted to gain SR I should focus on playing a character like Pharah, or Junkrat. Both character who are very difficult to deal with at this level of play. I have experience with both, but it’s hard to bring myself to play somebody simply to gain SR rather than to improve at that character. I enjoy the game most when I’m improving with a character I find mechanically interesting. But a win for me, is a win for everybody else on my team too. So, in the end does it matter if that’s a win as Pharah, or a win as Ana? Can’t I just push to get out of low SR so I can focus on Ana again once I’m out at a place where the style of player is conductive to it?

Ana is a complicated hero to play, possibly one of the hardest to master in the game. Her kit is all about providing utility to others rather than inflict damage herself. I enjoy that sense of responsibility, the need to multi-task. Sadly, as with many of the support characters she operates best in a team that understands how she functions. As an Ana I can heal from a long distance provided I have line-of-sight, which means that I can’t heal the Genji who keeps running off behind a wall. I understood that not everybody has gone as deep on the mechanics of Overwatch as I have, I know it can be necessary to switch characters mid-game, and I do. Though it’s hard to escape the notion that my very desire to switch my character to fit the team composition has had a negative impact on my own SR. Overall I have five hours of play on Ana this season, and a 60% win rate; compared to an overall win rate of 46% after ten hours of play. It’s hard not to see that and think I should just focus on Ana regardless of the team composition.

I want to get better at playing Ana, but that’s difficult to do in games where my team is so spread out that I can’t even see them, let alone prioritise my healing targets. I am getting better at using Ana’s Sleep Dart though, as without the support of a team it’s the only defence I have against being flanked.

My play times for Season 4, as of April 16th 2017.

For now, I’ve managed to claw my way back up to 1067. Thanks, in no small part to a good team, and some hard work as Zarya and Winston, that helped us win a match on Dorado while down a player. I’ve barely played Ana since I dropped into the 900s, but I have spent time on both Zarya and Zenyatta. The former is very strong in Bronze, I’ve encountered a lot of players who either don’t understand how her abilities work, or who simply underestimated her damage output when charged. Every D.Va I’ve encountered has attempted to block my primary fire with their Defence Matrix only to see their mech destroyed in a matter of seconds. As enjoyable as this brutal efficiency can be, I don’t feel I’m getting better with her, merely exploiting the fact that I’m facing opponents who don’t know how to deal with her.

Losing 300 SR in a few hours is not a pleasant experience. It shouldn’t matter. It does. At Bronze and low Silver, 300 SR can make the difference between being able to work with a team who understand and appreciates the power of an Ana or Zenyatta, and one who makes those characters all but impossible to play.