After a two week hiatus to eat a lot of food, watch Australia get thrashed in the cricket and drink the new year in, Contenders Australia is gearing up for a thrilling week of action in the lead up to the LAN Finals.
For all eight teams in the playoffs, the months of effort before this moment are ready to bear fruit. No matter if a team was slow out of the blocks in regular season or on blistering form, everything is reset heading into the final two weeks of action – and anything can happen.
While some teams were expected to make playoffs from the start, surprise entries have arisen as the season progressed. Contenders rookies Mindfreak became the first team in Australia to go from Open Division to Contenders (excluding Season 1), while Breakaway defied most expectations to make it out of Group B.
With the final games before LAN ahead of us, I’ve enlisted the help of Contenders Australia caster Kale “Genome” Morton and Contenders Pacific caster Kevin “AVRL” Walker to break down the quarter final matchups of Contenders Australia Season 3.
Sydney Drop Bears v Breakaway Esports
Ducky: Two-time champions, two-time perfect season achievers, and half of the Australian World Cup team. Versus some breakaway boys. Who wins?
While I’m rooting hard for an underdog story like no other, it’ll take some miracle for it to actually eventuate for Breakaway Esports. After putting in their best season yet in Group B, where a lot of people doubted their ability to get out, they have the unfortunate duty of being the first stop for the Drop Bears pain train.
In saying that though, the Drop Bears are coming in having lost their coach, main tank, and off tank over the course of the season, and Breakaway have been coming up and up. The Drop Bears’ close scare against Legacy in Week 4 will give Breakaway hopes of taking at least a map, but again, it’s extremely unlikely.
The best result for Breakaway here would be taking the experience of the game into Season 1 2019, where they are finally looking to establish themselves as a competitive team in Australian Overwatch.
Clip: Hus has been the Drop Bears’ MVP throughout Season 3, with great Zarya, McCree and Widowmaker play every week. This Graviton Surge against Mindfreak was one of his best.
Genome: Sydney Drop Bears will be extremely happy with their 20-0 record considering the amount of chopping and changing their roster has undergone this season. Losing first Trill, then Face and now Punk has left them with wounds, but these should be repaired by the time they face more challenging opposition in the semi-finals and finals.
As to be expected in the first-versus-fourth-seed matches, SDB go into this as heavy favourites and Breakaway have essentially zero pressure on them. Although they improved their results from Season 1 to Season 2, and a glance seem to have performed better than the bottom 3 in Group A, these playoffs seem destined to have a similar result to last time, with a quick 3-0 exit.
AVRL: The Drop Bears have once again finished the regular season with a perfect record of 20-0, and despite losing two players and a coach, they seem on track to defend their title again at LAN. The defending champions had no issues filling all three positions and their results so far are unhampered. While this season has seen the greatest quantity (and quality) of departures so far, the effect of the changes will not be truly tested until further into the playoffs.
This unfortunately doesn’t bode well for Breakaway Esports. This is the second playoffs appearance for the team but despite the repeat success of qualifying they once again face off against a tournament favourite in the quarterfinal.
The roster after two seasons are now established in the region as a middle of the pack team but will need to make another leap to break into the next tier. Time however has run short for the team and that leap will have to wait until next season.
Ducky: There are two key things that are going to play into this series – HEIST’s ability to stand up to high pressure games, versus Blank’s individual playoffs experience.
HEIST proved to Australia that they can take it to the best, beating ORDER in an intense best of 5 in Week 2. While the ORDER we saw then has improved drastically now, it shouldn’t discount how valuable a win that was for HEIST. While they did fall to the Mavericks in regular season, the win against ORDER was monumental.
On the other hand, Blank are coming off a loss against Athletico, a game they expected to win. The one thing the roster has going for them is their experience. Tongue and Kura have both played in Contenders grand finals, while Tails, Roro, Knellery and Nozz have been in playoffs in almost every season of Contenders.
I rate HEIST’s ability to stand up to high pressure, and Choco’s coaching, more than the experience of Blank to take HEIST to a LAN in their first season as a team.
Clip: Roro’s Pharah has been a crucial element of Blank’s success in Season 3, and there is no better example of how dominant it can be than their Numbani defense against Athletico in Week 5.
Genome: This seems like a matchup with a lot of swing potential. On paper (do we change this saying to on pixels one day?) it seems like it should be a close contest. HEIST have been somewhat inconsistent throughout the season, hitting dizzying highs like beating ORDER, but then dropping or drawing maps to every other team. Blank similarly have been criticised for not walking the walk and going down to Athletico in the final week of the regular season.
The nitty gritty of this match I find interesting due to Blank’s insistence on mixing up their compositions more than other teams, especially favouring a Sombra/Pharah style. This can spectacular in its domination of GOATS if they can achieve a full-hold (as seen on Numbani against Athletico in Week 5), but according to stats from OWL coaches, a player loses 65% of fights after swapping a hero, let alone a team swapping multiple heroes.
As this specialist composition is rarely viable across all 3 points of an escort or hybrid map, it does make them susceptible to snowballs on defense, or losing momentum on the attack. Map picks and what Blank have chosen to spend their holidays practicing will be key to this matchup.
AVRL: This is a match up between two teams that have run very similar narratives over the course of the season. Both teams formed from a core two members of a returning roster, both teams bolstered by the addition of strong up and coming players from other rosters, both teams rounded off with a veteran player returning from absence.
Both have run parallel to each other across the season, but with Blank’s recent loss to Athletico, an unexpected collision course has been set as two lines must now intersect. Where HEIST have managed to succeed in upsetting a group favourite, Blank have been on the receiving end with an upset loss to a team they were expected to beat.
Blank now have the opportunity to reflect on this loss and come out stronger on the other side or fall under the weight of expectation again. This is likely to be the closest and most highly contested match of the quarterfinals and regardless of the result, it will mark the end of a disappointing and early finish for one of our two teams.
Ducky: Mindfreak have come a long way. With literally zero games of Contenders experience between the lineup – with only one player previously being on a Contenders team – they have managed to scrape into playoffs after their 3-1 win over Legacy in Week 5. Players like Christoph, Goobs and Coolwhhip have looked superb, and I will be keeping a keen eye out for them in Season 1 2019.
However, like Breakaway, they have to face what I consider to be the LAN favourites ORDER in the quarter final. Not only that, they’ll be without their off tank Christoph, with philS subbing in for one hell of a Season 3 debut.
ORDER are coming in on hot form, not dropping a map in the last three weeks of action and looking insanely scary doing so. They toyed with then-first place Mavericks like a bunch of bronzes in a sub-1 hour slaughterfest, and one can only expect them to get scarier as they look to make their first grand final in the roster’s history.
May they say God save the Queen, because nothing can save Mindfreak.
Clip: ORDER made light work of Mavericks with brilliant team play and wonderful execution. If they can keep this up, they will be one of the favourites to take it all and break multiple curses at once.
Genome: ORDER have looked indomitable of late. Their decimation of the Mavericks was nothing short of total brutality, and this “take no prisoners” mentality is a whetting stone that will help a team down the line when they come up against their more troublesome opponents (read: SDB).
Mindfreak deserve a round of applause for notching up a win against Legacy in Week 5, but I don’t imagine there will be much to cheer them on about in this series. If ORDER maintain or improve this form over the next month, there’s every chance they can stop the Drop Bears from fulfilling their dream of a clean sweep in Seasons 1 – 3 here in Australia.
AVRL: With high expectation on their shoulders as group favourites, ORDER unsurprisingly qualified for playoffs once again. As one of the teams most heavily shaken up by the preseason roster shuffle, ORDER have seemed to only bolster their strengths built upon two season’s worth of LAN appearances.
For the first time in the team’s history they’ve finally topped their group with a first place finish, entering playoffs on a road paved in yellow bricks to the grand finals where the defending champions of Oz await them.
This is a stark contrast to new Contenders entrant Mindfreak who many expected to bottom out this season with a path to relegation. Despite the cinderella story of Mindfreak defeating Legacy Esports, ushering in their miracle entry into playoffs, ORDER are required to win to fulfil the prophecy of one of their two existing LAN curses.
Much like the story of Tainted Minds (now Breakaway Esports) achieving playoffs last season, Mindfreak should be proud of what they’ve already achieved even if their run ends here.
Ducky: I so badly want both of these teams to go to LAN. Athletico are the scene’s veterans, who have proven that quality never quite wanes no matter how “under-prepared” one might be. On the other hand, the Mavericks have been climbing from season to season, sneaking in under the radar as Australia’s so-called “over-achievers”.
Athletico have looked strong in recent weeks with Micro in the line-up on Mei, full holding Sydney Drop Bears on Hanamura and beating Blank 2-1 in Week 5. While Micro won’t be making an appearance, Australia’s best Zarya, Signed, will be, and he could have a decimating impact.
However, the SereNity in me has got a lot of faith in the Mavericks. After being absolutely pummeled by ORDER in Week 5, I expect them to come back without any complacency and on form in what is their most important match in the roster’s history. While the odds are against them, I think they’ll pull through in a great series.
Clip: Minny’s 3k Stagger on Horizon Lunar Colony against Freshman Class was one of the most iconic plays in Contenders Season 3, and the Mavericks will need something equally classy to best Athletico in the quarterfinals.
Genome: With a total of 2 maps being lost by losing teams in the quarterfinals of Contenders Australia so far, this series promises to equal that by itself. Athletico has reportedly approached this season with all the seriousness of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, but that hasn’t stopped them from bowling a couple of strikes along the way.
Athletico have cycled through a few people now in the DPS (just joking) slot, with Termo’s re-retirement bringing on the ever flexible Micro, lending a snowy flavour to their compositions. Now Signed is stepping up to the plate, and he’s in the kind of form on Zarya which makes people pretend they’re having internet problems and quit the lobby they’re so scared of him. The Mavs were one of the first teams to really get the basics of GOATS downpat, but it seems like other teams are catching up, and the lack of carry potential could hold them back. The Mavs definitely have the goodwill of the community at their backs, and if a real hunger for improvement exists, it can carry them all the way to LAN.
AVRL: For a team that puts in less time than any other team of their level in Contenders, Athletico made up for the difference through sheer player skill and experience, a quality often overlooked and underestimated by the rest of the competition. The vast majority of lineup (including substitutes) have top 4 finishes or better from previous seasons of Contenders. The pedigree is certainly there even if this old dog hasn’t learnt any new tricks.
For the Mavericks, every season has been an improvement in results. From finishing fifth place to fourth place and finally third place in their group this season, the trajectory has only been up since their entry but they have yet to qualify into LAN and reach the top 4. Assuming that it isn’t possible to take away first place from ORDER in their group, both the remaining finishing spots would land them into a highly contested quarterfinal regardless.
This season will still give them their best shot yet to make it to LAN but they’re going to have to #MavUp to the next level to achieve it. The good news is regardless of result they’re still number one for team branding.
Overwatch Contenders Australia returns for playoffs on January 7, with Sydney Drop Bears taking on Breakaway in the first LAN qualifier at 11am AEDT. You can catch the action on the Overwatch Contenders Twitch.