The second-versus-third-seed matches usually provide fireworks in playoffs, and the match between Athletico and Melbourne Mavericks was no exception.
The wily but experienced Athletico squad leapfrogged their Group A counterparts Blank Esports in the final week of regular season with a 2-1 victory to qualify second in their group. Off the back of super sub Micro, they were able to fill the void left by Termo successfully in the second half of the season thanks in part to the players combined experience at the top level.
However, for Eevee, the team’s main support, LAN wasn’t always on the cards. “When we first formed the team, I didn’t expect to make it far at all because of how casually we practiced.”
On the other hand, the grind to LAN has been bitterly long for the Mavericks, who have fallen at the last hurdle once before in Season 2 against Sydney Drop Bears. Plummeting to third in Group B after a 4-0 pummeling by the hands of ORDER, the young squad which had stuck together through thick and thin were looking to finally make it to LAN after a year trying.
The series started off favourably for them too, with Mavericks taking the first point of Nepal – Shrine – 100-99. It was a scrappy back and forth battle right from the start, but the Mavericks took out the first fight and all the momentum, forcing Athletico onto the back foot.
Swapping Minny onto Winston for Sanctum, the Mavericks were able to get the early lead and were looking down the barrel of securing a 2-0. However, the lack of forward pressure and presence meant that once Athletico took control, it could never be regained, as they took the round 100-69.
Onto the final point of Village, it was Athletico with the early momentum as Forbles was caught out by Gob’s Reinhardt, however a quick flip at 29% stemmed the bleeding for the Mavericks.
It was short lived as Athletico flipped back at 21% after turning the fight around. While control of the point did change a couple more times, Gob cleaved his way to a 5k at the end of the round off the back of a crucial Signed Graviton Surge, giving Athletico the map.
Mavericks looked to set things straight on Numbani, after Nox’s Zarya stalled out the first fight on Athletico’s push while Fluro’s Lucio beat on the second managed to buy time before the inevitable capture with two minutes to go.
They did not let up the pressure though. Fighting early and often was the key to the Mavericks’ defense on Numbani, as they kept contesting the cart and keeping Athletico on their toes. A decisive shatter from Gob managed to break the deadlock, but not without whittling down the timebank of Athletico to just over two minutes for the third phase.
Clip: Oily took to the skies before dropping a bomb onto Athletico, wiping out the squad and securing a successful defense for the Mavericks on Numbani.
Just as momentum looked in their favour though, a swift knockout at the hands of a Korean gaming superstar put the brakes on immediately. Thanks to a perfectly timed Minny Shatter, Oily’s Self Destruct cleared out five, and with less than 15 seconds on the clock, Athletico weren’t able to recontest as they fell just under 5 meters short of completion.
This strength from the Mavericks is something not seen in previous seasons, and for Athletico was a concern heading into the match.
“The Mavericks have been amazing all season, only getting stronger each week, and because of this we were all extremely nervous going into the match.”
Nox’s Zarya again came up huge on Numbani First, this time on Mavericks’ attack, as he was able to charge up an early Graviton Surge after picking off Signed early and free hitting the rest of Athletico. While they didn’t win the first fight, they won the second fight off the back of it, and set up the rest of the round with the momentum.
While they were relatively uncontested on the second phase, they were challenged on the third phase as Athletico put in a last ditch defense. However, the extra timebank of four and a half minutes was too much for Athletico to contest, as the Mavericks eventually overwhelmed the squad and took out Numbani to tie things up.
After half time though, Athletico looked like a revitalised squad. Their first defense on Hanamura was solid, but the Mavericks were still able to cap out early in their attack. However, where the squad really shined was on Hanamura Second.
A mindset refresh was all they needed, said Eevee. “Even though we dropped a map,we were able to stay positive and maintain a healthy mindset throughout the match, which contributed heavily to our success.”
Signed’s Zarya had been charging for the entire series, and hit the metaphorical “100 Energy” level of carrying going into the second point. After stalling out the Mavericks for 90 seconds on their snowball fight, he was able to keep his team safe with crucial bubbles and Gravitons as the Mavericks were unable to get a tick on the board in their six minute assault.
While it took Athletico a bit longer to get out of the blocks with their own attack, with only 4:45 in the timebank after the first point, they certainly came into the second point all guns blazing. Signed put on his smurfing hat, as he managed to tear apart the Mavericks defense just as it looked gloomy for Athletico, getting a 4k and the cap almost solo as Athletico took the map.
— Path to Pro Community (@Contenders_OW) January 8, 2019
Subbing in for Micro just for the quarter final, the region’s best Zarya certainly lived up to his name on Hanamura, and Eevee had nothing but praise for the ANZ veteran.
“We’re lucky that Signed had played with a few of our players before, so this allowed him to easily slide into the team without ruining any cohesion. Coupled with his skill on Zarya, I think he single handedly carried some fights, especially on Hanamura,” she said.
From there, only one map remained in the way of LAN for Athletico, and with the diesel engine finally fired up, nothing was going to stop them. Route 66 was the do-or-die map, and the scene was set.
Gob charged up a fast Earth Shatter on the Athletico, as well as blocking Minny’s counter Shatter, as Athletico rolled through the first point with ease. They kept the momentum going, but a prolonged fight on the second phase ended up favouring the Mavericks even after Nox’s Graviton got eaten by xZoL.
However, it was Signed’s Gravitons that were stealing the show, with clutch ultimate after clutch ultimate keeping the cart going for the Athletico squad, capping out the map with 47 seconds on the clock.
Athletico brought the same aggressive defense that worked out for the Mavericks on Numbani to Route 66, and it paid dividends. Stalling the Mavericks out for a minute at the spawn gates, they then recontested under the arch with their ultimate advantage to take more time out of the clock.
While it looked like Mavericks were going to be full held, a few misplays from Athletico – including Signed throwing away a crucial Graviton Surge into nothingness – meant that the Mavericks were able to keep the dream alive.
In overtime in the second phase, Minny came up with a huge Earth Shatter to send Athletico back to the spawn room and give the Mavericks one last chance with only 1:30 on the clock to push through the second phase. Gob shattered away any hope for the squad though, as the Mavericks failed to reset on the third phase, giving game-set-and-match to Athletico.
For Eevee, it’s a monumental moment for her. Qualifying for LAN means she’s the first female to make the semi finals of Contenders around the world, and the first female player to play on LAN during the tournament.
“It feels amazing exceeding everybody’s expectations and being the first female to qualify for a Contenders LAN,” she said.
While they have a tough matchup against ORDER ahead of them, she’s still holding out hope for a good performance.
“I’m doubtful we’ll win against them, but I’m hoping we’ll take at least one map. Overall, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to even go to LAN, and I’m hoping to inspire other girls to try and make it pro too.”
The dream doesn’t stop there though. “After this recent LAN achievement, I’m hoping to practice and improve more while moving into the next Contenders season with my team.”
In the other playoffs matches, ORDER and the Drop Bears cruised through against Mindfreak and Breakaway respectively, while Blank came up blank against HEIST as the new squad swept away the storied org to qualify for their first LAN.
ORDER died only 16 times during their brutal thrashing of a weakened Mindfreak, who were missing D.Va player Christoph for the crucial series. While sub plihS performed well, the skill cap between ORDER and Mindfreak was noticable as ORDER cleanly locked up their second LAN appearance.
The Drop Bears chance of making the perfect season a reality got one game closer against Breakaway too, maintaining their perfect 23-0 map record heading into LAN. With Babyporo back in for the Breakaway squad, the reigning champions made light work of Breakaway to qualify for their third consecutive LAN.
HEIST, however, were making sure everyone took notice of them before LAN, with a dominant 3-0 over Blank. A squad of misfits at the start of the season has morphed into a very real threat for LAN under Choco, as they look to turn heads against the Drop Bears and hopefully make the final in their first time at LAN.
Overwatch Contenders Australia Playoffs wrap up on January 20, with the LAN Semi Finals and Grand Final. Games start at 11am AEDT, with Sydney Drop Bears taking on HEIST first. You can catch the action live on the Overwatch Contenders Twitch.