Note: this preview (and possibly the next) won’t have a featured team, due to unforeseen issues. Since the last article already had to be delayed by a day, I decided that it would be best to get the full series out as soon as possible, rather than delay them any further. Sorry for any disappointment this might have caused, but hopefully it’s an enjoyable read nonetheless!
With three of the four teams boasting star DPS duos, group C will likely come down to a battle of the carries. If the various DPS stars on display in the group are able to maintain their form throughout the group stage, viewers should expect intense back and forth skirmishes, with skilled Roadhogs, Genjis and Soldier 76es aplenty.
At first glance, Cloud 9 and Afreeca seem to be the favorites to advance to the second round of group play, but that shouldn’t be taken for granted by any means. Considering the rumors that Kongdoo Uncia have considerably levelled up during the offseason period, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see them overtake group C’s theoretical frontrunners.
Meanwhile, CONBOX Spirit seem to be the odd team out, as they boast neither the pedigree’d DPS duos, nor the past tournament results that the other three teams do.
Despite the seeming difference between the top 3 teams and CONBOX, fans shouldn’t write this group’s results off as set just yet. After all, if the playoffs of Apex’s inaugural season taught us anything, it’s that any team could pull an upset and take home the title.
Afreeca Freecs Blue
Afreeca Blue are somewhat of an odd team, as they’ve only lost to the eventual winners of whatever event they’ve attended, from September 2016 to the start of Apex season 2. Despite making it to the finals last season, Afreeca Blue’s roster has been divisive among fans, with many suggesting that they faced a much easier side of the playoff bracket.
Throughout season 1 of the Apex league, the team’s support players were pointed out as glaring weak points. Due to this glaring weakness in their roster, combined with their crushing defeat in the tournament’s finals, it became a common sentiment that Afreeca Blue were far too reliant on their star DPS players.
Judging by the fact that Afreeca Blue has two new faces filling the support roles this season, it would seem that the team’s management agreed with the community’s assessment of their performance.
With their newly revamped roster, Afreeca Blue will be looking to prove that their run in the first season was more than just luck, and that they deserve their current top four ranking among Korean teams.
Players to watch
Due to their crucial role in Afreeca Blue’s victories, Jeong “ArHan” Weon-hyeop,and Jeong “Recry” Taek-hyun are the first of many DPS duos to watch in group C. During his time on Korea’s Overwatch World Cup team, ArHan made a spectacle of his Genji mastery. Due to his game winning dragon blades and smart dives, Afreeca’s merciless assassin made a name for himself as a contender for the hotly contested title of best Genji player.
As the meta game shifted away from his signature Genji pick, Arhan opted to widen his horizons, and added D.va to his arsenal. Using his ability to switch between the roles of off-tank and assassin at a moment’s notice, ArHan was pivotal in shutting down enemy DPS players.
In the few places that ArHan falls short, Recry is there to pick up the slack. Having always played slightly unorthodox DPS picks such as Mei, Pharah or Roadhog, Recry is the perfect foil to his partner. While Arhan’s hot-headed aggressive style reaps havoc throughout the enemy’s ranks, Recry pressures the enemy DPS players into giving him their full attention, all while keeping a cool and calculated expression.
When the two come together, ArHan and Recry’s impeccable synergy can overwhelm even the most experienced of teams, if they make the mistake of facing Afreeca Freecs Blue unprepared.
Cloud 9 is considered one of the most prestigious organizations in North American Esports, and their Overwatch team is no exception. While EnvyUs was away for the first season of Apex, Cloud 9 had seeming free reign of the North American circuit, as they won all four online events that they entered over the two month period. Once Envy returned to North America, the two teams met at the MLG Vegas semifinals, where Cloud 9 lost 0-3.
Despite stellar results in weekly and monthly events online, Cloud 9’s Overwatch squad ended up in a disappointing 9th place at the Overwatch Open, due to another loss at the hands of Envyus. Since their loss at the Overwatch Open, C9 also suffered upset losses in the qualifier for Dreamhack Winter, meaning a missed opportunity to prove themselves at a live event. Although they qualified to face off against other North American talents in the Overwatch Winter Premier league, Cloud 9 dropped out before the main event began, in favor of joining the Apex league by invitation.
A trend seems to have emerged among Cloud 9’s players, where they look dominant in lower stakes online tournaments, but seem to choke when facing those same teams in high-pressure qualifiers or LAN events. Considering the fact that they’ll have to face both entirely new teams, as well as an entirely new meta during their time in the Apex league, this will likely be a make or break tournament when it comes to Cloud 9’s seeming issues with pressure.
Players to watch
Newly appointed flex player Lane “Surefour” Roberts has been vital in Cloud 9’s successes over the months leading up to their arrival at Apex season 2. While most Soldier 76 players are able to wipe out the enemy team with a combination of their own auto-aiming ultimate combined with Ana’s empowering nano boost, Cloud 9 will often get the job done with only the nano boost. Thanks to his near-exact tracking aim, Surefour will often opt to manually aim to wipe the enemy while nano boosted, so that his teammates can charge a second Ana ultimate faster.
Cloud 9’s other standout player is Surefour’s fellow former DPS player Lucas “Mendokusaii” Håkansson. Despite being only sixteen years old, Mendokusaii has looked like one of the brightest talents in North America, ever since his addition to the roster in October 2016. Although he started out as a skilled DPS for the team, Cloud 9’s Swedish prodigy has since primarily become a Zarya or D.va player. Despite his change in roles, Mendokusaii still brings his excellent aim and reflexes to the table, making him a huge front line damage threat for his team.
During Apex season 1, Kongdoo were one of the only organizations who could boast that both of their sister teams were in the main competition. Out of Kongdoo’s two teams, Uncia made it to the playoff stage with a 2-1 record, while Panthera dropped out of the competition with a record of 1-2.
In their quarterfinal match, Kongdoo Uncia managed to deliver a 3-0 upset against tournament favorites Lunatic Hai, thanks to their excellent early read of the emerging meta game at the time. While other teams were still experimenting with picks such as Pharah, Uncia had already started to run Roadhog and Soldier 76 as their DPS duo.
In the semifinals, Kongdoo’s remaining team met up with EnvyUs, who had by now also adopted the 3-4 tank playstyle. Despite Kongdoo Uncia’s best efforts, opposing Flex player Mickie’s Disabling presence on D.va was too much, as he consistently denied attempts to engage, and lead his team to a 3-2 victory.
Having placed second at their two tournament appearance since Apex season 1, Kongdoo Uncia are looking to be a respectable threat, if somewhat of a known quantity.
Players to watch
One of the leading factors behind Kongdoo Uncia’s success in their first season is their DPS duo of Kim “DNCE” Se Yong (pronounced dance), and Kim “Birdring” Ji Hyuk. As DNCE systematically lays siege to the enemy front lines on Soldier 76, Birdring provides constant picks on enemy supports and damage dealers, using Roadhog’s hook. Thanks to their efficiency in eliminating targets, several analysts have suggested that these two players are one of, if not the best DPS duos in Korea.
Considering they’ll have the chance to face off against the likes of both Cloud 9’s Surefour and Mendokusaii, and Afreeca Blue’s Arhan and Recry, Kongdoo Uncia’s duo could make a compelling case for themselves by coming out on top of group C.
As the other teams in group C will be aiming to trade blows between their star DPS duos, CONBOX Spirit will simply be looking to weather the storm. Unlike their group stage competition, CONBOX Spirit’s strength lies in their resilient tank players, rather than the explosive Genji or Soldier 76 players that other rosters boast.
Unfortunately for them, CONBOX Spirit were barely denied entry into last season’s playoff bracket, after losing a series that both went to five games, and saw three down to the wire tiebreakers. As if to add insult to injury, the playoff matches featured a tank heavy meta game, which CONBOX would have been likely to excel in.
Following the disappointing results of their first season, CONBOX’s star flex player Kim “Zunba” Joon Hyuk decided to take his talents to a more successful team, leaving his former squad with one less star to rely on.
With Zunba no longer on the roster, CONBOX spirit will have to embrace their strengths in the current meta game, if they hope to overcome the challenges that their competition are sure to present.
Players to watch
After being benched from his position on Fnatic’s League of Legends team, Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-jin took a break from practicing, in favor of playing Overwatch and other games in his free time. As his break went on, fans started to take notice of Gamsu’s quickly rising competitive rank, which spawned jokes that he might opt to move on to competitive Overwatch, since he clearly had a knack for it.
A few months later, Gamsu is now the team captain of Conbox Spirit, thanks to his dependable play on tanks. Having played tanks for several years in League of Legends, Gamsu has an excellent understanding of the fundamental workings of the role in a team, even if he may not have all of Overwatch’s nuances mastered.
Although his Reinhardt is more than serviceable, Gamsu’s skill manifests itself much more on Winston. This discrepancy in skill may be partly due to the fact that Winston’s dive-heavy disrupting style is similar to the bruisers that would commonly be seen in the top lane in League of Legends, while Reinhardt’s shield-heavy protective role may be more akin to the game’s tanky supports.
Due to Reinhardt currently being a virtual must-pick hero in competitive play, Gamsu will need to adapt to the game’s more supportive requirements over the coming season. With former co-star Zunba notably absent, CONBOX’s captain can no longer afford the luxury of picking Winston that his former teammate’s impeccable synergy on Zarya allowed.