Coming in to this matchup, Both teams’ playoff hopes were on the line, albeit to different degrees. For Cloud 9, a second win would guarantee a spot in the round of eight, as CONBOX and Afreeca would both only be capable of 1-2 finishes. As for Afreeca Blue, a win would recover their season, allowing them to fight for second, rather than fight against relegation,in their final game.
Cloud 9 were considered favorites by most fans going in due to superior mechanics, but the majority had not ruled their opponents out. Afreeca were famously talented on control maps throughout season 1, although they were considered below average in other gamemodes. As a result, Blue’s main hopes rode on securing wins on their strong maps, while Cloud 9 aimed to steal those vital wins.
Lijiang tower was a game of inches, as the two squads traded blows over the point throughout the rounds. Cloud 9 started out strong in the first game, thanks to Lucas “Mendokusaii” Håkansson swift reflexes on Tracer, and Randal “Roolf” Stark’s nearly instantaneously charged nano boosts. Although Mendokusaii continued to excel on Soldier 76 in the subsequent rounds, he and his team fell short due to uncharacteristic mistakes. After finally wrestling control back by killing Jeong “ArHaN” Weon Hyeop’s dominating Pharah in both rounds, C9’s players failed to stay on the objective during overtime twice in a row. Thanks to their opponents’ back to back missteps, Afreeca Blue managed to make easy wins out of what could have been closer rounds.
With no control meters to lose track of, Cloud 9 bounced back on Numbani. Both teams started strong by tearinh through the first point using dive comps centered around Pharah and Mercy, but their ensuing pushes were drastically different.
In the North Americans’ case, Mendokusaii swapped Genji for Soldier 76 as his team converted into a lineup with 3 tanks and an Ana, which worked wonders for their push. By using their front line’s damage as a distraction, Cloud 9 were able to repeatedly sneak Mendokusaii behind enemy lines. Once in position, C9’s DPS would delete his unsuspecting enemies using nano visor combos, which allowed his team to get a full push with 3:30 in the bank.
In Afreeca’s case, they chose to keep their combative core of Pharah, Mercy, and Reaper. For the early streets phase, this choice seemed to be doing wonders for the Korean squad, as they cruised through Cloud 9’s defenses. Unfortunately for Blue, their aggressive comp was unable to recover after hitting its’ first speed bump. After Jeong “Recry” Taek-hyun was forced off of his signature Pharah, progress came to a complete stop, as Cloud 9 repeatedly gunned his Widowmaker down. With no Ana to provide burst healing, the rest of Afreeca were just as easily focused down, resulting in a 2-3 loss.
Game 3 was nothing short of chaos, as C9 bounced between looking polished and coordinated, to utterly lost, seemingly without warning. After starting out strong with a 3 DPS lineup, Cloud 9’s stamina petered out after rampaging through A, and getting B 2/3 captured. Following their initial burst, the American squad seemed lost trying to find an in, as they repeatedly threw themselves towards the objective. This tactic ended up going disastrously, as it took another five minutes for Cloud 9 to fill their control meter.
After masterfully stalling their opponents’ blitz, Afreeca’s attack further reinforced their reputation as control map juggernauts. With Bae “DongHyun” Dong HyuN’s D.Va at their helm, the Freecs razed Cloud 9’s defenses, dropping only two kills during their crusade.
With an entire 6 minutes banked compared to their opponents’ 60 seconds, the time bank rounds looked to be an easy victory lap for Afreeca. Despite the odds, Cloud 9 managed to pull off a miracle in their attacking round, before falling short at the last second. With only a minute to work with, Daniel “Gods” Graeser managed to deliver a stellar performance on Genji, which almost earned his team control of point B, all in under a minute. Unfortunately for them, Cloud 9 made yet another fatal mistake at the last second. Rather than use their Winston’s shield or sacrifice a teammate to a last ditch self-destruct, all six members opted simply to run away, allowing the overtime meter to count down.
To top off their perplexing game 3 performance, Cloud 9 managed to hold point A for four minutes in their time bank defense, despite having lost in under a minute previously. Unfortunately for C9, this form wasn’t at all matched on point B, as Afreeca bowled over the point completely unopposed.
After two hectic time bank rounds on Volskaya, Afreeca Blue seemed set to reestablish their superiority on Watchpoint: Gibraltar. Cloud 9’s turn on attack started out smoothly, as they effortlessly coasted through the first, and most of the second legs of the map, with four minutes to go. Despite their rolling start, this was as far as C9 managed to get over the rest of the round, as both Recry’s Soldier 76 and Arhan’s Genji suddenly started to excel. Once the payload passed the hangar’s shuttle, Afreeca’s DPS duo were ruthless, as they denied all attempts at progress.
In similar fashion to their first attack on Volskaya, Blue were utterly unstoppable in their assault. For the second game in a row, DongHyun made D.Va look as good as she’d been pre-patch, as Cloud 9 struggled to find an answer. In the end, no answers were found to deal with Afreeca’s mech, as they coasted to a smooth final win.
Following their upset win, Afreeca Blue appear to have narrowly cheated death. Whereas their predicted loss would have meant elimination, Afreeca are now tied with Cloud 9 at 1-1, with the tiebreaker in their favor. As a result, Cloud 9 are now heavy underdogs to make it out of groups, considering they’ll have to overcome KongDoo Uncia’s esteemed roster to do so. On the other hand, Afreeca can now clinch the second seed by beating CONBOX Spirit’s so far run-of-the-mill lineup in their final game.
Cover photo via OGN GLOBAL (twitch.tv/ognglobal)