Although both teams had lost convincingly to KongDoo Uncia (who had already clinched first place in the group), their difference in map score versus Cloud 9 painted a worrying picture for CONBOX’s hopes for the season. Considering Afreeca had won their game against the North American squad with a score of 3-1, while KongDoo had lost with a reversed score of 1-3, the former seemed favored to win.
Previous performances aside, a win for Afreeca would guarantee safety from relegation matches, as well as put them in good standing to reach playoffs. In CONBOX’s case, a 3-0 or 3-0 win would open tiebreaker possibilities, while anything less would force them to play in relegation matches.
Considering how strong Afreeca Blue had historically been on control and assault maps, they came in to the matchup with high playoffs hopes.
Afreeca drew first blood on Lijiang tower, as they effortlessly took the Control Center. With Bae “DongHyuN” Dong HyuN’s Zarya playing the role of immovable front liner, Afreeca took the first round with a score of 100-0.
CONBOX refused to go quietly into the Night Market, as Noh “Gamsu” Yeong Jin brought in his wheelhouse Winston pick. Led by their captain’s persistent Winston, the entire CONBOX lineup were reinvigorated by their swap to a more aggressive composition. CONBOX’s new strategy came within inches of success, but was ultimately brought down by Afreeca’s DPS duo of Jeong “ArHaN” Weon Hyeop and Jeong “Recry” Taek-hyun, on Tracer and McCree. By showing up just in the nick of time, the two DPS players managed to wipe their opponents out in overtime, earning themselves a 100-99 win in round two.
CONBOX chose Numbani as the second map, presumably due to their struggles on the map in previous series.
CONBOX opened with peculiar single healer comps in both rounds, but managed to look good with both. The attacking comp was a two tank, three DPS lineup featuring Lee “Twilight” Joo Seok -who would normally be playing Ana- on Pharah, who earned himself a rocket barrage triple kill. As for the defensive counterpart, CONBOX ran four tanks and Soldier 76, with Park “Oparochi” Hyun Joon chasing down healers on Winston, rather than play the usual role of the targeted Lucio. The underdogs’ experiments paid dividends in both cases, as they won the map with a dominant full push and full hold.
In a familiar turn of events, AF Blue got to choose the third map, after their third straight loss on Numbani. Unsurprisingly, they chose Volskaya Industries, in the hopes of snagging their third straight win on the map.
Afreeca proved themselves the assault map champions yet again, as they bounced back with an easy 2-0. Blue looked shaky in their assaults on A, as Lee “SleepyBear”Geum Yong’s Roadhog dragged one of their carries to their death before each attack. After finally managing to all evade SleepyBear’s clutches for a fight, Recry was able to make the best of a sloppy engagement, and took down key members using McCree. After looking uncoordinated in their assault on point A, Afreeca’s members rallied behind Recry’s exploits, and worked together to roll through B on their first try. This improved form carried over to Blue’s turn on defense, where they shut down every one of CONBOX’s advances. While ArHan used D.Va to cause havoc on the front lines, DongHyun used Roadhog to hook in and execute DPS members in back of the fight. With the two tanks’ body counts tallied, Afreeca’s remaining four members had an easy time denying their opponents access to the point.
SleepyBear’s Roadhog continued to impress on Route 66, as his strings of executions kept CONBOX at an advantage. By digging his hook into a threat nearly in sync with the ability’s cooldown timer, CONBOX’s new addition allowed them to enter most fights with a man advantage, and leave with the payload moving. Using their superior numbers, CONBOX only dropped a single fight before reaching the map’s final leg. Afreeca Blue’s defenders started to bite back in the final stretch, when Recry returned as McCree. Although both Recry’s McCree and DogHyun’s Roadhog managed to stop their assailants until overtime, both were killed by a flank from Twilight’s Ana. By killing Recry with a series of shots, Twilight removed enough pressure from himself to hit DongHyun with a sleep dart. Once both DPS threats were removed, CONBOX were free to finish both the fight and the round at their leisure.
Similarly to their defense on Numbani, Afreeca’s attack on Route 66 looked uncoordinated. Although each member was performing well individually, ultimates were generally thrown out as soon as they became available, and each member seemed unconcerned with their teammates’ positions or cooldowns. ArHan’s Genji reflected his team’s performance, as he approached every fight like a rabid dog. Rather than calculate risks or take allied ability cooldowns into account, ArHan charged into battle at every opportunity, paying little mind to any abilities outside of his own. In the end, Afreeca’s individual strengths weren’t enough to beat CONBOX’s combination of skill and teamwork, as they ended up a point short of their opponents’ full push.
Afreeca’s teamwork problems persisted into their assault on Eichenwalde’s castle, as they continued to mismanage ultimates. CONBOX had figured out Afreeca’s shortcomings by this point in the series, and used it them to full effect in both rounds.
Both Afreeca’s attack and defense relied heavily on Recry, who had become the team’s rock throughout their final two games. With his teammates all trying to do their own thing, Recry was left to coordinate with them wherever possible, and to find picks when it wasn’t. Although Recry and his teammates did manage to put up a fight, CONBOX seemed to be in the driver’s seat throughout both rounds. Due to the difference in coordination and resource discipline, Afreeca progressed in short burts and were stopped just past the second checkpoint, while CONBOX were able to beat their distance using a more measured pace.
Unfortunately for CONBOX, today’s victory wasn’t the 3-0 that they needed to stay alive. As a result, they’ll have to play against the up and comers from the challenger league, if they hope to stay in the league next season. On the bright side, today’s win did earn them both a small increase in prize money, and validation for some of their more experimental lineups. With the knowledge that they can run a few new strategies, CONBOX have at the very least gained much needed confidence going into their career deciding relegation matches.
Although CONBOX will still have to face promotion matches, their upset win today will keep Cloud 9’s playoff hopes alive. Although their chances are slim, Cloud 9 will earn a spot in playoffs with a 3-0 win, while anything less will put them in third. Considering how impressive the opposing KongDoo Uncia squad have been in their first two games, the American squad are still far from out of the woods.
In Afreeca’s case, this loss means that their presence in playoffs is still likely. Despite their high chances of making to the round of eight itself, today’s performance doesn’t bode well for the former finalists’ chances at a repeat performance. Considering they’ve only won a single non assault map in their games this season, AF Blue will have to seriously improve on their weaker maps if they do make it out of groups.