The 2021 Overwatch League Countdown Cup kicked off Friday with explosive action as the Paris Eternal and Houston Outlaws picked up wins.
The Paris Eternal (7-6, 7 points) picked up its biggest win of the season to start the Countdown Cup, taking down the top team in the Western Region, the DallasFuel (9-4, 15 points), in a 3-2 nail-biter of a series. With the Countdown Cup's hero bans of Sigma, Echo, Ashe and Lucio, the Fuel were forced to play new compositions compared to what they had run for the entire season, namely Lucio-enabled brawl. The Eternal proved better at adapting to this new meta, running Wrecking Ball and Pharah compositions at a high level throughout the series.
Paris started strong with a 2-1 win in Game 1 on Lijiang Tower, utilizing DPS Nikolai "Naga" Dereli's Pharah to pick up the win. In Game 2, the Eternal were poised to take Blizzard World but fumbled in overtime, allowing the Fuel to steal a 5-4 win to tie the series up at 1-1.
Throughout the series, Dallas fielded flex support Jung-keun "Rapel" Kim for the first time since the second game of the season. Rapel played decently well but was blown away by Paris' flex support, Emir "Kaan" Okumus. Kaan and Naga led the Eternal to a 3-0 full-hold on Havana to go up 2-1 in the series, but Dallas responded by switching to a comfortable composition for them that featured Winston at main tank, taking Game 4 on Temple of Anubis 2-1.
In a series-deciding Game 5 on Oasis, Naga dominated as Pharah, carrying the Eternal to a 2-1 map win and a 3-2 series win.
The Fuel have the remainder of the Countdown Cup to adjust and learn how to play the composition that gave them so much trouble in the Summer Showdown playoffs. On the other hand, the Eternal's win rate climbs above .500 for the first time all season. With Paris' relatively easy schedule going forward, this might be the perfect time for the Eternal to go on a late run and fight for prime playoff positioning.
In Friday's other match, the Houston Outlaws (10-3, 10 points) dominated the Washington Justice (8-5, 8 points) in a 3-0 sweep. The Justice looked like a team fresh out of Contenders on Friday, incapable of initiating fights and allowing the Outlaws to bully them across every map of the series. To Houston's credit, they played fundamentally sound Overwatch, but Washington made it easy for the Outlaws to pick up a clean win.
Houston started with a 2-0 win on Ilios, then took a 3-2 win on Blizzard World to go up 2-0 in the series. Washington slowly started to get itself together in Game 3 on Route 66, but they couldn't overcome Houston's crushing momentum, allowing the Outlaws to take the map 2-1 and close out the series.
The OWL teams are competing in three weeks of matches to determine qualification for the Countdown Cup's double-elimination playoff brackets, which will be contested Aug. 19-21.
The top six teams from the West and the top four teams from the East will make the initial playoff rounds. Two teams from each region will advance to the double-elimination final playoff round.
The Countdown Cup qualifiers continue on Saturday with six matches:
Hangzhou Spark vs Seoul Dynasty (East)
New York Excelsior vs Los Angeles Valiant (East)
Philadelphia Fusion vs Shanghai Dragons (East)
Boston Uprising vs Paris Eternal (West)
Atlanta Reign vs Los Angeles Gladiators (West)
Dallas Fuel vs San Francisco Shock (West)
Overwatch League standings by region, with win-loss record, map differential and league points
1. Dallas Fuel, 9-4, 13, 15
2. Houston Outlaws, 10-3, 14, 10
3. San Francisco Shock, 9-3, 13, 9
4. Los Angeles Gladiators, 8-4, 13, 8
5. Washington Justice, 8-5, 6, 8
6. Atlanta Reign, 7-5, 13, 8
7. Paris Eternal, 7-6, 0, 7
8. Boston Uprising, 6-6, 1, 6
9. Toronto Defiant, 6-6, -4, 6
10. Florida Mayhem, 4-8, -9, 5
11. London Spitfire, 0-12, -29, 0
12. Vancouver Titans, 0-12, -31, 0
1. Shanghai Dragons, 10-2, 20, 18
2. Seoul Dynasty, 9-3, 14, 9
3. Chengdu Hunters, 7-5, 7, 9
T4. Philadelphia Fusion, 7-5, 7, 7
T4. Hangzhou Spark, 7-5, 7, 7
6. New York Excelsior, 5-7, -3, 5
7. Guangzhou Charge, 3-9, -18, 3
8. Los Angeles Valiant, 0-12, -34, 0
--By Noah Waltzer, Field Level Media