Flex or be destroyed
After a month of intense competition, 8 teams have separated themselves from the pack. These teams now face off in a double elimination quarter final series, fighting for a chance to be the champion of Apex Season 3. During the first round of 16, we were privileged to a lot of action both on and off screen as well as an interesting evolving meta that has made the current competition season very exciting. Not to mention a lot of smack talk, teams disbanding, players leaving and big teams being eliminated. If the round of 16 is anything to go by, the quarters are going to be intense!
With the top 8 finally decided we do have a couple of surprising results and omissions. Last seasons runner up, Runaway, failed to qualify, with multiple reasons behind their struggles. It is sad to see them out so early but we expect them to bounce back stronger than ever next season. Rogue is the other big surprise with their lackluster performance during the round stage. Touted as the big western hope and a team that almost single handedly influenced the current meta, Rogue’s reputation very much preceded them coming into season 3. However, not only were the Korean teams ready for them, they had planned so well that Rogue ended up getting wrecked and never looked like the team we were promised.
The other western team, EnVyUs, has been a big talking point in the competition so far with the addition of star Korean player Effect. Effect transitioned into the team surprisingly well given the language barrier and his Tracer has been utterly devastating in the early rounds. While EnVyUs is looking extremely strong, the Korean teams are still gunning for them, each wanting their chance to take out Effect and stomp this western team out of the competition. And with the troubles EnVyUs has had finding suitable scrims while here in Korea, they will likely struggle moving forward into the play offs.
There still remains a big divide between the top tier teams and the lower ranked ones. In each group, the #1 seeds went undefeated in their matches and lost only 7 maps between them, with Afreeca Blue not losing a single map. Even the second placed teams in the groups mostly look very strong as well with Conbox and Meta Athena looking in good shape. The lower end teams however are well off the pace, with Flash Lux not winning a single map and RG Wings only taking a single map. Kongdoo Uncia managed to pick up a few maps but couldnt take a win. However Mighty AOD did manage to cause a big upset win over Kondoo Panthera.
Coming into the quarter finals, Lunatic Hai looks to be the favorites. They are looking strong and it also seems they have addressed their notoriously poor starts on control maps and have not only become less stubborn but are now flexing regularly and trying new combinations to great effect. This superstar team will be very difficult to beat going forward and I fully expect them to be in the finals. The big challenge to them in group B will be LW Blue, another top dive team who have also been flexing well. While in group A I think it will be a tight spot between Afreeca Blue and EnVyUs. Afreeca is a team on a mission and has been totally dominant so far. They are one of the strongest dive teams in the comp and have really made this current meta work for them.
More team drama
After their final game which ended up being a heavy loss to EnVyUs, BK Stars announced that their team will disband. It’s always sad when a team breaks up for whatever reasons. This break up has the added interest of some top line players being added to the FA list. The scramble to secure their services will play out as an interesting side story while the playoffs get underway.
[update] Rhinos Gaming Wings has also disbanded, sending their players onto the FA list as well.
Also, other players leaving were KariV and Fate from Mighty AOD to join up with Immortals. After they managed to secure a hard fought win against Kongdoo Panthera (their only win in season 3 and a pretty worrying blow to Kongdoo moving forward into the playoffs) the team announced their departure. We have already talked about Kaisers departure to Cloud9 and with the Overwatch League starting to become a reality, we could see more Korean players make the move stateside.
That trash talk tho
Some of the trash taking pre game in the early rounds has been hilarious not to mention totally savage! Micky’s line about turning Bunny into a meme had me in stitches but Miro remains the king of smack talk this season, saying even with one hand tied behind his back, they will still win. That’s some beautiful tracking right there.
Time for the Meta
The meta for season 3 has evolved in a very interesting way. The main talking point is now the ability to flex — teams who can comfortably run multiple compositions revolving around the dive are the ones who have been dominating the first round. With so many Hero variations now been used, it is a difficult task to summarize this meta into a singular hype word, as it is continually evolving.
The first big shake up was before the season even started. The talk of Rogue coming in with Triple DPS had the Korean teams scramble for a counter, and boy did they find it quickly. Now we are seeing teams running triple DPS as a means to overwhelm the enemy or the outdated triple Tank to feed their support ults and outlast the opposition while still dealing damage. But there is also the newly evolved Triple Support Meta which is almost like the turtle strategy, sink all your heals into a single tank and rely on support ults to hold a point. There is still your standard 2–2–2 and straight dive compositions that has become the main stay of this meta which uses different strategies to either build ults fast or just straight counter and wreck the other teams.
In the DPS hero pool, Tracer is still the stock standard pick with her ability to flank and target enemy supports, however the 2nd dps hero is now no longer Genji, instead he has had to share his spot with Soldier, Pharah and to a lesser extent, McCree. And we have also seen Sombra, Reaper and Widow used as ‘specialist’ dps picks on various maps as well. Sombra’s ult is deadly on 2 point capture maps especially paired with an AOE attack. Reaper has seen play paired up with Sombra utilizing his close range and high dps, melting thru tank lines. Widow face offs have become common at the start of some maps now to get that early pick, paired with Mercy’s damage boost and Zenyatta’s discord orb, low hp characters can be taken down with 2 body shots (1 shot for Tracer) A lot of notable Genji payers have now flexed off the sword wielding Ninja, but he still makes the occasional appearance to devastating effect.
On the tank side, Reinhardt has dropped from the main pick and now we have D.Va taking the premier tank spot. Her defense matrix and maneuverability make her essential for quickly moving from place to place, either diving in on enemy supports, shutting down flankers or backing up her own support line. Winston has also seen heavy play, the only difference is his shield bubble isn’t quiet as effective. Reinhardt is still getting used in narrow corridor maps but now some teams, especially EnVyUs, have started experimenting using Orissa, as her gravity pull can be especially effective on maps with environmental obstacles, and her massive clip can melt quickly thru a Reinhardt shield. Road Hog and Zarya has also seen limited use as a 3rd tank option.
The support class has been interesting. Lucio is still a must pick, his zone healing and speed boost coupled with his ult make him indispensable. But Ana has started to share her second support role spot with Mercy as teams are running Phar-mercy more often. Ana’s damage nerf and high susceptibility to dive comps has weakened her role significantly. Mercy has the added benefit of her Res ult which can really turn the tables during a full on team fight. Zenyatta has also seen increased play as a dps healer and discord dealer plus his alt works well in concert with the sound barrier.
The Meta is now revolved around targeting a single enemy and bringing them down quickly to turn a fight into 6 vs 5. Teams are focused on gaining that first kill and their compositions reflect the different ways to go about doing this. The big downfall of this Meta at the moment is that most teams are struggling to find the right balance between attacking while defending their own back-line. Each team has been making a bee line right for the other team’s supports and more often than not it has been a foot race to see who can get there first. Teams need to start looking after their supports more and even the top tier teams are guilty of this.
To get ahead in this current meta, you need to be able to adjust your team composition on the fly. That means identifying your opponents composition and picking heroes to counter them. Some teams have been extremely stubborn with this, Rogue being the best example, only swapping heroes 11 times a game. Kongdoo Panthera on the other hand have swapped heroes up to 24 times in a match. Switching is not without its risks, but teams like Afreeca Blue, Lunatic Hai, EnVyUs and LW Blue have found a nice middle ground with their hero changes. As the finals unfold, these flex strategies should become more refined.
As for my pick to win it all? Very difficult to say but after the first rounds I’m going with Lunatic Hai facing off against EnVyUs in a grand slam finish on Hauendae beach at the end of July. But I expect there to be all kinds of upsets and crazy results along the way. Get ready for it.
Marcus Powell has been living and working in South Korea since 2010. Aside from writing for Gangnam Gamers, he is also a popular club DJ, English Teacher, gamer, sports and esports fan and anime enthusiast.
Photo credits: OGN Global, follow them on their twitch stream for live games