A eulogy to Overwatch's first dynasty, the kings in blue
Nearly eight months ago, on July 17, 2016, I published an article titled “Overwatch is Ruled by the Kings in Blue,” a play on the Team EnVyUs nickname the boys in blue. While the title was tongue-in-cheek, in no way was it wrong. Competitive Overwatch was ruled over by EnVyUs as they remained the most dominant team for a period of eight months.
However, today we must mark the end of that era. EnVyUs fell out of the quarterfinal bracket to Kondoo Uncia in a fitting reversal from the previous season’s semifinal.
I’ve come not to mourn the death on EnVyUs, but to celebrate their life and remember the legacy they leave behind.
Chipshajen, Cocco, HarryHook, Internethulk, Mickie, Taimou, Talespin.
The seven names listed above are the men responsible for creating and maintaining the dynasty that was EnVyUs. In late April of 2016, the organization signed on the old IDDQD roster, keeping Talespin from their previous roster.
This formed the core roster that presided over most of the dynasty. The seven names above, minus Mickie, would move to North Carolina in order to compete as a North American team, despite having just a single member from North America. As we know now, many teams followed in their footsteps, but EnVyUs was the first high profile team to make the move.
It was a gamble for the organization, as the roster had yet to prove itself at a LAN event and it was still uncertain if Overwatch would blossom to the extent it has. In hindsight, of course, we know it was a fantastic decision.
The Summer of Online Dominance
For the first few months of their dominance, it was entirely online. It was in no way the fault of EnVyUs, there simply were no LAN events yet. Instead, we had a summer chock full of GosuGamers weekly tournaments and Alienware monthly events.
It was during this first period that EnVyUs began their incredible win streak of over 50 series. Their winning streak spread itself over several different months, during which no other team ever challenged them for any title, and they were rarely even challenged in a single map.
The two eras I specifically remember them for was in the heyday of PharMercy, and for the infamous week where McCree was given a railgun.
The PharMercy era is likely the point in time that Talespin wishes he could return to. He was by far the most dominant Pharah in North America, and arguments could easily be made he was the best in the world.
Specifically, his uncanny ability to hit the enemy Pharah in the sky to eliminate them meant that EnVyUs always had the advantage in the air. It was during this era that Talespin was the most notable carry on EnVyUs, even outshining Taimou.
However, Pharah’s dominance did not last forever, and has never quite returned to the levels it once was. In one patch, Blizzard significantly buffed both Zenyatta and McCree’s range.
Zenyatta, entering the meta, brought discord orbs to the forefront of play, and McCree’s stupidly long effective range meant that Pharah was shot down almost instantly. Sadly, Talespin had to step aside as the main carry of EnVyUs, but luckily Taimou stepped in.
Taimou was long held to be one of the strongest flick shot players in the world, being a master of heroes such as Widowmaker and McCree. With the overwhelming damage of McCree by his side, Taimou was able to tear through absolutely everyone and further EnVyUs’ win streak.
However, during this era, it was not that EnVyUs ever relied upon a single player. Quite frankly, their teamplay and ultimate economy was miles ahead of any other team in the scene. They were able to use their superior coordination and strategies to grind out map after map. There was just the added padding of star players to make big plays for the roster.
Luckily for the quality of competition, the online era of Overwatch began fading, leading into the fall. However, for EnVyUs, the fall of 2016 was to be marred with disappointment at their LAN debuts.
The Fall of LAN Disappointment
The first LAN event for the roster was the ESL Atlantic Showdown, which took place at Gamescom in Cologne. EnVyUs made it in through the North American qualifiers and now faced their first serious challenge.
The group stages proved to be a piece of cake, as they easily exited the double elimination bracket after taking 2-0 victories over both Dignitas and Fnatic. As they were the first seed from their group, EnVyUs then faced the second seed from the other group, Rogue.
It turned out to be a fantastic series that went the full five games, but in the end, Rogue emerged the victor 3-2. It was a major disappointment for EnVyUs, because at the time, they were widely regarded as the best team in the world.
After the event, the loss was excused by many as Rogue ended up being the tournament victors; and what’s the shame in losing to the champions? But sadly, this was a near perfect mirror of their next LAN as well.
The Overwatch community rejoiced when ELEAGUE announced they would be hosting the Overwatch Open at their studios. It was an incredible event from a production standpoint, which realistically wasn’t a surprise. We were graced with the wonderful casting and hosting of many Counter-Strike personalities, but more importantly, some excellent Overwatch.
Coming into the event, we were anticipating the dominance of a triple or quad tank meta. This was in reaction to NiP gaining attention for their own play on this strategy, as they were the first to abuse Ana’s overwhelming healing on high health targets.
However, as the tournament progressed, we saw the counter-meta quickly show itself, and the Beyblade era reared its detestable head. Reaper was now the name of the game and the name of the game was ability timing to propel the Nano Boosted Reaper forward for easy teamfight wins.
Meanwhile, Mei was running amok using her walls to abuse tank compositions' lack of mobility and section off the enemies to pick them apart. Both of these counter strategies were quickly picked up by the European teams, who had been playing against NiP for some time, while the North American teams had to adapt on the fly.
It was under this meta that EnVyUs had to try and take their first LAN victory. They cruised their way through the North American side of the bracket, which realistically held weaker teams. They took two series 2-0, and two 3-1, to book their finals appearance against Misfits.
Misfits was fresh off an upset victory over Rogue, who took the last LAN. Misfits carried that momentum into the finals as they defeated EnVyUs handedly 3-1 to deny the North American roster another title.
EnVyUs ended another LAN without a title, despite being called the best in the world coming into the event. However, once again, EnVyUs’ position among the top teams in the world remained stable. Their only loss was to the tournament winners, so the community was willing to continue holding them in very high regard.
At both events, EnVyUs suffered from not being very comfortable in the meta. At the Atlantic Showdown, there was a significant amount of Genji play, and at the Overwatch Open, we had Reaper dominating the meta.
Let’s be frank for a moment. EnVyUs has never had world beater Genji or Reaper players like so many teams did. They had passable Genji play with Talespin and average to above average Reaper play from Taimou, Internethulk, and Harryhook, but never a star on those heroes. The lack of world class top talent on the heroes that leaped to the forefront of the early Nano Boost metas hurt EnVyUs, even as their tale moved forward.
The Winter of LAN Dominance
As EnVyUs entered the first season of Apex, nobody had them as favorites to win the tournament. They had just come off of two LAN losses and the meta was still not in their favor. Meanwhile, Rogue and Lunatic-Hai had excellent performances in APAC, and instead, these were the two favorites to take the title. That being said, nobody discounted EnVyUs. We still knew that the talent was there for them to be a top team, just perhaps not the best in the world.
Their group stage run was about what we expected from them. They handedly defeated Mighty Storm, who were one of the worst teams in Apex, and got defeated handedly by Lunatic-Hai. Their closest series was against Conbox T6, as the strong tank duo of Gamsu and Zunba provided a bit of a challenge. But EnVyUs was still able to take an easy series win, 3-1.
EnVyUs’ chance at a deep playoffs run was looking good, but heading into the BlizzCon break, nobody expected them to be tournament favorites. And suddenly, just before returning to Korea, Talespin announced his departure from the roster.
The news came just after EnVyUs was selected by Rogue to be their quarterfinals match. It now made sense to us why Rogue would select such a difficult opponent for their quarterfinals matchup, because they would have a new roster and likely be incredibly weakened from the swaps.
Funny side note, but after seeing that group draw, I drafted up the talking points for this eulogy. I was so confident that EnVyUs would fall to either Rogue or Lunatic-Hai, who were also on their side of the bracket that I began to prepare to write about the end of their era.
Little did Rogue and I know, a combination of three factors would completely save EnVyUs. First, Dva was buffed to unreasonable levels of power, second, their new pickup Mickie happened to be the best Dva player in the world, and third, Harryhook as a support player was ready to pick up the buffed Soldier 76 full-time as a DPS player.
As I wrote after season one of Apex finished, the stars aligned for EnVyUs in a nearly perfect way. If even a single factor did not fall into place, EnVyUs might not have defeated Rogue or Kongdoo Uncia in the incredibly narrow series they played to make the finals. But once they did make the finals, there was no question EnVyUs was the best, as they destroyed Afreeca Blue in an awe-inspiring display of Overwatch, 4-0.
It was a monumental moment for EnVyUs, as they finally shook off any notions about them under-performing on LAN. They were crowned champions in the world’s first premiere Overwatch league and easily secured the title of the world’s best.
Even rarer, however, they were the first western esports team to come to Korea and win a title in a major esport. Individual players had done so in Starcraft, but never a full team. Their victory made it difficult to conclude that Korea was a stronger region than the west.
But EnVyUs remained hungry, and the winter of 2016 wasn’t over yet. They had one final LAN in the form of MLG Vegas. It was an event stacked with North American talent, and EnVyUs, after Talespin's exit, now had five European players and one player from Thailand.
MLG Vegas turned into a chance to see if anybody from North America could stand up to EnVyUs. As it turned out, the answer was a resounding no. They dropped their first map to compLexity after not practicing as a team for weeks, but seemingly off of a perfect understanding of how to run their version of the triple tank meta, they brought it back to close the series 2-1.
After that, EnVyUs decided they were done losing and proceeded to win each and every map from that point forward; a total of nine maps against three different teams on multiple days. EnVyUs absolutely demolished the tournament, leaving no doubt to anyone watching that they were the best team in the event.
EnVyUs ended out 2016 by taking two major LAN titles in one month. It was a capstone on an excellent year. At no point during the year, despite some dips, did we question if they were an elite team. There were moments where we were confident they were not the best, but never out of the picture.
The dynasty had lasted the year.
Watching an Empire Decay
One of the most prominent storylines surrounding the second season of Apex is how drastically many of the teams improved. Whether it be through roster moves or simply getting better at the game over time, the Korean teams involved were as a whole significantly better this season.
In comparison, EnVyUs had not improved at the same rate. In fact, they actually failed to properly adapt to the new meta. They attempted to stick with their tried and true triple tank composition, when the Korean teams were moving to three by two dive compositions.
And frankly, they made it work. On the back of Taimou’s mind blowing Widowmaker play, EnVyUs was able to grind out their first two series against MVP Infinity and BK Stars. Neither victory was pretty, and it became clear that EnVyUs was struggling.
Their issues were never more apparent than when EnVyUs faced Meta Athena, the hot new kids on the block for season two. Meta Athena had a clearly defined style, that completely revolves around an aggressive frontline, with Hoon being the primary carry and Nano Boost target on Zarya.
In theory, it’s a style that a dive composition should counter almost perfectly. You simply leap past the Zarya and Reinhardt holding so far forward and eliminate their backline. Without the support and healing, the frontline would then be easy to brush aside.
But sadly for EnVyUs, they didn’t have the tools to play a dive composition. Their Winston player, Internethulk, is now a support, and neither Taimou or Harryhook can play Genji. The brief attempts we saw from Taimou always ended in his nearly instant death.
The other option would have been to play Pharah and stay out of range of Hoon’s Zarya. However, once again, EnVyUs’s DPS players were unable to play the pick, leaving EnVyUs with no choice but to attempt to match the frontline prowess of Meta Athena.
And as we saw, that went horribly. Mickie’s Zarya is nowhere near the caliber of his Dva, and he was massively outperformed by Hoon. Even Cocco, a Reinhardt player we normally praise for his prowess in the mind games, was losing duels to Alpha.
While the frontline of EnVyUs fell, we then had to look to their backline to carry. But HarryHook was unable to find consistent traction on Soldier 76, meanwhile Taimou continued to tilt onto Widowmaker.
With nobody stepping up for EnVyUs, they were unable to find the clutch plays needed to overcome opponents who are outperforming you at the moment. Meta Athena only played their one strategy, but they did so to perfection and defeated EnVyUs 3-0 to put the North American team into the group’s second seed.
For the first time in over four months, EnVyUs lost a series. The series was no nailbiter, it was a clean 3-0 defeat, and it was against a team who wasn’t playing the meta; a team who wasn’t being discussed as a top team in the world. For the first time, there was legitimate doubt surrounding EnVyUs’ tournament chances.
As it turned out, if you were skeptical about their chances, you were right. During the playoffs draw, it was revealed that three different teams wanted to face EnVyUs as their first matchup. I’d imagine it was a matter of pride for the teams who wanted to be the ones to eliminate the reigning champions, but the argument could certainly be made that EnVyUs was looking weak heading into the playoffs.
As it happened, Lunatic-Hai lucked into the first pick for their playoffs matchup, and they chose EnVyUs. It seemed so obvious heading into the match that Lunatic-Hai would easily take the series. Every factor on paper pointed to Lunatic-Hai being a stronger roster in the dive meta.
But the community never gave up hope. EnVyUs had defied the odds once before, why not again? Because they were also the last remaining western team facing down seven Korean rosters, there was an overwhelming sense that people felt EnVyUs was the last chance of the west.
But there was to be no such upset. As far as clean swept series go, it was relatively close. But EnVyUs was unable to take even a single map off of Lunatic-Hai. Not for a lack of trying, as they brought new tactics to the battle.
Harryhook tried his hand at Zarya, which allowed Mickie to return to Dva, but it still was in vain. Harryhook was heavily outperformed by Zunba, and EnVyUs once again lost the Zarya duel. Meanwhile, Mickie was not applying any backline pressure on Dva, instead took a new role as Taimou’s personal bodyguard.
But no amount of protection could save EnVyUs’ backline from the dive of Miro’s Winson and Whoru’s Genji. EnVyUs suffered from many of the same problems, a weaker frontline, nobody stepped up to be a playmaker, and surprisingly, Miro was outplaying Cocco in the Reinhardt duels.
EnVyUs now found themselves in an unfamiliar situation: the losers match. Unfortunately for them, the losers match was not against a weak team, it was Kongdoo Uncia.
On the bright side, by all accounts, Kongdoo Uncia appeared to be underperforming recently. They struggled against Cloud9 in their final group stage match, and were upset by Runaway just days before.
The following series was truly one for the ages. It was a rematch of the semifinals from season one of Apex, and both teams were fighting for their lives in weakened states.
If you didn’t watch the EnVyUs vs. Kongdoo Uncia series, I urge you to do so. It was not always the cleanest Overwatch, but it was a damn exciting and entertaining series.
It went the full five maps, in which Kongdoo Uncia won 3-2. EnVyUs was unable to put up series fights on the control or assault maps, and was instead reliant on winning the escort and hybrid maps.
They nearly did just that, taking the first two, which were must win maps. It was only on King’s Row on the final map that they stumbled and conceded the third win to Kongdoo Uncia.
In a sombering double elimination bracket, EnVyUs fell out 0-2, never getting to play for a semifinal slot.
Taking a Look Back
I’m going to make a bold statement here, a statement that I can only draw with the hindsight of seeing EnVyUs’s history over an extended period of time.
EnVyUs, despite remaining at an elite level for so long, was a patch team. Their strength fluctuates with the patch more than the other elite teams, and their historic high points have always correlated with a favorable meta. While their low points were still strong enough to keep them as a top team, they survived off skill, not from being able to play the meta to its fullest.
When we look at EnVyUs’ two strongest eras, the online streak and the end of 2016, the meta was always playing into their hero pools. During the online streak, Talespin was able to play Pharah for much of it, the only hero he ever was consistently able to carry on.
Later, Taimou who is one of the best McCree players in the world, was given an incredibly overpowered cowboy with which he was able to outplay his opponents. Later, Internethulk and Cocco were able to dominate North America after Zenyatta’s buffs with their Winston Zarya dive combo.
When EnVyUs won their two LAN titles, it was with the best Dva and Soldier players in the world, on a patch where both heroes were buffed and critical components of the meta. At the same time, that triple tank meta suited Taimou’s Roadhog ability perfectly.
In those metas, EnVyUs had world beater players who could drag their whole team through a teamfight with massive plays, potentially even whole maps. But when Mei began her rise in the meta as a primary playmaking tool, where was EnVyUs?
EnVyUs played Mei 14 percent of the time in season one of Apex, compared to an average of 21 percent, and at no point was anybody comparing EnVyUs’ Mei players to Nevix, Esca, or Recry.
For much of time, Ana's general focus in the meta was on throwing Nano Boost along with many other buffs onto a Genji or Reaper and allowing them to use their ultimates to wipe the enemy team for convincing teamfight victories. EnVyUs has never played around a Genji player, but even during the Reaper focused Beyblade era, they struggled.
They actually played Reaper at a nearly identical amount to the average of all teams in Apex season one, but it was never to the same efficiency. Their DPS players, whoever picked up Reaper at the time, were never quite as creative as their counterparts, who would drop from strange angles onto their foes.
During their downtimes, EnVyUs continued to find success due to their own skill. They were able to grind out matches seemingly off of their team coordination. Their ultimate economy has always been a strong point, and they abused it against their weaker opponents.
But during their weak LAN performances, where they only beat bottom teams, and during their decline, they suffered from their DPS players' inability to play a wide range of heroes in order to compete with players like Tviq. Even during their high points, the DPS players were essentially one trick ponies, Talespin’s Pharah or Harryhook’s Soldier for example. Taimou has found success on a wider array of picks, but has still been mostly limited to Widowmaker, McCree, and Roadhog.
As of late, EnVyUs’s tank players have also been unable to perform on multiple heroes. Cocco has spent 97 percent of his time in season two of Apex playing Reinhardt, compared to an average of 79 percent across all main tank players.
And this season, when we think of the top Korean tank players such as Miro, Panker, and Janus, they all have Winston in their wheelhouse as well. Because of this, EnVyUs has essentially not participated in the dive meta that formed this season.
Essentially, what I’m getting at is that EnVyUs is a fairly static team. Certain members, like Internethulk and Chipshajen, have historically been able to play whatever is needed of them. However, the team as a whole is surprisingly binary over the course of their history.
It’s unfortunate for the level of talent the roster has alway possessed. I hope they don’t make any roster moves and instead focus on developing hero pools on the players they have now, in order to preserve the team coordination they still posses.
An Untimely Death
I find it unlikely anyone could convince me EnVyUs is still an elite level team. Even within their quarterfinal group, there are three teams that outplace them, with another three possible in group B. Then, we have to consider western rosters like Cloud9, Rogue and Misfits, who all have convincing arguments to be stronger and more well-rounded rosters than EnVyUs.
That leaves us considering EnVyUs somewhere from the eighth to 10th best in the world, and nowhere near elite status. I don’t doubt that they can turn themselves around, improve their hero pools, and find themselves atop the world again, but as of now, their exit in the quarterfinals marks an end to their reign as the kings of Overwatch.
The dynasty is over; it was never going to last forever. Now, we must wait to see who steps into the vacuum and claims the throne to begin the next chapter.