After a season spanning nearly two months, we’ve come down to two final teams. The playoffs went crazy, as upset victory after upset continued to occur. On Dec. 3, the best-of-seven series between South Korea’s Afreeca Blue (AF.Blue) and North America’s Team EnVyUs (nV) will take place to determine the first ever champions of the Apex Overwatch league.
This is set to be an interesting matchup between two of the best teams in the world. In order to set the stage for the finals, we’re going to give you a full in-depth preview of key player matchups, previous map results, and give you our prediction.
AF.Blue Arhan vs. nV Taimou
It seems obvious that the matchup between the two teams’ star DPS players would be key, but it’s a more nuanced matchup than it may initially appear. Last patch, both players were overwhelmingly DPS only, but now, both have found themselves in an off tank role.
Arhan surprised us when he pulled out Dva, while Taimou returned to a pick we knew he could play, Roadhog. Both players often fill in the third tank spot on the rosters in order to run the currently powerful strong tank focused composition. It’s important to note that for both players, this a deviation from their normal role, so we will need to keep an eye on who’s more effective off-role.
But why this matchup is so crucial is because of the specific heroes each is playing. Dva can shut down a Roadhog’s ability to one-shot players, or even his ultimate, with her Defense Matrix. With her tankiness and mobility, she can even block the hook for her allies without much fear of being picked off.
But that isn’t to say Roadhog can’t win the matchup. Due to the cooldown on using Defense Matrix, a skilled Roadhog can weave damage in during it’s use, and heal himself while Dva defends herself. The huge damage Roadhog can deal against larger targets who get hit by all of his pellets allows him to threaten Dva. Alternatively, he can use his hook simply to take her away from his allies, and force the 1v1 situation.
There are so many small details to the Dva vs. Roadhog matchup, and with how powerful both heroes are in the meta currently, the battle between Arhan and Taimou will be a critical one.
AF.Blue Adam vs. nV Mickie
Mickie came onto the nV roster under strange circumstances. Following Talespin’s sudden departure from the team, Mickie came in as a last minute substitution. Luckily for him and nV both, not only is he a very skilled Dva player, but she also happened to receive some huge buffs on the latest patch. As such, Mickie debuted into the Apex League with shocking success as he quickly became a key reason nV was able to take two upset victories in a row.
So far, every Reinhardt player Mickie has faced has been unable to shut down his map winning Self Destructs. Mickie throws the exploding mech just behind the enemy Reinhardt, forcing them into a catch-22 situation. Both Reinforce and Panker struggled with the decision to either block incoming fire and hope their allies can find cover, or turn to block the explosion and expose themselves to being killed, which in turn, means they likely lose the fight anyways.
Now there is only a single Reinhardt player in Mickie’s way to stop him from reaching the trophy: Adam. In terms of pure skill, there is almost nobody who would make the argument that Adam is anywhere near the level of players like Reinforce or Panker. But, what neither of them had on their side is Tairong, the coach of Afreeca.
In several interviews, Tairong talked about preparing specific strategies for each team that South Korea faced at the Overwatch World Cup, and for Afreeca’s sake, I hope he has done the same for their match against nV. Hopefully, with a bit of guidance, Adam can learn from the mistakes of those before him and he can stand a bit back from the front lines of Afreeca where he can be in a better position to block Mickie’s Self Destructs.
You might be wondering why it’s so crucial to alter your play style to deal with a single player’s ultimate, and normally you would be right in thinking it seems a bit drastic. But when we see the havoc Mickie has caused against both Rogue and Kongdoo Uncia, it becomes more clear. He frequently found multiple kills with Self Destruct at the most opportune moments for nV. Whether it be to close out a map, or to win a fight to bring nV back into contention, Mickie was critical in carrying nV over the finish line.
It’s so critical to shut down Mickie, as he is one of the big playmakers on nV’s roster at the moment. I really do believe the Adam vs. Mickie matchup could be a turning point in this series and we’ll have to see how it unfolds.
King of the Hill
Like every series played in Apex, the first map, and only the first map, will take place on king of the hill. This is an important map for both teams because it sets the tempo of the series, but unfortunately for nV, their past results don’t look too good.
The current roster of nV is only 1-5 on king of the hill maps, with the single victory being taken in a sudden death match against Rogue. This is just a 20 percent win rate for nV, which has to go up against the monster record from Afreeca of 8-3, sitting up at 72 percent. Afreeca only dropped maps against Rogue in their prime, and against BK Stars when Bunny carried them to victory.
Afreeca’s ability to play both Dva and Winston is critical here. It gives them the flexibility to play double dive tanks in order to recapture the point on the rare occasion they lose control. Unfortunately for nV, they have no such luck, as their primary tank player, Cocco, is not a prominent Winston player. That role often fell to Internethulk, who is now stuck playing Lucio for the roster.
All things considered, the first map is overwhelmingly likely to go the way of Afreeca Blue, starting them off with an early lead.
The hybrid maps that incorporate both a point assault and payload pushing components paint a different picture. This time, it is nV with the statistical lead, going 4-0 with this roster over teams like Rogue and Lunatic Hai. Meanwhile, Afreeca is only 3-3, just a 50 percent win rate. If we remove their victories over Flash Lux and Rhinos Gaming Titan, who are some of the worst teams in Apex, then we’re left with only a 1-3 ratio against upper tier teams.
nV dominates these types of maps, largely because of their DPS players. Taimou’s Roadhog is excellent at holding around a central objective, locking down key angles with the threat of a hook into instant death. On top of this, we still have Harryhook’s Solider 76, who has been a core strategy for nV for months on hybrid maps.
From the high ground, Harry rains death upon his foes, providing an excellent source of consistent damage. The best part about Soldier holding the high ground is how safe and self sufficient he is. He provides his own healing, and with spring, he can flee whenever he is dove upon. As such, when we see Harryhook and Chipshajen’s Ana combine forces on the high ground, they become an immovable force laying damage down across the battlefield.
Because of how capable nV is at defending the first point in all four of their matches, they manage to waste enough of their foe’s time that they finish with more time remaining. This sets them up for success on a possible second offensive round, as they simply have more time to work with to find their advantage.
Hybrid style maps will be played in the second, and if needed, seventh and final map of the series. nV is likely to take both of these maps, so it puts the pressure on Afreeca to close the series before it gets to a seventh deciding map, which they would most likely lose.
The third and fifth maps of the series will take place on assault maps, sometimes called two capture point maps. These are both critical maps for Afreeca to take because it will allow them to avoid going to a second hybrid style map. Luckily for them, their history on assault style maps is promising.
So far in Apex, Afreeca is 4-1 on assault maps, only dropping the one to Rogue in their prime. On the other hand, nV struggles a lot more and is 2-3. If we ignore their victory over Mighty Storm, one of the worst teams in Apex, they are a scant 1-3.
In the playoffs, Afreeca has had dominant showings over both Reunited and BK Stars on the assault maps. Against Reunited, they finished Temple of Anubis with over three minutes remaining, and held Reunited from completing the map. When Afreeca faced BK Stars on Volskaya, they didn’t allow BK to even take the first point.
Afreeca is well known for their ultimate coordination and it especially shows on assault maps, where it’s often so difficult to attack the second point. They don’t overcommit to using ultimates when attacking the first point, which lets them transition to a quicker second point take.
These maps both seem likely to go the way of Afreeca, but the nature of the fights that are so focused around a single point mean that Mickie might be able to make some self destruct magic happen. However, the consistency Afreeca has shown on assault maps compared to the weakness nV has shown makes it seem obvious that AF.Blue is likely to take these maps.
This is where the match goes up in the air. The fourth and sixth maps of the series will take place on payload only map styles, and looking at both team’s history provides us with no clear answers. Afreeca has a total win ratio of 3-2, but when you remove their games against the bottom tier teams, they only have a 1-2 ratio. nV isn’t much better off, at a 2-2 ratio.
Both rosters can be prone to desperate acts when behind on payload maps. After losing a fight, we occasionally see players streaming back to attempt to contest one at a time, only to get picked off again. Afreeca is especially guilty of this, and it notably cost them Route 66 against Reunited in the quarterfinals, as they were unable to take even a single point.
But on the other side, nV’s offense on payload only maps can sometimes be suspect. Without the central point, they excel at attacking, even if they can’t always find their tempo to take a grindy win and become reliant on big plays to find advantages. Sometimes, this means they never find a footing, like when they were similarly unable to take the first point of Route 66 against Kongdoo Uncia.
On these maps is where our key player matchups matter even more, as they could easily be the make-or-break points for the rosters. The payload maps are far less predictable in this series and will be the turning point of the match.
Using the barometer of recent results, we can predict the series to go something like this.
Map one (King of the Hill): Afreeca
Map two (Hybrid): nV
Map three (Assault): Afreeca
Map four (Payload): Up in the air
Map five (Assault): Afreeca
Map six (Payload): Up in the air
Map seven (Hybrid): nV
These results mean that Afreeca only needs to take a single one of the payload maps that seem relatively even in order to take the series, whereas nV needs to take both in order to close out the series. As such, I predict Afreeca as the most likely winners of this series, in either a 4-1 or 4-2 fashion.
But that doesn’t mean nV is done yet. We have to remember that so far in the playoffs, nV has been facing a much more difficult side of the bracket, whereas Afreeca has had a gentler road to the finals. nV definitely has a shot at the title, but if they were to take the series, I do believe it would have to go the full distance. This means that it would be decided on a hybrid map, where they are strongest, and it would be a 4-3 victory for the North American team.
A Series for the History Books
Regardless of how the series goes down, it’s sure to be an epic one. We’re lucky enough to get to watch two of the top teams in the world go head-to-head in a very rare LAN best-of-seven. This is only the first season finale for Overwatch where we crown a team the Apex champion, and luckily, it won’t be the last.
What are you finals predictions? Comment below or tweet your answer to us @GAMURScom.
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