It's Not A Ship If You Can't Board It

Los Angeles Gladiators fans at preseason

After a wild opening day that showcased the game’s rising stars, there was plenty of drama for the second day of exhibition matches to aspire to. The London Spitfire and the LA Gladiators got their chance on Thursday, but would it live up to expectations?

It didn’t take long for the Gladiators to give us an answer.

The match opened on Junkertown, and the Australian outback map heated up quickly—with pirates. Or at least a pirate ship. The Gladiators used the popular Bastion/Orisa/Reinhardt strategy to anchor Lane “SureFour” Roberts atop the payload and chew through the Spitfire’s defenses on their way to easily completing the payload’s journey on the front half of the map.

But the pirate-ship strategy is old (tri-cornered) hat by now. It’s what the Gladiators did on the back half of the map that was truly impressive.

No doubt aware that it had just been bombs-away on their defenses, the Spitfire began their own voyage by pairing Bastion and Orisa to chart a course for themselves. As they clustered around the entrance and the countdown hit zero, there was only one problem with their swashbuckling strategy:

Gladiators vs Spitfire on Junkertown

The Gladiators were waiting for them.

The pirate-ship tactic works so well because it’s nearly impossible to break through to take out Bastion atop the payload. Orisa’s shields and the tanks themselves protect the high-powered machine gun, and you can be sure that if Joon-Yeong “Profit” Park could have set up shop on the ship he would have torn through LA’s defenses just as they had done to them previously. But in Junkertown in particular, there’s only one hitch with that plan.

You must actually make it to the payload.

That’s the weakness LA knew of, and that’s the weakness they exploited. The entire squad snuck around to the side of the entrance, parked behind an Orisa shield on the porch, and simply waited for the unsuspecting Spitfire. Luis “iRemiix” Galarza Figueroa then launched an Orisa graviton charge to pull the Spitfire out of the entrance, and his team opened fire on the ball of London players. Two enemies bit the dust immediately, and just like that the Gladiators sank the ship.

Of course, no map can be won in the first 30 seconds of the game, and the Spitfire weren’t about to hang up their flight jackets. They battled back soon enough, with some nifty Widowmaker sniping from Dong-Eun “Hooreg” Lee. It was a delayed start, but finally the Spitifre began to advance the payload.

But the next 60 seconds of the game revealed the full beauty of the Gladiator’s cheeky opening gambit. By picking a fight so close to the Spitfire’s spawn point, the Gladiators did more than delay the payload’s progress—they set themselves up perfectly for the next confrontation.

Completing the first checkpoint in Junkertown can be challenging. The terrain and wide-open pasture in front of the double metal doors can be a nightmare for a team beset by fire from any number of angles. Of course, this problem can often be mitigated by winning a fight in the narrower street near the spawn, allowing the attacking team to take out the defenders and proceed unimpeded after winning the battle.

But because the Gladiators chose instead to battle all the way at the map’s origin, the traditional timing was thrown off. Rather than being forced to concede the checkpoint after losing a fight, LA was able to respawn, regroup, and walk all the way back to the checkpoint before the Spitfire could move the payload far enough. The result was an atypical second battleground before the first checkpoint—one the Gladiators very nearly used to win the game on the spot, only retreating thanks to some truly highlight-reel plays by Hooreg.

Hooreg’s heroic plays advanced the game, but the damage had been done. The Gladiators’ strategy had bought them precious time twice, and the Spitfire’s push stalled out. They never even came close to the second checkpoint.

Every game of Overwatch League features incredible technical play from the world’s best players, but behind the stars is the strategy¬—and it was this ingenious plan that made the difference on this map. If the LA Gladiators continue to execute clever strategies like this one they will be sure to keep the rest of the league guessing.