Role Play

In last week’s back-and-forth battle between the soldiers in purple and green, the Houston Outlaws found themselves down 2-1 to the Los Angeles Gladiators before responding with their own shutout on Watchpoint: Gibraltar, eventually forcing a fifth and deciding game.

In Stage 2, those games are played on Ilios, a Control map where two out of the three sets favor Pharah play. Out came Lane “Surefour” Roberts, and in came Joao Pedro “Hydration” Goes Telles, the Gladiators’ Pharah/Genji expert. Sure enough, the first round of Ilios was played on Lighthouse—an excellent map for Pharah. After losing the point to start the game, the Gladiators switched Hydration off Genji and onto Pharah, regained control of the point, and never lost it again.

Despite LA having the advantage, the Outlaws had to be feeling fairly confident once the second set was revealed. Ruins favors not Pharah, but Widowmaker—and Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin is one of the league’s best.

Then things got weird.

The Gladiators found themselves in a pickle. They needed Jun-Sung “Asher” Choi to play Widowmaker, but without Surefour in the lineup, they didn’t have the Tracer player needed to finish off Asher’s long-range bursts of damage.

Or did they?

Jonas “Shaz” Suovaara, the Gladiators’ flex support, is really more of a flex-everything player. Shaz on non-healing roles is not even that surprising, given his antics in the preseason. In the clip below, the Gladiators used a triple-DPS surprise attack with Shaz on Genji to wipe out the London Spitfire’s Numbani defense:

*Sombra is sometimes picked on Ilios Ruins because of the easy-to-access mega health packs adjacent to the control point. She is often considered to be somewhere between DPS and support, thanks to her health pack–based healing.

Shaz had already flexed off support earlier in the match, bringing out Mei for two minutes and Roadhog for one on Volskaya Industries defense. However, with Shaz now filling the essential Tracer role, the Gladiators had a very large hole in their support line. The hole grew even larger when Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni locked in Sombra, presumably to wreak havoc on the Outlaws’ strong tank line. Suddenly, the Gladiators had two and a half DPS*, and only half a support.

Luckily for the Gladiators, their DPS are just as flexible as their supports, or at least Hydration is. Just ask his former coach:

Perhaps seeing the only Brazilian Overwatch League player playing a Brazilian support hero was not as surprising as we initially thought. Regardless, the Gladiators had completed their musical chair of role swaps to create a passable Widowmaker composition for Ilios Ruins. It was time to put it to the test.

The Gladiators’ gamble paid off. Let’s compare Shaz’s raw output on Ilios Ruins to the league-average rates of all Tracer players with >10 mins on Ilios, scaled to play time. (For all subsequent comparisons, the “league-average” rate is calculated for the given hero, out of players with >10 mins play time on Ilios.)

Player Final Blows Hero Damage Done Deaths Eliminations Pulse Bomb Efficiency Pulse Bomb Kills Time Played
Shaz 6 4,086.64 4 17 0 0 5:35
League Average 5.12 4,798.33 3.53 11.13 0.29 1.03 5:35

Shaz did pretty well for a support player! He was lower on hero damage and a little higher on deaths, but made up the difference in final blows and eliminations, where his numbers exceeded the league average on Tracer. Let’s perform a similar comparison for Hydration:

Player Hero Damage Done Final Blows Eliminations Deaths Sound Barriers Provided Healing Done Offensive Assists Defensive Assists Time Played
Hydration 1,818.15 3 8 4 8 2,859.36 6 8 5:35
League Average 2,166.29 1.61 6.72 3.49 8.75 3,841.89 3.56 5.31 5:35

Like Shaz, Hydration held his own against the league average on Lúcio. However, neither player necessarily “carried” in the sense of out-performing a league rate. Surely there was something else that contributed to the Gladiators’ win? I examined both Widowmakers to see if changing several players’ roles solely to enable Asher’s Widowmaker had any noticeable effect:

Player Hero Damage Done Final Blows Eliminations Deaths Damage Taken Time Played
Asher 4,006.99 5 6 3 781.73 4:32
League Average (scaled) 3,419.25 4.81 7.06 3.29 1,392.92 4:32
LiNkzr 996.3 2 4 3 1,311.32 3:02
League Average (scaled) 1,957.37 2.75 4.04 1.88 797.39 3:02

The two Widowmakers played fairly close to the expected league-average rate in most statistics, except for hero damage done and damage taken. Asher took far less damage than both LiNkzr and the league average, and the opposite was true for LiNkzr, who also struggled to output an expected amount of hero damage. Why was this? Look no further than Gladiators main tank Chan-Hyung “Fissure” Baek:

Fissure’s pressure was so strong that LiNkzr eventually swapped to Genji before Houston’s final fight.

The larger picture of the Gladiators’ strategy should be starting to come into focus. In an effort to shut down the best parts of the Outlaws’ lineup—their tank front line and LiNkzr’s Widowmaker—the Gladiators picked the perfect heroes for the job. By picking Sombra, BigGoose could hack Matt “Coolmatt” Iorio and/or Austin “Muma” Wilmot, quickly dispatching them with Shaz while their defensive abilities were locked away.

Indeed, Coolmatt (nine times) and Muma (six times) each died three times more than their LA counterparts in both Lighthouse and Ruins. This gave Fissure and Aaron “Bischu” Kim, who did not swap roles, the freedom to pressure LiNkzr and the Outlaws backline to their hearts’ content, because they did not have to worry about Houston’s tanks doing the same to Asher. In the end, Bischu and Fissure ended up being the hidden carries of Gladiators on that decisive map:

Player Hero Hero Damage Done Final Blows Eliminations Deaths Self-Destruct Kills Objective Eliminations Time Played
Bischu D.Va 7,368.85 11 30 3 1 18 8:59
League Average 6,745.09 6.33 16.67 5.22 0.65 8.39 8:59
Fissure Winston 6,312.78 12 21 2 1 8 8:59
League Average 5,041.58 5.31 16.32 6.22 2.25 7.28 8:59

Note the final blows, eliminations, and, in Bischu’s case, objective eliminations: the Gladiators’ tank duo had a hell of a game.

Gladiators win!
Well played, Gladiators.

Going into Ilios, LA likely knew the exact compositions they wanted to run to counter what they predicted the Outlaws would throw at them. However, the best personnel to run these compositions was split across their three DPS players (with Surefour picking Sombra/Tracer when Asher is on Widowmaker). The Gladiators played the odds when they subbed in Hydration for Surefour, knowing that two out of Ilios’ three locations favored Pharah. When it came to Ruins, they gambled again by sticking to a preferred and practiced counter-lineup that forced Hydration and Shaz to swap roles, instead of playing thecomfort heroes.

As we can see from the results, Hydration and Shaz needed only to play an “average” game on their new roles to grab the win. Even if their second gamble hadn’t paid off, the Gladiators would have rolled into Ilios Well with Hydration back on Pharah. Some might call it a cheesy strategy, but I call it a calculated risk. Well played, Gladiators.

Ben "CaptainPlanet" Trautman is the statistics producer for the Overwatch League Global Broadcast. Follow him on Twitter!