Overwatch League Stage 4 began in earnest over the weekend, and new patches installed in the off-week inspired some changes to strategy that were felt around the league. Let's take a look at how the meta changed professional play.
Additional support needed
Character pick rates for Week 1 experienced some major shifts, most notably due to the introduction of Brigitte. Her design allows for defense against the dive strategy, the most common tactic through the first three stages. According to Winston's Lab, Brigitte was selected 24 percent of the time, third among support characters behind Zenyatta (95.3 percent) and Mercy (92.5 percent).
In fact, teams employed a composition strategy that had rarely been executed through the first three stages of Overwatch League: triple-support. Through Stage 3, a triple-support team compositions was selected just 0.02 percent of the time. Over the first weekend of Stage 4, that number skyrocketed to 23.9 percent.
Back to the drawing board for Boston
After posting a perfect Stage 3 in regular-season games, Boston Uprising lost its first two matches of Stage 4, its second winless week of the year. It was a near mirror image to the first week of Stage 2, as Boston dropped matches to the Philadelphia Fusion and Houston Outlaws.
What spurred the change? A drop in the effectiveness of Tracer may have played a factor. Patch 1.23 decreased the effectiveness of Tracer's Pulse Bomb against tanks, lowering the damage from 400 to 300. The developer's goal was achieved, and Tracer saw her pick rate fall from 74.5 percent to 32.5 percent, per Winston's Lab.
During Boston's run to the Stage 3 final, Kwon "Striker" Nam-Joo played Tracer for more than 8 hours, 40 minutes, more than any other Overwatch League player, according to Winston's Lab. Among the 33 players who played a specific hero for at least seven hours in Stage 3, Striker's 1131 rating on Tracer was fourth-best, per Winston's Lab. Striker was just one of five players to play Tracer for at least 30 minutes in Week 1, but his rating fell to 821.
Other Stage 4 notes
With the dive strategy falling out of fashion and Tracer's Pulse Bomb losing effectiveness, the Overwatch League has entered a "tank" meta. Reinhardt is much more effective when he doesn't have to worry as much about Tracer and her ultimate. That adjustment has led to an increase in Zarya's use as well, whose bubble shields protect Reinhardt when he goes on the offensive. The early numbers from Stage 4 show that the two are closing the gap as the most popular tank duo.
One thing that hasn't changed, however, is how important Zenyatta is to Overwatch League. According to Winston's Lab, Zenyatta is the only character with a pick rate of at least 80 percent through each stage. After ranking as the third-most-selected character in each of the first three stages, Zenyatta was the most-utilized hero in Week 1 of Stage 4 (95.3 percent). This consistency has allowed New York Excelsior's Bang "JJoNak" Seong-hyun to effectively main Zenyatta. JJoNak's 1254 rating on Zenyatta since the beginning of the season is the best among any player in the league, minimum 8 hours on a character. This has helped drive NYE to a seven-game lead in the yearly standings and all three stage finals, including two stage championships.