There were a myriad of storylines heading into the first qualifier of the 2018 Overwatch World Cup. Some ranged from questions regarding how well the New York Excelsior core of Team South Korea would perform in front of a home crowd in Incheon to the Team Gigantti reunion that was the Team Finland lineup. Another involved whether Team Japan (the full CYCLOPS athlete gaming roster that will play in the Contenders Pacific finals in September) could make any kind of noise in this group.
With the expected outcome of South Korea and Finland topping the group stage, it was bench players like Philadelphia Fusion's George "ShaDowBurn" Gushcha (Team Russia) and Joona "Fragi" Laine (Team Finland), along with Florida Mayhem's Joonas "zappis" Alakurtti (Team Finland) who stole the show, alongside a handful of players outside of the league, either competing in Contenders teams or currently teamless.
Here are a few of those players who impressed -- not only audiences, but their peers -- at the Incheon Qualifier.
Denis "Tonic" Rulyov
Position: Main Tank
National team: Russia
Contenders team: N/A
Of all players that were recognized as potential Overwatch League pick-ups for Season 2, Tonic is unique. A currently teamless main tank, Tonic was last seen with Bazooka Puppiez in the European Contenders Trials before leaving in July. Tonic is well-known for his performance and leadership on 123 alongside Team Russia teammate and Boston Uprising DPS player Stanislav "Mistakes" Danilov.
"I'm really sad that he didn't get into Overwatch League in Season 1," Mistakes said. "We built that 123 team pretty much me and him. I'm pretty sure if he had played in the World Cup last year, he would be in Overwatch League. It's hard for players in Europe -- not only just Russia -- to get recognized."
Despite another narrow miss from Team Russia to move onto the World Cup main stage at BlizzCon, Tonic's tank play caught everyone's eye. Japan's Sean Taiyo "ta1yo" Henderson mentioned Tonic first when asked to name some non-Overwatch League pros that impressed him.
"He was quite good," ta1yo said. "I honestly thought that the other four players from Russia were going to be not too good so it would be easy to beat them on a team level, but Tonic actually came up and stood his ground."
Chi-Yeung "Moowe" Yip
National team: Hong Kong
Contenders team: Hong Kong Attitude
Moowe is no stranger to the World Cup or Contenders. He represented his country in the 2017 Overwatch World Cup Shanghai Qualifier (along with most of the 2018 Hong Kong team) and has been on Hong Kong Attitude since he tried out for the team in July 2017. Yet, Moowe wasn't on a lot of radars going into the 2018 Incheon Qualifier, especially after stepping down as a player and joining the coaching staff.
"We weren't exactly dissing [Moowe], but we were like -- we don't know what all this about Moowe is," ta1yo said. "We played him in scrims and in Contenders and he wasn't that great at that time but I guess on LAN, he can pull his weight and play good."
Mistakes recognized the HKA Widowmaker after facing him in the group stage.
"I felt like I'm playing bad but at the same time I felt like he's not missing at all," Mistakes said. "But then he played against Carpe and won most of the duels. If he can play McCree at least, I think he'd be a really good pick-up."
Moowe burst onto the Incheon stage with his dazzling Widowmaker, frequently besting Overwatch League all-star DPS Lee "Carpe" Jae-hyeok.
"I was scared that I was going to get beaten really bad, 'Oh I probably won't kill anybody.'" Moowe said. "But after the first match, I learned that if I can just take out their DPS first to protect my teammates, that will be the best strategy I can take on. When I got the chance to play against South Korea and Carpe, I already had experienced the Windowmakers from Russia -- I've experienced them from Finland -- so it was just another higher level. It was like playing a game and leveling up. By the time I played Carpe, I felt like I was at the level to play them. I felt like, 'Yeah, I can protect my teammates.'"
Yuma "Dep" Hisamoto
National team: Japan
Contenders team: CYCLOPS athlete gaming
Another Widowmaker to impress alongside Moowe was Japan's Dep, who had a similar standout performance on Day 2 against Team Taiwan that included a four-kill sniping streak on Rialto. In fact, Dep performed so well team that ta1yo said they might look into facilitating both Dep and fellow DPS player Kenji "AmeKen" Hisano more in CYCLOPS athlete gaming's upcoming Contenders Pacific Finals.
"I actually think that we figured out that our individual play is actually not so far off from Overwatch League players," ta1yo said. "DEP and Ameken -- they're both amazing DPS players and they can actually fight toe-to-toe with other Overwatch League players."
"After playing against him, I felt like he was a very careful and smart player," Moowe said. "It was really hard for me to catch on to where he would move to the next position because Dep is so careful. He was a little mysterious, I was like 'I don't know where he'll be.' When I played against Dep I was extra careful."