If one was to ask you which was the best tournament of 2017, the year before the Overwatch League, one answer should pop out of your mouth and that is: APEX Season 3.
There were definitely many other tournaments that had memorable moments throughout the year, or storylines of underdogs creating upsets or even better viewership numbers which may act as a criteria for the best tournament, but that tournament had everything, from start to finish. Even before the first match was played, everyone was getting pumped up for it in the West acknowledging that it was going to be the most premium event of the year. One change made it even more special. OGN narrowing down the spots of the invited Western teams from four to two, creating a very competitive environment in terms of which teams deserved to be invited and to represent West in that stacked tournament, against names like Runaway, Meta Athena, Kongdoo Panthera and, of course, Lunatic-Hai. Team Envyus, not being head over heels initially to go for a third round in a row of living in a hotel and competing in Korea, left for a while the second spot open; Rogue had secured the first one. And that was the time the “There is no team more deserving than X to go to Korea” meme was born, once people learnt that NRG was invited, a team that had zero, 0, official matches since the MLG Vegas tournament in December of 2016 till that time. APEX S3 was set to start on April 28th, 2017, and it was not just another competition for many fans.
In APEX S2, the previous season, four Western teams participated but only NV managed to exit the groups, into the playoffs. Misfits, with the all Swedish lineup, struggled; Fnatic, that shone in the Tank meta, was greatly upset by the patch change and Cloud9, with the most flexible roster ever, immortalized their run in that tournament by giving birth to the “C9” meme. Western fans wanted no repetition of this. They wanted the best teams to go to Korea. Even players themselves, like Michael “Winz” Bignet, wanted to challenge the Koreans and their best teams. He did not care about dropping out in the groups phase, neither he cared about getting prize money if it meant that he would have an easy ride to the playoffs and maybe all the way to semifinals. Pride was on the line.
For this pride and challenge, Team Envyus eventually decided to return to Korea, after making some necessary roster changes. The addition of Hyeon “Effect” Kim to the roster added not just more firepower to the team, but another layer of storylines altogether. Rejected by Lunatic-Hai, not wanting to stay on the bench of Meta Athena, one of the finest Tracers in the world went on to compete on a Western roster against his brethren. And as the old saying goes “fight fire with fire”, Effect seemed to be the Kryptonite of the Korean teams and helped NV reach all the way to the semifinals, where they eventually fell to Kongdoo Panthera.
Storylines, rivalries, trash talk, the best competition possible; everything was set to make this tournament the greatest and the matches did not disappoint. In fact, the very first match, from Group A, between Kongdoo Panthera and Lunatic-Hai, which at that time very few people could imagine that those two would end up in the Grand Finals, set the pace. Group A was called the Group of Death and for good measure, with the champions of the previous season, Lunatic-Hai; the heralded champions of the West, Rogue, and Kongdoo Panthera, which was the Kongdoo super team, fielding the best players of the organization’s sister teams. The latter were determined to make the third season theirs with Birdring leading the charge, after failing to do so in the second one despite having Evermore, the 5000 SR Roadhog, on the roster. Panthera entered the stage ready to hunt down their prey, putting Lunatic-Hai to the test off the bat.
I remember making sure to not miss any match of that tournament in the group stage, even from the easier groups, because there were storylines to follow in every single one of them and potential upsets. But once the competition entered the playoffs phase, everything turned upside down. X6-Gaming, who beat Runaway and Kongdoo Uncia to exit their group in their first ever appearance in an APEX season, beat Team Envyus; Kongdoo Panthera beat Lunatic-Hai and Afreeca Freecs “3-0″ed an unimpressive Meta Athena. But it was payback time for both NV and LH, who played without WhoRU due to disciplinary actions taken against him that forced him of the roster, getting replaced by Gido. This is, actually, one aspect of APEX Seasons that make their quarterfinal phase quite exciting: its comeback potential. Only the best teams will move on to the semifinals and the quality of the matches is ensured. But it was not only that. Among the eventual four semifinalists, two of them were already champions of previous seasons and the third was a Grand Finalist. All of them were carrying storylines and the one we eventually got, was probably the best one.
Lunatic-Hai and Kongdoo Panthera had faced each other twice in that very same tournament, exchanging wins. They had some of the best players on each role competing for the top player spot in Korea and the answer would be given by their showdown: Fissure vs Miro (Winston), Gido vs Birdring (Tracer), Zunba vs Void (D.Va). Tobi and Ryujehong were already out of reach. The two teams were also given an abundance of time to prepare, more than three weeks from the conclusion of the semifinals and therefore there were no excuses to be made. The rest is history that was written in the awesome arena you see below.
It will be a while before we see another back-to-back Champions crowned in APEX competitions, after being tested so hard. It will be a while before there are so many storylines interwoven in one tournament. Right now the APEX throne is empty.
Overwatch League will try to be that kind of competition in 2018, but for 2017, APEX S3 was -hands down- the king of tournaments.
Images and video, except for featured image, are courtesy of OGN and Logic_ow.