ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Dominant Winston ultimates and teammates who played their hearts out across the match led Team China to a striking victory over Team Finland in the quarterfinals of the Overwatch World Cup on Friday at BlizzCon.
In a day full of upsets and unpredictable outcomes at the Anaheim Convention Center, the China-Finland match was the only game that analysts and commentators pinned as a toss-up. Although South Korea is still in the hunt for its three-peat, now that the United States and France have fallen to the United Kingdom and Canada, the path to the Overwatch World Cup crown is as open as ever.
"There were a lot of upsets today with so many teams being overconfident," Chinese tank player Ma "Lateyoung" Tianbin said following his team's victory over Finland. "We were able to use that against them."
Even after the victory, the Chinese squad remained humble, focusing primarily on their next matchup against Canada in the semifinals.
"We were able to be faster and younger against Finland, and our biggest lesson is how strong our team synergy was," Lateyoung said. "And now we're going to go study and break down Canada's strategy right after this."
The 2018 World Cup couldn't be more important to China, as the region is getting three new teams in the second season of the Overwatch League. The BlizzCon tournament could act as a pseudo tryout for players hoping to secure a spot with Chengdu, Guangzhou or Hangzhou -- or on any other team roster -- later this year.
Other than former Shanghai Dragons player He "Sky" Junjian, who is a free agent entering Season 2, no player on Team China has been on an Overwatch League roster.
One of those players, main tank Xu "guxue" Qiulin, has been a standout with his play in Overwatch Contenders and in the qualifiers leading up to BlizzCon. The 18-year-old recorded 296 final blows, more than anyone else on his team, during its unbeaten run through the group stage and was instrumental in China's win over Finland, with more than 10,000 hero damage and 16 final blows before the half as Winston.
"We did extensive research on Finland before the match," guxue said. "We were prepared. We felt good."
That preparation is notable given the youth on China's roster. Four members of the team are 18 years old, and Lateyoung is only a bit ahead at 19. All of the players other than Huang "leave" Xin, the elder statesman of the squad, are new to Team China this year.
There's plenty of promise, but also plenty of room to improve, guxue said.
"I would like to take my skills to the next level," he said. "But before that happens, I think I need to improve on the number of heroes I can play well, though. That's the next step."
Finland main tank Joona "Fragi" Laine, meanwhile, struggled to have an impact during guxue's breakout match. The Philadelphia Fusion star's Winston failed to cause significant damage or get vital picks throughout the game. Fragi has been playing in a different type of role as of late, although he didn't hesitate to recognize the talent opposite of him.
"He's super hyped; he played really well," Fragi said of guxue. "His Winston had some really big plays."
While it's difficult to determine whether any of these rising stars will have a contract with an Overwatch League team next season, it's safe to say they're moving in the right direction. Most teams still believe that South Korea, especially after its shutout of Australia, will take the championship once again. But with France and the United States out of contention, China could be the favorite to take them on in the finals.
The team's Friday opponents think so, anyway.
"I think it's going to be South Korea that takes it all," Finland's Timo "Taimou" Kettunen said, "but I think China could be who they play in the finals."
Lateyoung, guxue and the rest of the Chinese team embraced that belief, saying that they have a strong chance of making it all the way to Saturday's finals -- and if they do, they want it to be against the best in the world.
"If we make it to the finals, I want our opponent to be South Korea," Lateyoung said. "That way, even if we lose, we can go home with that accomplishment."