The games are scheduled, the players are ready, and only anticipation and counting days is holding back the Overwatch League from starting. Opening day is January 10th, but between now and the end of stage five, a lot will evolve and change. The stories, magic, and aura of the league will be insistently shuffled throughout the coming months. Yet, with the opening week, there is an air of expectation of success, upsets, and remarkable showings. After all, some of the younger players are now old enough to play, and the Philadelphia Fusion will make their debut after missing the pre-season slot of games.
Any competition is filtered through the eyes of intensity and determination; expect the first week of the Overwatch League to be nothing less. In fact, this week may set the stage for rivalries and even some humorous mono-mono matchups to pervade the entire first season. Watching for those finer points to reveal themselves is only the first element in what to watch. The latter half of what to watch for in the Overwatch League debut involves technicality within personnel decision, the Fusion’s presence, and how quickly tiers evolve amidst the competition.
What to Watch for In Overwatch League Debut – Stage One, Week One
Since the Overwatch League has been quiet, with player’s practicing in team scrimmages for a month, a quick recap of the pre-season and the league structure is in order.
The full pre-season power rankings, with details on each team can be found here. In summation, the Los Angeles Valiant and Seoul Dynasty dominated the league with well rounded rosters. Although all teams showed some precise acumen, teams which could vary their attacks rode to the top, and teams that only had enough personnel for one set remained on the bottom. Full results and replay video can be found on the official Overwatch League website.
- Los Angeles Valiant
- Seoul Dynasty
- Dallas Fuel
- London Spitfire
- New York Excelsior
- Los Angeles Gladiators
- San Francisco Shock
- Houston Outlaws
- Florida Mayhem
- Boston Uprising
- Shanghai Dragons
- Philadelphia Fusion (Did not participate)
Second, the league structure consists of four stages with five weeks per stage. Three games from Wednesday to Saturday will be played each week. The top four teams will face off for a quick championship of that stage on the last Saturday night of said stage. The winning team will receive a prize pool of around $125,000. After four stages, the best teams will be capitulated into the playoff fervor.
Coaching and Personnel
One of the interesting aspects of esports competition, specifically with the team aspect of the Overwatch League, is transitioning between personnel packages and how coaches vary their approach to each map, situation, and opponent. Esports has taken the same succinct points as football, soccer, or even baseball; personnel on team sports varies depending on what is needed in the immediate field of play. Juxtaposed to football or soccer, however, is a limitation of personnel in esports. The youth and limitations of most esports leagues manufactures teams which have only enough players to play one style all the time. The prominence of esports games within the fighting game community (one-on-one games) puts further emphasis on the singular player instead of the team aspect.
The Overwatch League pre-season showed the most successful teams were those who could vary their play and approach each systemic attack with a new, nuanced systemic attack of their own. The combination of support, DPS, and tanks adds not only strategy, but a wide swath of heroes to choose from. Hence, some players are serviceable at more than one hero.
The coaching and situational aptitude has little been touched on due to the afore mentioned lack of players available in lower, less-supported leagues. However, in the Overwatch League, some teams have even two coaches with enough players to rotate a new roster in each game. Other teams are left with only enough players to field one, consistent roster.
On maps such as Junkertown, whether teams take a more poignant, attacking front with heavier DPS and less tanks will evolve the meta in one direction. This can be contrasted to how teams defend Junnkertown. Defense with heavier DPS allows for quicker transitions and flanks, but more tanks would also create a heavier, more difficult front for a DPS staged offense to rush through. Ultimately, the winner may come down to whomever plays their strategy with better understanding and focus, just as any other competition.
Certainly, the actions of the Overwatch League will be an education point for the general meta of the game, affecting how casual players approach each map.
Not all teams can play with flexibility due to a lack of players signed, and instead must make focus and practice their main tenant. The Valiant, Dallas Fuel, and London Spitfire own the most flexible rosters, with the Seoul Dynasty playing the most consistent strategy. The Los Angeles Gladiators and Florida Mayhem are the least flexible. The San Francisco Shock have stocked up for next year with two aces, Jay “Sinatraa” Won and Matthew “Super” DeLisi, who are ineligible for this season due to age.
Philadelphia Fusion Debut
The Fusion, owned by Comcast Spectacor, were one of the last teams admitted to the league, and more so than any other team, have befallen to the ‘owned by a corporation’ essence. Comcast is not an intrinsically bad ownership group, but between a failed reveal trailer wholly bereft of professionalism, being one of the last teams to negotiate their way into the league, and logistical issues that kept the team from the pre-season, Comcast has let their team down.
According to sources, the ‘logistical issues’ were compounded Visa issues that kept players from traveling. Naturally, an ownership group nuanced in handling esport Visa issues would have prevented this. Those same sources are indicating all logistical issues have now, fortunately, been solved and players will be in Los Angeles early next week.
Business points aside, watching how the Fusion perform will be one of the most intriguing storylines of week one and two. Despite practicing together, the 12 players from 10 nations have also befallen to a lack of promotion; there is little information or interviews pointing to how they will interact in matches (again, a major flaw in the in-personable ownership group).
Lastly, Su-min “Sado” Kim, the main tank for the Fusion, will be suspended for the first 30 games due to account boosting. Account boosting is where an individual is paid to increase another players’ skill rating, thus manipulating end results.
The Fusion will be the first team to battle very specific drama and ‘off-the-field’ storylines.
The Evolution of Tiers
One of the most observable storylines in the pre-season was the division of pure tiers between players and whole rosters. Despite Overwatch having been playable for over a year now, there are players with more experience in the esports and competitive Overwatch scene. Whether it be purely the ‘pre-season’ mantra (teams not giving it their all) or truly a division of tiers causing this problem will be quickly revealed within the early weeks of competition.
As the season moves onward and upward, there will be certain players and teams who take different roles apropos their slot on the team. Some of the younger players, such as the Valiant’s Brady “Agilities” Girardi and Ted “Silkthread” Wang or the Excelsior’s Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang, may take a more under dog role. The Gladiators and Shock do not have the wholistic rosters of other teams, thus players such as Lane “Surefour” Roberts and Andrej “Babybay” Francisty will take the super-star role on each team respectively, and be used as a building point for future seasons.
There is certainly a concern early in the league the same teams will be dominating or disappointing all season long. Teams will need to learn how to be competitive and evolve their play to limit the breadth the different tiers of players create a rift and a league bereft of true competition.
Then again, studies in other major leagues show that tradition and common place winners create comfort, and comfort in the end draws bigger numbers.
Best Matchups to Watch
With three matchups per day, and each match ranging from 90 minutes to two hours, here is the (predicted) best match to watch each day of the week. (All times are in Pacific Standard Time)
Wednesday January 10th – Dallas Fuel vs. Seoul Dynasty (8PM)
The Dallas Fuel (number three in power rankings) against the Seoul Dynasty (number two in power rankings) puts together a compendium of the two most powerful teams and wholistic rosters in the league. The Fuel have one of the most formidable rosters with variation in players who can DPS leads or dominate with Widomaker as a sniper. Then again, the Fuel got to number three in the pre-season power rankings only after several close victories.
Meanwhile, the Seoul Dynasty could be the number one seed and easily the most dominating team in the early stretch of league play. They easily dismissed their opponents and own a true systemic attack; they are a precise machine where every player knows where to move.
Thursday January 11th – Philadelphia Fusion vs. Houston Outlaws (4PM)
The Fusion’s first game in the league will come with a plethora of scrutiny, as described above. Their roster construction has a lot of promise, but too many questions regarding coherence. They were put at 12 in the power rankings due to a lack of intel, but may not rise much more then 10 or nine by next week after more data is gathered.
The Houston Outlaws are possibly a season away from being very good. They have underlying flexibility, but still were unable to overcome more experienced teams. Juxtaposing their first week of play with their performance come stage five will be an intriguing evolution.
Friday January 12th – Los Angeles Valiant vs. Dallas Fuel (4PM)
The Valiant and Fuel take the highlight on Friday as another matchup of powerhouses. The Valiant own the former esports team Immortal’s roster, and maybe had the most fun of all the teams in the pre-season. That spirit capitulated them to early domination in the pre-season, but it will be interesting to see if they can sustain that success as the emotion and ‘newness’ dips.
Meanwhile, the Fuel will be playing yet another top tier team. The breadth of games does not necessitate that the Fuel win all matchups, but it does necessitate they show up and improve each week. In fact, with the Fuel possibly being just outside of a top team, their adaptation to each game will dictate their long-term success.
Saturday January 13th – Seoul Dynasty vs. Los Angeles Gladiators (3PM)
The Dynasty, already noted for their varying play style, are a tier ahead of the Gladiators. However, the Gladiators, a second-tier team, are on the precept of either the last team in or out of the playoffs. With their hyper-flexibility shaped roster, the only part of the game they are missing is who the definitive leader is. With three candidates – Lane “Surefour” Roberts, Jun-Sung “Asher” Choi, or Aaron “Bischu” Kim – for the lead role, playing a top tier team such as the Dynasty may offer a hint at who the natural leader is.
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