A Postmortem on the 2019 Overwatch League Season
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
PHEW, it's been a long six months since the second season of the Overwatch League started, but we're finally at the end of it. Last year I wrote an article chronicling the league itself and how each team performed and I'd like to do the same thing this year, although I warn you in advance this will be a long one. However before we even approach that we're going to go over what's new in the new season, and touch on a few other important trends. New teams, format changes, and GOATS can't be explained very succinctly, so if you'd like to see this all the way through then buckle up.
New Year, New Teams
On top of the original twelve teams from the first season of OWL this season saw the addition of EIGHT new teams, four joining each division. Cox sought to fight off against Comcast's Philadelphia Fusion by founding an Atlanta Reign of their own, the booming Chinese esports market got the Hanghzhou Spark, Guanzhou Charge, and Chengdu Hunters to represent them, France got a team of actual French players as the Paris Eternal, Canada got two Korean teams in the Vancouver Titans and Toronto Defiant (although one became less Korean mid-season), and the US Capitol made an effort to do something just and found a team called the Washington Justice. Each of these teams will get a breakdown of their own later on, but the most important thing to note is that the Spark's bubblegum pink and bright blue color scheme is the best in the league by far.
Change of Schedule
The OWL retained its four-stage format from last year, however it became heavily compromised under the weight of 20 teams. Last season each stage was a near-perfect round-robin, with each time competing against every other team except for one by playing two matches over five weeks, leading to them all playing 40 matches through the whole season. This couldn't have been feasibly recreated this season, and after concerns of player fatigue the league worked to ease the schedules for all players. Now, each team played seven matches in a stage and 28 by the time playoffs rolling around, with weekly schedules including, two, one, or even zero matches per team. Over the course of a season each team will play every other team in their division twice (18 matches) and every team in the other division once (10 matches), adding up to that 28 figure. But, on stage basis, this caused rampant questions about the competitive integrity of each one, as varying schedules would offer different difficulties, but teams would all be scored equally; aka a better team could have a worse stage record than a lesser team simply because their schedule was tougher. This fact has become even more apparent as no team in the Atlantic Division has even participated in a stage finals, and eight of the twelve teams advancing to the playoffs come from the Pacific Division.
For the announced 2020 season stages as a whole will disappear, largely due to the fact that homesteads (which will be discussed later in this article) would make bringing all of those teams together an additional two times incredibly difficult. Still, it means that all rankings have to be taken with a grain of salt, and viewers have to be cognizant of a team's division when evaluating their performance.
A Note on Production
This section is less about hardcore analysis, but more observation of what I can see in front of me and what I make of it. At the start of this year Activision-Blizzard laid off 8% of its workforce, and this is somewhat noticeable in the production of OWL, mainly through shortened, sloppier segments featuring a thinner pool of talent. Watchpoint is now held as a pre and post-show on every day, and is no longer a studio production. Additionally commentators like Soe and Malik have joined onto the analysis team of Sideshow and smooth-brain Bren, with Reinforce taking a different role within the OWL and Crumbz shifting back to being an analyst for the LCS. Still, there has been a hefty increase in the use of stylish animated graphics and player imagery in the show itself, and they did recruit the English casting duo from Contenders Korea of Wolf and Achilios, who are a wonderful addition. Also I believe they stopped doing makeup for the players, which is a mistake.
A Fantastically Awful Partnership
Before the season began Blizzard announced a multi-year partnership with sports merchandise manufacturer and storefront Fanatics, a move which many were excited for as a way to continue legitimizing the esports industry. This was a mistake. Fans of repeatedly criticized Fanatics for low-quality products that include errors like missing the D in Dallas Fuel, rebranding the C9-owned team as the London Splitfire, and printing the number and battle tag for a Dafran jersey in a near-identical color to the rest of the jersey. As with most multi-year deals this will continue on into the future, but the League has worked to expand its merchandise offerings slightly through a collaboration with Ultimate. Despite that, it seems clear that most fans would vastly prefer teams be able to produce their own merchandise at a higher quality; maybe we'll be there in 2021.
A Faint Smell of Desperation
Again an anecdote, but it seems the OWL is VERY keen on attracting more English viewers, through promotions with online influencers and personalities, most of whom seem to be paid. Not only that but the Watchpoint pre-show has started introducing pick-up-games with pros using non-standard rule sets to attempt to raise viewership of the Statefarm-sponsored segment. And as a sidenote the league started to display twitter messages from viewers in breaks between maps and rounds, but quickly found it was full of people asking to be featured and nothing else, so now it is merely a way for the league to promote its Twitter, merch, and ticket sales.
Flames Burning Out
Burnout has, is, and will continue to be a large problem for esports players and coaches alike. The OWL changed its season structure to give teams weeks where they would play one or zero matches and offer longer breaks in the mid-season and between stages for players to recoup. Still, this year saw a large number of departures and retirements, all due to a broad array of causes. They are; Silkthread, Asher, Munchkin, Dafran, Kuki, Fissure, Effect, Cocco, The Washington Justice's GM Kate Mitchell, and a special mention to Stellar who retired from the Toronto Defiant and then un-retired to become a member of the Boston Uprising. Seagull, a player from the Dallas Fuel who retired at the end of season one, recently spoke on stream that a potential reason for player burnout is that Overwatch is incredibly complex and constantly-changing game, where players are expected to understand a growing number of hero-interactions and how they impact an expanding pool of maps. A rumor recently surfaced that multiple players from the Chengdu Hunters would retire at the end of the season, citing that they were not happy living away from their home countries. Homesteads will provide some opportunities for players to reside in their home regions, but there is reason for concern that a large travel schedule for next season could introduce additional wear onto players, and lead to more retirements.
With the general season concluded we will now be moving into an expanded post-season which will begin on August 30th with the play-in tournament on the 30th and 31st, which is a single elimination tournament of the teams that placed 12th-7th in the season fighting for the final two spots in the play-offs.
Once the seventh and eighth seeds for the play-offs are determined, they league will then advance into a double-elimination tournament that will conclude on Sunday September 29th in a grand finals at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. A full schedule and broadcast platforms is available here
Patches and Prizing
The play-offs and play-ins will both be played on patch 1.39.1 which includes the newly-released tank hero Sigma as well as a change to the pace ultimates are generated, meaning they will be available less-often. Sigma has become popular combined with Orisa as a way to greatly increase the barrier health a single team can wield, so it will be interesting to see which teams play best with this new hero.
Only teams that make it to the play-offs will earn cash prizing, which will be distributed as follows: 8th & 7th place: $200,000; 6th & 5th place: $300,000; 4th place: $350,000; 3rd place: $450,000; 2nd place: $600,000; 1st place: $1,100,000.
A Tale of Two Goats
The first three stages of the season were dominated by one composition: GOATs. Popularized by a team in contenders of the same name, GOATs generally refers to three tanks and three supports, but more specifically refers to Reinhardt, Zarya, D.VA, Lucio, Zenyatta, and Brigitte. These six heroes have an incredibly specific set of interactions that made them near impossible to deal with; Lucio's speed boosting can help the team push forwards, Brigitte's flail adds an additional level of health regeneration for everyone, Zarya and Rein can be the front line of this push, enabling the Zarya to change up and deal immense damage, while Rein is free to swing his hammer and charge Earthshatters, Zen can help discord targets to focus them down while also using trans to cancel out Graviton Surges, and D.VA can mitigate some incoming damage, contest high ground, and defense-matrix away enemy gravs. There are even more interactions, using brig stuns to set up shatters, Lucio-booping enemies into the path of a Self-Destruct, older patches which allowed Brig to bash through Reinhard's shield and had her armor stacking beneath the shields on Zarya and Zen making them much harder to break through; GOATs was a definitive answer to almost every scenario.
In the wake of GOATs there were a plethora of balance adjustments, increasing damage for heroes like Soldier: 76, McCree, and Pharah, nerfs to Lucio's speed boost, removing Brig's ability to bash through Reinhardt's shield and changing the way armor stacked, but throughout GOATs was still prevalent; it was broken on a design-level. This all reached a peak during the Stage Three finals, in which Pharah, Sombra, Wrecking Ball, and Widowmaker were used by the Shanghai Dragons, displaying just how absurdly powerful some of these heroes had become in the time since they had seen regular use. This phenomenon is something commonly referred to in games as 'Power Creep', where strategies in a game are constantly made more powerful to one-up each other, and where newly introduced characters become more complex and versatile.
There was another problem with GOATs: It made Overwatch a worse spectator sport. Teams of six would clash in a tight cluster of visual effects that were hard to keep track of, and the factors swaying fights were minute elements like positioning and cooldown timings, instead of sweet Widowmaker headshots and Genji blades. To make matters worse, there was nothing worse then watching bad GOATs, as teams limply through themselves at one another, somehow managing to use all 12 ultimates available in a lobby and achieving zero eliminations.
Beginning in Stage Four Overwatch introduced its solution to GOATs: Role Lock. From here-on-out all teams will be comprised of two tanks, two supports, and two damage dealers, in OWL and soon in all of Overwatch. This change brought some balance edits to characters like Roadhog and Brigitte who were primarily used as the third character in their class, and is aimed as a way to help reduce the number of possible compositions so the game can be balanced more easily. Where it could be said that making this change three-quarters of the way into the season compromises the competitive integrity of the league, it appears every team was in favor of this change, diminishing that argument somewhat.
Do I believe this is a perfect solution? No. I understand the Overwatch team's hesitation towards options like hero bans, but it feels that the larger issue of power creep still looms, and characters need to be designed with similar capabilities, so that no heroes feel like they have more and more versatile options compared to others.
Also, delete Mei, Brig, Sombra, and D.VA, thank you.
Home is Wherever With You
This season the OWL finally took its first step towards the thing it was built for: teams playing in their local markets. Three homestands were held in Dallas, Atlanta, and Los Angeles (Side Note: Every game the LA teams have played is a home game so this one was pointless) featuring crowds from four-and-a-half to eight thousand watching their own teams playing at home. These events were largely successful, encouraging teams to get creative by introducing activities with local influencers, and allowing superfans to put themselves up on a dunk tank, where they will be dunked by a player on the team that beats their chosen team.
These case-studies were an interesting peak into what the next season of OWL may look like, but it will likely take an entire stage or season to really get a taste for how successful this will be. Many things could break it apart like the split production from two different locations, the cost of travel teams will incur, and the ability for teams to find venues that sill suit their needs.
Next season each team will host between two and five homestands, the full schedule of which have already been announced. Interestingly the Vancouver Titans have elected to hold their matches in the 18,000-seat Rogers Arena, where most teams have elected for smaller venues with around 4,000 seats.
FINALLY, the stage is set, the season has been covered, and now we can provide a comprehensive breakdown of how every team preformed during the course of the season, how they might look in the post season, and what they may want to work on ahead of 2020. Throughout this I will refer a lot to if these teams are expansion teams or not, and how the performed in pre and post-GOATs eras, as these are crucial in any for of evaluation. These will vary in length, but once again you may want to strap in for a long ride.
These teams will not be advancing to the post season in any form
#20 Florida Mayhem
Stage Rankings: 19, 19, 18, 6
Overall Record: 6-22 (-39)
The saddest part of the Florida story, is that this is a repeated failure from last year, as Florida came in 11th, only beating out the winless Shanghai Dragons. The team failed to build a compelling narrative around itself and instead was simply mediocre, disappointing fans to the point where it was joked on broadcast that there was only one present for them. So, what's a team with nothing to lose who's desperate for any form of moment? Remove all of the english players and coaches, TviQ, Apply, Mineral, and McGravy, from their roster and replace them with Koreans. This change happened before the beginning of stage two, and despite it the team continued their mediocre performance through the second and third stages where they only managed to secure a single victory over the Houston Outlaws.
With their existing talents of Sayaplayer and Hagoupen coupled with Fate and several additions from Korean Contenders like Gargoyle and Kris, this team actually looks much stronger then it did before, and managed sixth place in stage four. That result was too little too late, but perhaps Florida's future will look better in the 2-2-2 era, so long as they can finally build a stable core roster and support staff.
#19 Boston Uprising
Stage Rankings: 8, 13, 16, 20
Overall Record: 8-20 (-37)
Boston's season has been frankly bewildering. After finishing third place in season one, the team released its DPS player Mistakes, traded their other DPS Striker to the Shock, lost one of their Zenyatta players Neko to Toronto, blind-sided their main-tank Gamsu by trading him to the Dragons, and then exchanged off-tank Note to the Dallas Fuel in exchange for RCK. Their only returning players from season one were Kellex and Aimgod, while everyone else was new to the team, and new to OWL. Somehow, the team actually made this work in the first two stages off of impressive play from main-tank Fusions who made a splash at the Overwatch World Cup and is well-known for his ability to make calls in-game. Somewhere though it all fell apart. The team began to play their newly signed flex support Persia over Aimgod, who produced noticeably worse results. If that weren't enough, the freshly-traded RCK encountered an eye injury, meaning he struggled to play in Stage Four and the team had their DPS player Blase fill in as an off-tank, which he obviously didn't specialize in. Blase was obviously not happy about this as he was transferred from Brig jail directly into D.VA jail, and did not get to pass Widowmaker or collect $200. The team did manage to acquire a retired Stellar from the Toronto Defiant, but this didn't improve their outcome, and they now find themselves below a team with two wins across the entire first three stages.
What happened is hard to say, clearly the team's coaching and management have struggled during the season, and have made questionable decisions as to what players to field, as well as trading away their prior roster. This squad will likely see trades, possibly based on the fact that their players no longer have faith in HuK or the organization to properly operate. There will likely have to be organizational changes at the top in order for conditions to truly improve.
#17 Washington Justice
Stage Rankings: 18, 18, 19, 4
Overall Record: 8-20 (-33)
The Justice started the season on the worst foot possible. The expansion team started by acquiring Janus and analyst WizardHyeong from the NYXL, then recruited NA players from Contenders alongside Gido from Dynasty and Ado from the Dragons. Then, things became slightly ugly as the team allegedly made promises to bring on analyst Harsha from the Shock, but then revoked their offer after he had departed the Shock; Harsha was lather picked up by the Titans. This was followed by reports that the team was struggling with budget, and therefore was selecting players who were washed up and inexpensive. Sadly, this narrative rang true in their play, which was abysmal in the GOATs era. The team struggled to communicate and had a dreadful tank line, with Janus consistently missing earthshatters and Corey throwing gravitons around like free t-shirts at a convention. In an effort to remedy their mistakes the team acquired Ark from the NYXL, then followed that up by recruiting Sleepy from the Shock, bumping their count of support players from three to five. This earned the team no other favors as it left their support players Fahzix and Hyeonu out to dry, the former of which has already departed the team. To follow this, the team's GM Kate Mitchell departed during the mid-season break, and her successor Bawlynn was only named during stage four.
Despite that though the Justice made an incredibly strong showing in stage four and the 2-2-2 meta where they were less-impaired by language barriers and could allow Corey to play one of the best Hanzos Overwatch has ever seen, enabling them to clean sweep the Titans, which they are the only team to do. Growing pains might be putting things lightly, but there is hope for this Justice squad come 2020, with five homestands planned, a stable support staff, and the recruitment of tank duo Ellivote and Lullish from contenders, they may actually be a force to be reckoned with next year.
#17 Toronto Defiant
Stage Rankings: 3, 15, 19, 17
Overall Record: 8-20 (-33)
The Defiant haven't had an easy season, especially considering how it began. After a fantastic stage one the team suffered the retirement of two players: Asher and Stellar, both core members of an all-Korean roster. With them gone and the team in a pinch, it made drastic moves to acquire new players, by recruiting Logix formerly of the Mayhem, Canadian World-Cup and XL2 Contenders player Mangachu, as well as Sharyk and Gods from their own academy team, along with a ladder player im37 who had been in the contenders scene for only one month. With the exception of im37, all of these players speak exclusively english; im37 is bilingual in Korean and English which lead to an incredible jebait against OWL host Danny Lim. This meant that the Splyce-owned organization and roster had to tradition from being entirely Korean to being mixed-language, which clearly caused them to struggle. The team released its head coach Bishop early in August, highlighting these internal issues.
This team's struggles seem rooted in the loss of two star players and their inability to recover from it, along with internal issues caused with the mixing of cultures and language. Ideally they can take the time to iron out these rough spots in the off-season and fully cement a roster, staff, and playstyle.
#16 Houston Outlaws
Stage Rankings: 12, 20, 7, 16
Overall Record: 9-19 (-22)
The Houston Outlaws roster remains largely unchanged from last season, with the exception of Danteh who was added to the team for his Sombra and Tracer ability, which they were sorely lacking. However this team was one of many that struggled to adapt to GOATs, as they had previously benefited heavily from the DPS skills of hitscan-extraordinaire Linkzr and projectile specialist Jake. This was clear in a series where the Outlaws faced the Vancouver Titans, the most dominant GOATs team, and managed to win the first map utilizing a triple-DPS composition; they inexplicably switched to GOATs for the remainder of the series and lost. Still, their performance in the 2-2-2 era has left much to be desired, as the current meta is far from their specialty.
To make matters worse, the team's parent organization OpTic Gaming was acquired by the Immortals Gaming Club during the season, which lead to uncertain times for the organization. This is because the Immortals Gaming Club own the Valiant, and for obvious reasons are not allowed to be in control of two OWL franchises simultaneously, meaning that the team was not going to have any additions or changes made to it, and that Immortals would have to help court a new owner for the team. A Houston-area real estate investor acquired the team at the end of July, which can hopefully allow this team some additional resources to improve ahead of the 2020 season.
#15 Dallas Fuel
Stage Rankings: 9, 6, 16, 19
Overall Record: 10-18 (-27)
Its hard to pin down exactly what went wrong for the Fuel this season, but there seem to be many factors at play. Despite losing Seagull at the end of the previous season the team acquired DPS-star Zacharee, and seemed in a solid place for the first half of the season. However they ended that season on a ten-match losing streak, and the team's owner hastr0 has taken to twitter saying that action will be taken to try and improve.
This can be partially attributed to the retirement of Effect from the team and competitive Overwatch as a whole, but the team still retained three DPS players in Zach, Taimou, and AKM. Additionally they made moves to acquire off-tank Note from the Uprising in exchange for RCK, and promoted main-tank Trill from their academy team. However their efforts did not improve their results, and the team seemed to struggle to adapt to the volatile metas of stages thee and four. More than anything this team seems to need a break, as they've likely been worn down by the long season and incredible pressure from their fanbase. Hopefully things will improve for them once their well-rested.
#14 Paris Eternal
Stage Rankings: 16, 16, 12, 14
Overall Record: 11-17 (-21)
This all-star cast of French veterans from the Overwatch scene never really seemed to have it together. They were never very coordinated in GOATs, and still failed to perform in a meta where Soon and Shadowburn were better-able to play their famous DPS picks. More than anything, this team was simply uninspiring, and there isn't much to say about them beyond the fact that they just weren't any good. Perhaps they had an under-developed internal structure as a non-endemic team entering esports, and that with more time and infrastructure they can shape up into something more remarkable.
#13 Los Angeles Valiant
Stage Rankings: 20, 13, 6, 11
Overall Record: 12-16 (-5)
At the start of the season the Valiant launched a campaign called "We are 7," as some idiotic notion that their fans were the seventh member of the nine-man roster. At the conclusion of Stage One the team had to issue a tweet saying that "We are 0-7" as they failed to win a single match. There were clearly internal issues plaguing the team at this time, as they released their head coach Moon between weeks four and five of Stage One. One reason to blame could be that the team forgot they had team motivator and shot-caller Custa on their team and never fielded him as a player, instead opting for Izayaki.
During the midseason break the team traded main-tank Fate to the Florida Mayhem in exchange for the Mayhem's McGravy and Mayhem Academy players Shax and FCTFCTN. With these changes the team looked remarkably better in the tail-end of the season, managing to be the first to defeat the Vancouver Titan's in a regular-season match. Still, the losses suffered early on were insurmountable, and after failing to win either match at their own homestand they failed to qualify for the play-in tournament.
These teams have qualified for the play-in tournament and could appear in playoffs
#12 Chengdu Hunters
Stage Rankings: 16, 9, 13, 9
Overall Record: 13-15 (-11)
What seemed to be an unremarkable squad destined for mediocrity actually turned out to be the most entertaining team in the league to watch, for their bizarre compositions, fast-paced playstyle, and refusal to adhere to any Meta. From early on in the season they were one of the few teams willing to play triple DPS with the sole tank on the field piloting a Wrecking Ball, in which he displayed incredible prowess. They have become the face of Chinese Overwatch, being the only team to have an entirely Chinese roster, (The Charge, Spark, and Dragons have a combined four Chinese players), and largely comprise the Chinese World Cup team. Of course the team's style lead to volatility in their performance, and they barely managed to qualify for the play-in tournament. But they may stand a chance if they could utilize their creativity and disrupt the current meta, if such a thing could be done at all.
If you haven't, I recommend perusing an old VoD of Sideshow watching the Hunters play the Titans during stage one and take them all the way to map five, as a look back at the moment when we discovered what this team really is. Sadly though, reports have emerged that many players from the team may retire at the end of the year, citing that they are not happy living so far away from home. It will be interesting to watch in the post season to see if this comes to fruition, and how the team adapts.
#11 Shanghai Dragons
Stage Three Champions
Stage Rankings: 13, 8, 8, 18
Overall Record: 13-15 (-10)
After famously failing to win a single match in all of Season One of the OWL, the Shanghai Dragons released eight of its players, and quickly replaced them with six new ones from Korean Contenders. This left Diya as the only Chinese player on the team and one of two players remaining from season one, alongside Geguri. At the start of the season the team acquired Gamsu from the Uprising and in week two of Stage One achieved their first-ever win, ironically against the Uprising. Since then the team has acquired Envy and Izayaki, and gone on to defeat both the San Francisco Shock and Vancouver Titans to become the Stage Three Champions.
They have long left behind the 0-40 Shanghai Dragons and have made a name for themselves, even if that name was founded on a composition of Pharah, Sombra, Widow, and Wrecking Ball that can no longer be used. With their disappointing performance in Stage Four it's unlikely this team will advance past the play-ins, but they should be proud of what they've accomplished regardless.
#10 Philadelphia Fusion
Stage Rankings: 3, 11, 11, 12
Overall Record: 15-13 (-3)
Following their defeat in the grand finals of the OWL last season, the Fusion made very few changes to their roster, only losing Shadowburn to the Eternal and Hotba to the Charge, and promoting Elk into a two-way contract. Philideplhia made an impressive showing in stage one, but had the benefit of encountering the Justice, Eternal, and Valiant, but sustained losses from the Fuel and Mayhem. Still, this was their most impressive stage as the team struggled to maintain its GOATs play to remain competitive, has not been looking favorable in the Reaper-Mei-Orisa meta of stage four. At the beginning of stage four the team traded away Fragi in exchange for Hyp from the Charge, as the team had fielded the Finnish maintank all-season, due to alleged internal conflicts between him and hit-scan all-star Carpe. This team will hope to be able to return to some of their familiar heroes and compositions if they wish to make another run towards the finals.
#9 Guanzhou Charge
Stage Rankings: 11, 17, 10, 3
Overall Records: 15-13 (+4)
The Charge sports one of the blander brands in the league, but has an interesting roster featuring Korean, Chinese, and an American player. This mixed roster didn't slow them down much, owever they struggled heavily in stage two as they encountered the LA Gladiators and had to play against the San Francisco Shock twice. However the team has looked much stronger in stage four, as the acquired Fragi from the Fusion and Bischu from the Gladiators, and their hitscan specialist Happy has found immense success on Widowmaker. If this team's new tank line fares well with Sigma and the new patch, this team could make its way into the play-offs.
#8 Seoul Dynasty
Stage Rankings: 6, 10, 5, 13
Overall Record: 15-13 (+14)
Labelled as one of the greater disappointments from the inaugural season, the Dynasty were quick to remove six players from their active roster and replace them with players from Korean Contenders, alongside Fissure, star main tank and MVP candidate from the Gladiators who had a falling out with the team at the end of the season.The team has since started to make use of their full roster, often giving all players time on stage and granting themselves a lot of flexibility in the volatile meta. This team even went on to defeat the NYXL in the first round of stage one play-offs, and has found has performed very consistently. The talents of Fleta and Ryujehong remain consistent and have allowed this squad to earn a much more favorable place compared to last season.Despite losing both Fissure and Munchkin to retirement, this team seems to be in a very healthy place, and will likely just need to iron out smaller issues if they wish to make a play-offs run.
#7 London Spitfire
Stage Rankings: 13, 3, 14, 9
Overall Record: 16-12 (+6)
Our reigning champions continue to be their inconsistent selves. Following their victory they recruited Guard and Krillin to meet the league's roster requirement of eight players, and brought on Coach815 as a new head coach, who had previously coached MVP space from Korean Contenders; Coach815 departed the team at the end of July. With Gesture's preference towards Winston and Birdring's struggles on Zarya this team didn't always fare well in the GOATs era, but achieved greater success in later stages by switching Profit onto Zarya with Birdring onto Brigitte, and occasionally fielding Guard on to play Sombra. Given their volatility its hard to bet for or against the Spitfire, so all eyes will be watching to see if they can summon their inhuman play-offs fire, or if we'll get the Spitfire that struggled to take a win off of the Justice in stage one.
These teams have already qualified for the playoffs
#6 Atlanta Reign
Stage Rankings: 5, 11, 15, 1
Overall Record 16-12 (+19)
Coincidentally the Reign are the season two equivalent of the Fusion, being an east-coast based multi-national team owned by a telecommunication company and performing rather well in their first season. Despite the early loss of popular stream and Torbjorn-aficionado Dafran to retirement, this team of players assembled from various Contenders regions and teams has still found great success in their loud-mouthed and aggressive flex support Dogman, along with their highly proficient DPS players and solid tank line. Their 7-0 record in stage four should inspire confidence in this squad moving forwards as a very serious contender for the championship prize, and COX should feel immensely satisfied with the performance of a squad created from scratch.
#5 Los Angeles Gladiators
Stage Rankings: 10, 4, 9, 8
Overall Record: 17-11 (+19)
The Gladiators share a similar narrative to the Spitfire, having shed both Silkthread and Asher at the end of the season and acquiring four new players, including the highly-sought Decay of Kongdoo Panthera from Korean Contenders. The difference here is that the Gladiators have maintained a consistent performance throughout the season on their North American DPS, Finnish Supports, and Korean Tanks. Looking forwards the grander question will be if this team can rise to the challenge the top teams in the playoffs, despite losing to both the Shock and Spark in stage four.
#4 Hangzhou Spark
Stage Rankings: 13, 7, 3, 7
Overall Record 18-10 (+12)
Do not let the team's Chinese star main tank and Winston specialist fool you, this is another roster fostered on talent from Korean Contenders, not that that's inherently a bad thing. Guxue's Winston is impeccable and made quite the splash at the 2018 World Cup, displaying Primal Rage proficiency that was frankly unseen. With a talented roster to back him up the squad with the best branding and color scheme in the league has looked quite impressive, despite having a less-thank-stellar map differential. Most recently however the team struggled against the NYXL, Charge, and Reign, meaning that it certainly as some issues to sure up if it wishes to move on to the Wells Fargo Center.
Also we have the Spark to thank for the trend of teams creating posters to celebrate matches, as if there weren't enough reasons to love them.
#3 New York Excelsior
Atlantic Division Champions
Stage Rankings: 2, 5, 1, 15
Overall Record: 22-6 (+40)
Currently no one knows quite what to make of the NYXL. The all-star squad from the 2018 season failed to show up in the play-offs and was bested by the Philadelphia Fusion, who they had conquered in the Stage Two play-offs earlier that year. In the off-season they acquired two new DPS players from their academy team in Nenne and Fl0w3r, and with the sale of Ark and Janus to the Justice this means that the squad is in possession of two support players, two tank players, and five DPS players. This lopsided-roster has been fairly consistent in their performance, or consistent in the sense that they are dominant in the Atlantic Division but struggle against the Pacific Division. The exception to this rule is the back-to-back losses they endured against the Atlanta Reign. From the outside it appears this squad has faltered under external pressure and has been hesitant to make additions to their tank and support lines, which are exceptional but perhaps could use reinforcements. It seems unlikely that the NYXL will progress far into the playoffs, but as the Atlantic Division Champions they have the luxury of being seeded second in the play-offs, despite having only the third-best record.
#2 San Francisco Shock
Stage Two Champions
Stage Rankings: 6, 1, 4, 1
Overall Record: 23-5 (+66)
San Francisco played the long game, and it clearly paid off. After a struggling season one with several players aging into eligibility mid-season the squad has fully developed into something special, bolstered by additions like Smurf and Rascal, the latter of whom has displayed talents as an incredibly versatile player. The team's primary issue has been supplying play-time for its entire roster, which lead to them losing Sleepy and Babybay mid-season. Those losses didn't effect the team's performance much, as they managed to go all of stage two without losing a single map, achieving a flawless 28-0. The incredibly skill of players like Sinatra, Super, Rascal, Viol2t, Architect, and Moth has helped this team cement itself as the one to beat going into play-offs.
#1 Vancouver Titans
Stage One Champions
Pacific Division Champions
Stage Rankings: 1, 2, 2, 5
Overall Record 25-3 (+61)
The Titans are the kings of GOATs. Having perfected the playstyle during their time in Korean Contenders as the squad Runaway and then being acquired wholesale to become the Titans allowed them to bring incredible synnergy into the OWL and propel themselves to dominance. Early on the team was frankly BMing opponents as spurred on by main tank Bumper and his tendency to sneak behind enemy teams for earthshatters and charge head-long into them, with the rest of the team funneling all of their support into him. Of course, the players on this team possess immense skill and are all some of the best in their respective roles, with Jjanu and Twilight earning themselves nominations for general season MVP.
However the question has become whether this team will be the NYXL of season two, and if their regular-season success has lead them to take an un-earned trip to the beach. Hopefully falling to the Washington Justice in a 4-0 sweep was a wake-up call that this team needs to tie up their shoes and put their game faces on if they want to claim the championship, but only time will tell; perhaps their newly signed main tank TiZi can light some fire in their hearts.
WHEW, that was a lot of Overwatch to write about. All eyes will be focused ahead on the play-ins this weekend, and to see how the new meta with Sigma will shake out. Early indicators sow that we may see a lot of Sigma-Orisa-Symmetra play, which would be interesting to say the least.