By Matthew Gozzip Staff Writer
The Overwatch League (OWL) is only a quarter of the way through its inaugural season but it is easily one of the most entertaining sports spectacles of the year. The once maligned league dubbed as a “risky investment” by esports experts is now a tour de force, smashing expectations on competitive play (so long stale, dive-comp chess matches!) and viewership numbers, defeating the National Football League’s Thursday Night Football ratings on the league’s opening weekend (strictly digital streams, but still!)
From fantastic five game matches to unexpected rises of mystery teams, the OWL is continuing to roll out surprises. In honor of stage 1/week 5 ending soon, here are some observations about the tournament so far:
Who “REALLY” is the best team?
For the first two weeks, the Seoul Dynasty (5-2) looked unstoppable. The preseason favorite ran roughshod over the competition. Their two South Korean rivals, the New York Excelsior (6-1) and London Spitfire (6-1), also were undefeated but didn’t sport a signature win. Everything changed in week three when all three teams were toppled.
The Excelsior dropped a five game set to a wily Philadelphia Fusion team (more on them later) while the Spitfire couldn’t control anything against the Boston Uprising. A day later, the Excelsior brought their best game and defeated the Dynasty in a five game classic that may have been the most entertaining competitive match to date.
Perhaps the Dynasty was looking forward to week 4 against the Spitfire, arguably the most powerful DPS (damage per second) team in the league. It wouldn’t have mattered anyways. Spitfire absolutely dumped the Dynasty, 4-0, a shocking result considering the Dynasty’s reputation up to that point. Gesture playing Winston shut down Seoul’s top supports and even outdueled his opposing tank and World Cup legend, Miro. Instead of letting Gesture soak up damage, the Spitfire actually defended the Winston so he could make timely eliminations.
Going into week five, the standings shifted with Spitfire and Excelsior at the top of the table and the Dynasty now looking for answers with a daunting schedule ahead of them.
Flying Fusion, Voracious Valiant, Outstanding Outlaws
Even though the Korean teams are firing on all cylinders, the American teams are starting to build momentum (yes, technically the teams based in American cities still have players around the world but bear with the distinction).
The Houston Outlaws and Dallas Fuel are full of all the big marquee names but both teams came out flat at the beginning of the season.
This left room for the Philadelphia Fusion (5-3), the mystery team of the league up to that point, to stake their claim as the best domestic team. The Fusion had a weird advantage since they weren’t able to assemble the team in time to play in the preseason, disallowing teams from understanding their tactics. DPS duo Carpe and Shadowburn were virtually unstoppable with their top tank Fragi giving them protection and space.
During this run, the Los Angeles Valiant (5-2) filled up their own win column while rotating in all the players, keeping their skills fresh along the way. This balance has allowed for the team to be much more flexible than other teams. It also helps to have one an incredibly balanced support group with uNKOE, Verbo and KariV keeping the team upright. The most impressive match of the season was the first Los Angeles Derby when the Valiant fell in a 0-2 hole against the Los Angeles Gladiators (3-4) before performing a reverse sweep to win the match 3-2 in the tiebreaker.
Down but not out, the Outlaws (5-2) surged back with four straight matches by full four game sweeps, going an unprecedented 16-0. The streak ended this past week after they “only” defeated the San Francisco Shock (2-5) in a 3-1 snoozer. Momentum plays such an important role in any sport and the Outlaws are easily the hottest team right now, led by the stout tank Muma and stage 1 MVP favorite, Linkzr.
Compelling matches yield excitement and with excitement comes more fans. It’s been great to see the Blizzard Arena packed every match with fans from all types of teams. One of my favorite features of the Overwatch League is that it mirrors the regional fandom of other sports leagues. Once each team is able to construct their own arena, the league will continue to grow and start a new trend in esports that would further legitimize it as an important sport. The broadcast production and the new spectator/replay system captures all the best parts about Overwatch and makes them more pleasant to follow.