No matches

One of the leading topics in Overwatch League season 2 has been the perceived parity of teams. Many pundits will only confidently commit to outcomes of matches from New York Excelsior and Vancouver Titans or on the other side of the spectrum Washington Justice and Los Angeles Valiant. As the hierarchy at the extremes materializes, the question marks in the midfield are arguably bigger than ever before. Why are the other 16 teams so close?

A lot of players with short term ineligibility issues

Late last year the league released their player discipline tracker, revealing all suspended players for the start of the season. Last year competitors like Philadelphia Fusion’s Sado had been banned from competing for three whole stages and punishments across the board had generally longer durations. In comparison, the one to five game durations of this season are much more short term. Perhaps counterintuitively, in short ineligibility issues lies a significant source for the variance we can observe in stage 1.

While the Fusion had a predictably long time frame where they could only use Fragi, no scrim time had to be split and investing in the Finnish main tank was easy enough to justify in order to reach the season playoffs. Synergy was worth developing and building at least a solid core line up has historically been paramount to a functioning team.

Looking at the length of not just suspensions but general ineligibility issues such as age restrictions, visa troubles and two-way contract uncertainties, stage 1 was set up to be a chaotic endeavor. Names that come to mind that became or will become available during the first couple of weeks count plenty of star players among them. Neko for the Toronto Defiant, Decay for the Los Angeles Gladiators or Voil2t for San Francisco Shock all recently became available and have to be considered big enough upgrades to always warrant a starting spot. Late acquisitions like Gamsu’s for the Shanghai Dragons and Sasin for Hangzhou Spark add to the chaos. Pepper in health-related reasons such as Boombox inability to play and contract related uncertainties for players like Boston Uprisings Fusions and you get an inherently explosive mixture that likely contributed to signficant fluctuations in performance.

It is likely that some teams have split scrim time in these circumstances and have valued the first two weeks of matches less in order to have better longterm results by forming a core roster early.

GOATS don’t look at the same stars

The meta is GOATS and goats don’t care much about your former career achievements. The triple tank, triple support meta composition doesn’t seem to select for the same expressed talents in players. Instead, those teams who were quickest to absorb the mycelium like flow chart of decisions to take in any given situation are those who seem the fittest.

Carry performances come from different positions on the roster. Main tanks and supports gained a disproportionate amount of importance in this meta, with tanks like Fusions and supports like Masaa being able to transform teams overnight. Perhaps teams themselves were reluctant to accept those new realities or tried to weigh the short term success of establishing a dominant GOATS roster against the long term benefits of creating a roster that is more robust for metas that are likely to follow in stage 2 and onward.

Teams like San Francisco Shock still seem to be in a state of roster uncertainty and malleability in which they are still trying to decide with which frontline the team will start as well as which DPS players will establish themselves. With an embarrassment of riches at their disposal and a title as their goal, teams like the Shock but also the L.A. Gladiators will have to go through a similar selection process as last years champion’s London Spitfire. Therefore, in a meta very unlike the ones we had before and are even less likely to continue to see over the rest of the season, teams in their positions couldn’t have been expected to be powerhouses from the get-go.

A lot of of rust, a lot of green behind the ears

Overwatch League players from season one who weren’t either called up for the post season All-Star event or didn’t participate in the World Cup or worse yet didn’t make it to the season playoffs, had more than half a year of competitive void to bridge over. While they were certainly practicing also against other Overwatch League teams for months before the start of the season, it doesn’t appear to be quite the same as having the metaphorical spear of real competition in their backs to drive them forward.

Likewise, a lot of new players have entered the league from contenders regions all over the world and most of them haven’t played on a stage as intimidating as the one in Overwatch League. With hundreds of thousands of eyes on them, the pressure is high. Allegedly a couple of players had to use the facilities from falling sick of stage fright in the first two weeks. While many rookies have the advantage of having played GOATS for the last 6 months in their respective contenders teams, their lack of stage experience is likely to still be a considerable factor in their performances.

As a result, some voices have come forward, criticizing the overall level of play. According to some pundits, only a handful of teams have internalized the ins and outs of GOATS and the others are learning as they compete. According to contenders coaches, it isn’t that the GOATS composition does inherently invite for upsets or more randomness in match outcomes. Very much to the contrary, GOATS is said to be one of the most consistent compositions for top performing teams to outplay their lesser opposition on. Coaches disclosed that the meta couldn’t be blamed for the volatility we are seeing.

Given that improvements are generally quicker the lower one’s skill is at a task and with the issues of stage fright and rust still relevant, rapid improvements are to be expected over the first couple of weeks and some teams will do so more efficiently. This results in vast differences in performance from one week to another.

The quality of players significantly increased and is more spread out

The first season of the Overwatch League was a lesson to many. Too late last year, some general managers and head coaches had realised what it would take to be competitive and at least reach the playoffs. Some teams incorporated streaming personalities within their roster building, others didn’t go all out on their spending or didn’t have the sense of what the league format would require of a player.

Half spurred by the desire to be London Spitfire, half by the fear of becoming the next Shanghai Dragons, teams set out to scout the best talent Overwatch had to offer. Last season there had been plenty of examples to point to of OWL-calibre talent outside the league. The prime example to name here were the eventual Contenders season 2 champions RunAway. At the time of roster recruitment in season 1, they had just made it to the final of APEX Season 4 and lost narrowly against GC Busan around their star players Gesture and Profit, who would later lift the inaugural season trophy at the Barclays Center. It stands to reason that the players of RunAway themselves would’ve been forced to be reckoned with for the first season. This time around, the entire roster of RunAway was signed to the Vancouver Titans and they are doing very well at this time.

Other key cores who have been picked up for season 2 were players from the successful contenders rosters of Gigantti, Eagle Gaming, Kongdoo Panthera, O2 Ardeont, x6 Gaming and British Hurricane. But also many season 1 teams didn’t rest on their laurels and hired elite talent like Viol2t, Decay, Happy, Erster and Diem among others. Several elite promotions such as Nenne and Shu have added to the talent pile.

Conclusions and outlook

If the aforementioned arguments for the parity turn out to be true, we can expect matches to become more predictable towards the end of the stage as most points entail a factor that should change over time. Looking into stage playoffs, however, we can expect upsets once again as teams get to toy around and build counter-strategies to their opponents and throw curveballs. While we want to blame the stubborn mammal for playing tricks on teams, it appears to be tameable and as coaches grab it by the horns and domesticate it for their purposes, we should be able to observe an orderly herd soon.

Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

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