There are plenty of interesting narratives which have emerged in the off-season and in the lead up to the second season of Overwatch League. Will the Seoul Dynasty recover from it’s disaster of a first season and achieve the highs that many thought that they would achieve? Will the reigning champions London Spitfire develop the consistency to match their amazing peaks that they had during the playoffs? How will all of the new expansion team teams fair against the established OWL teams from season one? For all of those one’s there are some other narratives which quite haven’t gotten the same attention or even any at all so why don’t we take a look at some of them.
- Where is my Western Main Tank?
There has been a general discussion over the nature of Korean talent being some of the most courted during the off-season and the discussion of whether or not the success of many Korean players and of predominately or entirely Korean rosters has fostered a belief that Korean talent is the best. This is perhaps no better articulated than in the vice grip which Koreans as a whole have on the Main Tank position.
Of the 18 new main tanks which have come into the league via the expansion teams, 11 of them are Korean. Of the 6 teams which made the playoffs last season, all 6 had Korean’s starting main tanks. Here’s a quick task, rank the main tanks in OWL from best to worst, how many Koreans do you go through before you arrive at someone from the EU or NA region? Even the most bullish of fan of EU & NA talent would struggle to not name at least 5 Korean’s better than the best Western main tank.
No other region has a vice like grip over a particular position like Korea does on main tank but if ever there was a meta and a season for that to change this would be it. Europe has long been the breeding ground for tank based gameplay stretching as far back a Finnish based outfit Ninjas In Pyjamas and transitioning through to the heavy usage of quadruple tanks that proliferated the first season of EU Contenders. At the center of these teams has been terrific main tank play which players like BenBest, Fusions and LhCloudy will all look to continue into the new season.
2. Chengdu Is China.
Chinese Overwatch is a enigma unto itself. On one hand it shows immense promise with a innovative and aggressive style that is quite entertaining to watch. On the other hand the instances of which Chinese Overwatch has shined at a consistent and high level against the talent from other regions outside of the Overwatch World Cup have been few and far between. Their success at the World Cup is partially understandable from the point of view that quite a few of China’s real talents are still underage which isn’t a factor in the World Cup as there are no age restrictions on the rosters. This allows China to assemble a roster of their best talent which means they can get the talent that has often been dispersed across many teams into one coheasive unit. However whilst this has lead to success in the context of Overwatch League the same opportunities are not so readily available. Chinese stars like main tank Guxue and flex DPS Krystal are playing on a mixed roster on Hangzhou while another former China OWWC star, Eileen is plying his trade on a mixed roster on Guangzhou. All the while some of it’s under age stars like Leave are still not available to be eligible for Overwatch League.
What makes a region like South Korea so good is not the fact that they have the highest level of talent but rather there is a depth of talent that meshes high mechanical skill with upside that other regions simply just cannot match. The strength is not in the peaks but rather the mean. The disaster that befell Shanghai last season should be viewed as a preliminary glimpse into the strength of the Chinese scene as a whole. Unfortunately this was nothing more as a glimpse due to the internal factors which hampered the team to the point that the majority of it’s Chinese core was ejected in favour of a new Korean one come mid season. Chengdu is the second iteration of the complete or majority Chinese roster and it as a whole should serve as a sample for the viability of China’s strength as a region and the unique strategic philosophy which China can bring to Overwatch as a whole. This isn’t a team which is blessed with the best of the Chinese region, it does have some really talented players like support Yveltal, but it is better sample size of the median level of talent being produced by the Chinese Overwatch scene.
This isn’t to say that it’s fair to view Chengdu as a indictment of the larger scale strength of the Chinese region and it’s ability to potentially provide OWL caliber players to teams in the future but for the perception of the region as a whole by the wider OWL community that isn’t going to tune into Chinese contenders every week. Furthermore it’s a region which hasn’t received the same kind of coverage and fanfare as the EU, NA and KR scenes but yet now has 4 OWL teams which will eventually be based in China. This is important to consider because if the Chinese Overwatch scene as a whole isn’t producing a large chunk of OWL caliber talent then the question becomes can it sustain itself long enough for the eventual localisation that OWL has been working towards.
3. Onset of Localisation.
Speaking of the localisation factor which Overwatch League has wanted to switch towards another maybe less pressing narrative is going to be how teams are going to start organizing the various factors of this localisation project. Each of the 20 teams currently involved in the league are going to have to find venues to host games which is probably going to need for each team to negotiate with venues to get contracts in place for hosting. This is to say nothing of the technical and prep work that each venue will most likely have to undergo with each venue and the staff necessary to operate what is essentially going to be the set up in the Blizzard Arena multiplied by 20 or even more if the league expands before next year.
Speaking of those potential expansion teams for Season 3 if the trends of the buy in for a Overwatch League team increases it could be potentially difficult to find new investors in the markets that they want to. Bear in mind the rough plan which Nate Nanzer outlined during last seasons Grand Final was looking to establish local divisions to off-set travel costs. Despite this any new team buying in will be paying not only the higher buy in price but also have to bring with it the additional costs which the localisation will bring along.
This isn’t to say that it can’t be done, the games in Atlanta and Dallas this season will give us a honest glimpse of what the games might look like next season in individual regions and the potential viability of the localisation concept as a whole. There is certainly support for the idea of localized games the only question is that will there be enough to justify the prequisite costs?
4. Titans of Contenders
Easily one of the more interesting teams to watch this season will be the former Korean Contenders Season 2 Champions Runaway who have are now going to be competing in the Overwatch League for the Vancouver Titans. The Titans roster as a whole comes laced with really interesting big picture narratives about the state of Overwatch as a whole. They are another case study on the thought of acquiring entire pre-made rosters instead of picking up individual players and trying to mould them together. The results in the past have been mixed with the core of NYXL being part of the former LW Blue/Red teams being a definite case for in favour of the concept. One could also point to the eventual Season 1 Champions London Spitfire as another example of a success of the method, although the team is more of a amalgamation of the two original teams they acquired(GC Busan and Kongdoo Panthera) rather than one singular team which they built around. On the other side of the equation we have the Florida Mayhem and Dallas Fuel who both struggled mightily with their prebuilt rosters, the Mayhem let go of every member of their Season 1 roster that wasn’t named Tviq.
The Titans are also a really good example of the strength of one of the best Contenders region when compared to Overwatch League as a whole. The majority of the players picked up for Season 2 have come from teams that played in the first 2 seasons of Korean Contenders but all of them are dispersed across various teams except for the Titans which have maintained their entire team plus added Rapel from Element Mystic. The key factor here is that the starting 6 that played for Runaway in the Season 2 finals of Korean Contenders is in all likelyhood going to be the starting 6 for the Vancouver Titans so in this sense we get a direct look at how the best tier 2 team from Korea matches up with Overwatch League straight off the bat. There are a bunch of spiraling discussions that can form depending on how the Titans perform as a whole. If they succeed will it just be a further indictment of how strong Korean contenders is as region and how it is the best area for which to pick up talent for OWL? If they don’t live up to the lofty expectations which the community and many fans of the roster when they were Runaway have placed upon their shoulders will the narrative begin to shift towards re-examining the idea of complete roster pick ups?
5. Divisions of Schedule.
The expansion of the league into 20 teams will allow for a more fleshed out version of separation through the division structure and a starker contrast in the strength of schedule for each team. Due to the amount of teams and the amount of games each team played in each stage the issues of strength of schedule were not that severe. Considering the fact that each team would play 10 of the 11 potential teams there was a decent amount of variance in that in all likelyhood a single team would see a equal share of good teams and bad teams. This in turn would create the most meritocratic set of circumstances possible. Every team plays the majority of all of the other teams in the same stage meaning the results at the end are in all likelyhood a accurate reflection of the strength of a team in that individual stage.
However with the expansion the league has shortened the amount of games played by teams down to 7 per stage meaning that strength of schedule factor becomes more prominent. Due to the fact that teams won’t play the majority of the teams there is a larger chance for instances where a team might play a schedule of far stronger teams as opposed to a more balanced schedule which would have occurred during the first season. The league can’t really go back to the old model as that would mean something like each team playing 15+ games per stage which is just unfeasible. The new system in essence can potentially foster a lack of parity in terms of scheduling when put next to the increased focus on conference match-ups. Since the addition of more teams the Overwatch League scheduling has focussed more on the inter-conference match-ups with teams playing more games in their own conference with each team playing the 9 other teams in their conference twice and getting to play each team in the other conference once across the 4 stages. The issues that can arise here are if one of these conferences tends to be weaker than the other which could create where teams in the stronger conference have to go through a much tougher schedule to make it to the playoffs. This is to say nothing of what meta shifts might do to the strength of each conference.
However this manifests league parity is going to be greatly effected by this as a whole and it’s going to be one of the most interesting things to look out for throughout the season.