Lessons from the 2023 OWL Season So Far
With the crowning of the Altanta Reign as Midseason Madness champions, the Overwatch League has reached the halfway mark. The first year with Overwatch 2 available to the public, the 2023 OWL season has been a chance for the league to begin anew. Fresh contenders and rising talent are making their mark in big ways while many of the league’s historic powerhouses are falling behind. In such a chaotic environment, here are four things we’ve learned from the 2023 OWL season.
Contenders Integration Should Be Here to Stay
When the OWL announced its format for the 2023 season, the biggest change was the choice to bring top Contenders teams into the fold. First with the Pro-Am tournament in the West and then with the Knockout Stage in the East, this year has seen the first official matches between OWL squads and teams on the Path to Pro.
From the start, we saw in the Pro-Am that Contenders teams aren’t woefully outmatched against OWL competition. While none made it out of groups, three of the seven managed to take matches off OWL teams. There weren’t any monumental upsets, but the Contenders squads acquitted themselves well and set the stage for their Eastern counterparts.
In the East, six teams from Contenders got to compete fully for Overwatch League glory. If they were the best teams in the region, they would go to Midseason Madness and play for the title. A weaker OWL region and a stronger Contenders lineup made that reality possible.
Both brackets saw one Contenders team rise to the occasion and truly challenge the OWL favorites. O2 Blast and Dreamers showed that the gap is quite narrow in the East, but ultimately fell short of qualifying for Midseason Madness. Still, their efforts improved the competition immensely and validated the format change.
After the success of these two events, it won’t come as a surprise if the league continues to include Contenders teams going forward. The East region is down to just six teams with Chengdu’s exit from the scene, so new blood is needed to keep things interesting. With the waiving of franchise fees leaguewide, more teams might bow out after the 2023 OWL season. If that happens, the West might see a similar format in 2024.
The Region Gap Is Widening
There was once a time when it was unclear which OWL region was superior. Traded titles at international events and the lack of competition between middle-of-the-pack teams meant there was a debate about the overall strength.
That time is done. Six teams attended Midseason Madness, four from the West and two from the East. When the dust settled, all four West teams finished above the Spark and Infernal. Hangzhou managed to get one win against the Mayhem but quickly fell out of the tournament from there. For their part, Seoul were routed by Houston before losing a heartbreaker to Florida.
Both teams were competitive, but they never really stood a chance against the juggernauts of Atlanta and Houston, two superteams composed of the league’s elite. Until teams in the East can compete for that sort of top-tier talent, they’ll continue to fall behind. That’s all before we start to see the fallout from Blizzard’s games going dark in China. The East will have a chance at redemption in the playoffs, but the outlook is certainly bleak.
Strong Support Duos Are More Crucial Than Ever
If Midseason Madness clarified anything about the current state of Overwatch it’s the importance of a strong backline. The removal of the second tank stripped away one of the only things keeping OWL’s many DPS stars from running roughshod on vulnerable supports. These days, healers are responsible for their own safety, with games often revolving around which team’s backline can stay alive.
The dive meta that ruled Midseason Madness was especially tough for supports as they dealt with pressure from Tracer, Sombra, and Winston. The teams that rose to the top were those who could repel enemy dives and survive through all the chaos. Atlanta’s Kwon “Fielder” Joon claimed Finals MVP honors, but it just as easily could’ve gone to his teammate Han “ChiYo” Hyeon-seok.
After their championship win last year with Dallas, this dominant Midseason Madness showing has cemented them as the best support duo in the league. No other Ana player hits Sleep Darts and Biotic Grenades with Fielder’s consistency, and ChiYo is the best in the league when it comes to peeling for his partner.
No one quite matches that duo, but support play was excellent from every qualifying team. Houston’s Kim “Shu” Jin-seo and Park “Viol2t” Min-ki might be the most versatile tandem in the league. Boston’s three-headed support monster is their best position. Florida got a great showing from Sung “CH0R0NG” Yoo-min and Rupal “Rupal” Zaman. Only the East teams left a bit to be desired, still good but not elite. If they can close that gap, they could be much more competitive come playoff time.
Overwatch 2 Is Producing a Great Product
The beta rollout and launch of Overwatch 2 made 2022 something of a year in limbo. The 2023 OWL season, on the other hand, has felt like the game is starting to hit its stride. The meta has largely been well-balanced with just Tracer and Ana sporting pick rates above 50%. Teams have been able to lean into styles that fit them and have remained effective while doing so.
As a result, the league’s viewership is up over similar events last year. Despite the awkward viewing times for North America and Europe, Midseason Madness averaged more than 60k viewers, up from under 40k in 2022. With the release of PvP content coming in Season 6, the game can expect a wider resurgence that could lift engagement to levels not seen since 2018 or 2019.
Competitively, the league is only improving year over year. Hopefully, a strong challenger can emerge to prevent Atlanta from running away with the 2023 OWL season. Even if they remain ahead of the pack, the chase is always thrilling. As the league barrels towards playoffs, one thing is certain: there’s always more to learn.