A League In Limbo: Taking Stock of the 2022 OWL Season
It can be hard to retain a semblance of optimism as a fan of the Overwatch League. The 2022 OWL season has seen a flood of problems, both external and excruciatingly self-imposed. The pandemic has continued to stymie attempts at league-wide LAN events. The implementation of the Overwatch 2 beta leaves pros without a way to practice the game they’re meant to master. Player stability is at an all-time low as teams adapt to the new game and reevaluate their financial commitments to a league that hasn’t lived up to its lofty goals.
That being said, 2022 has been an exciting season for any OWL diehards that have stuck around. The league is packed with rising talent across both regions. The tournaments have produced exciting gameplay and worthwhile storylines for fans to follow. For all the flaws with its rollout, Overwatch 2 is pushing teams towards an aggressive, high-skill style of play. 2022 may be something of a lost season in OWL history, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what we have for now.
Out With the Old, In With the New
So far, Overwatch 2 has been the ultimate mixed bag for the Overwatch League. On one hand, it’s thrilling to have a shiny new toy. On the other, the game’s rollout has been a complete mess, at least when it comes to the esports scene.
For pro players, this year has been incredibly tough competitively. They’re all trying to learn this new game, but for most of the season, they haven’t been able to practice outside of scrims. Even when the closed beta has been available, the patch has often been different from the one OWL is using. Players who wind up out of their team’s rotation can find themselves with no way to really improve or train.
Overwatch 2 has also left fans in an awkward spot for the 2022 season. The limited nature of the beta periods means that fans haven’t been able to play the game they’re watching. With standard Overwatch basically being put on ice, the result has been a general disconnect between the league and even its most loyal fans.
These issues are especially tragic because the game is good. OWL play is faster and more explosive than ever before. Superstar damage players are popping off all the time, and the level of competition is truly impressive. Overwatch 2 clearly has tremendous potential, but the rollout has dampened the hype considerably, especially for OWL fans.
Ultimately, everyone is just waiting for the October 4th multiplayer release. Astute observers will realize that it comes during the qualifiers for the Countdown Cup, OWL’s final tournament of the regular season. How the league handles the transition remains to be seen, but at least a new beginning is in sight.
The nature of Overwatch 2 and the shift to 5v5 has heightened the impact an individual can have on an OWL match. As a result, the MVP race is as tight as it’s ever been. Superstars both new and old have stepped up in a big way during the 2022 season, so how do we pick an MVP?
The obvious starting point is the Los Angeles Gladiators, winners of both the Kickoff Clash in the West and the leaguewide Midseason Madness. The challenge is picking just one Gladiator above his teammates.
Kevin “kevster” Persson is your classic do-it-all DPS star. In Overwatch 2, the role is more impactful than ever, and no one is doing it better than kevster. Stability at the tank position has been a key to LA’s success, so it would be criminal to leave Corey “Reiner” Scoda out of the conversation. The rookie has been one of the most versatile tanks in the league, giving the Gladiators unrivaled flexibility. Finally, there’s Kim “Shu” Jin-seo, the stalwart rock of the LA backline. There isn’t a better playmaking support in the league, and his clutch performance is off the charts.
Beyond the Glads, there are still plenty of deserving candidates. The San Francisco Shock have put together an undefeated regular season so far, led by the rookie phenom Kim “Proper” Dong-hyun. All he’s missing is that tournament title to prove he’s an MVP-level star.
Over in the East, the waters are muddied by a lack of any frontrunner. Seoul had the highest peak in the Countdown Cup, but they need to bounce back from a disappointing Midseason Madness. If they do, both Park “Profit” Joon-yeong and Yoo “smurf” Myeong-hwan could make a case. Hangzhou’s Zheng “shy” Yangjie has been an unbelievable carry, but the Spark need a breakthrough to really push his candidacy.
The Rookie of the Year race is similarly crowded. Obviously Proper and Reiner lead the way at the moment, but several players in the East are pushing into the conversation. Partnering with shy takes some attention off of Kim “AlphaYi” Jun, but it’s impossible to deny his talent. Philadelphia has had a rollercoaster season, but Yoon “MN3” Jae-hee has given the league another elite DPS in the making.
Perhaps the best thing about the 2022 OWL season has been the sheer variety in terms of meta compositions. Most of the game’s heroes have had their moments to shine, and nothing has stayed meta long enough to get super stale. Many picks remain situational or map-based, but very few heroes have been made irrelevant entirely.
The newness of Overwatch 2 has also lead some teams to develop truly unique ways to play the game. Teams like the Gladiators are extremely versatile, but squads like Houston and London have leaned into specific identities that work for them. It’s often difficult to balance in a way that makes this possible, but for the most part Overwatch 2 has succeeded in that regard.
The one upside to the beta rollout has been the changes being made along the way. At the league’s start, Sojourn wasn’t seeing much play at all. The Midseason Madness tournament saw a buffed version come to the fore and provide an exciting look at the newest DPS hero. A slight nerf for the Summer Showdown has left her in a healthy spot, not dominating every match but still a prominent part of the meta.
The elephant in the room at the moment is, of course, Junker Queen. The game’s newest tank hero was already wreaking havoc on pro play in Contenders, but now she’s making her way into OWL for the Summer Showdown. Early returns suggest that she’s a must-pick thanks to the power of her Commanding Shout. The combination of speed boost and overhealth has made the ability oppressive in a coordinated team environment. Hopefully, her reign of terror only lasts for one tournament, but until a nerf comes through, expect to see her across the board.
An Uncertain Future
It’s hard to say exactly where the Overwatch League is heading. Financial troubles are catching up with teams more and more. A growing number of teams are operating on razor-thin budgets. Already this year, we saw Chengdu scale back its roster when it could have been one of the best in the East. Now, the Washington Justice seem to be heading down a similar path after trading Kim “Mag” Tae-sung earlier this week.
The ongoing pandemic also casts a shadow of doubt on such an international league. Travel remains a significant hurdle, especially for teams based in China. Already, restrictions made the planned in-person Midseason Madness event impossible, and the playoff format is likely to be affected. Meanwhile, live events returned in North America, where Dallas hosted the Kickoff Clash bracket and Toronto is doing the same for the Summer Showdown. Until live international play is on the table, the league simply won’t be whole.
Overwatch 2 presents a chance for a new beginning for the Overwatch League, as does the impending acquisition of Blizzard by Microsoft. At this point, OWL is never going to be the massive cultural force it was originally intended to be. Still, if the game can return to some of its former glory with a successful sequel, then maybe the league can find a stable equilibrium. Until then, the scene will just keep floating along trying to enjoy the ride, bumpy as it may be.
The Overwatch League is currently holding the qualifiers for the Summer Showdown tournament. All the action can be viewed on the Overwatch League Youtube channel.