Outlaws Are Primed for a Summer Showdown Breakout
In their first three years in the Overwatch League, the Houston Outlaws felt at times like they were trapped in the doldrums. Embarking in 2018, the team established a strong brand and gave fans reason for optimism, but an uncertain ownership situation stole the wind from their sails. Then came two seasons of limbo for a team that lacked the organizational resources to chart any kind of decisive course. Now, going into the final week of the Summer Showdown, the Houston Outlaws have finally found their way forward.
Out of the Wilderness
At the wheel for the first time is the Triumvirate of General Manager Matt “coolmatt” Iorio and Co-Head Coaches Harsha “Harsha” Bandi and Jaewon “Junkbuck” Choi. Recognizing the stagnation plaguing the Outlaws, they cleaned house in the offseason, keeping just Dante “Danteh” Cruz from last year’s team.
When building their 2021 roster, the Outlaws didn’t exactly go for a cookie-cutter approach, and it paid off tremendously. Outside of Jeong Woo “Happy” Lee, none of their offseason pickups could really be called superstars.
William “Crimzo” Hernandez and Kyle “KSF” Frandanisa were solid OWL performers but weren’t lighting the world on fire by any means. Min June “PIGGY” Shin and Myeongheum “JJANGU” Cho were a promising Contenders tank duo, but definitely the absolute top prospects. Enrique “Joobi” Triana became the first player to transition from Collegiate play to OWL. Jacob “JAKE” Lyon was a fan favorite fresh out of retirement with a nebulous player-coach role.
That may not add up to a traditional super team, but it has netted the Outlaws the league’s best regular-season record at 9-1. Now, some of that can be attributed to a forgiving schedule, but they have netted wins over Dallas and San Francisco (twice) so far.
When dissecting the Outlaws’ success, it starts with the individuals but permeates through the whole team. Players like Joobi and Crimzo have massively outperformed expectations as a support duo. The former is proving he belongs in the league without a doubt while the latter might just be a top-5 Baptiste. Meanwhile, PIGGY is a serious contender for Rookie of the Year and another addition to the plethora of elite flex tanks.
While this is already Houston’s best season so far, there is an elephant in the room at the moment. For all their dominance in the regular season, they’ve yet to translate that to tournament performance. In two Knockout showings, the Outlaws haven’t been able to take a single map.
Now, a huge portion of their underperformance is simply the luck of the draw. In both tournament matches, they faced off against their in-state rivals. No team in the West has been able to take more than one map off Dallas in a tournament setting. The Outlaws have just been one of the teams left in their wake in both tournaments.
Still, the lack of tournament bona fides can’t just be hand waved away. Houston was able to beat the Fuel back in Week 1, but they fell flat when more was on the line. With so many young players, the Outlaws aren’t battle-tested in the same way that Dallas is. Their inexperience clearly made a difference in those Knockout games, but it’s something that will improve with time.
During the first two stages, Houston also had some issues settling on the right lineup to play. Joobi’s issues on Brigitte forced JAKE to fill that role at times, and hero pool concerns saw Sanglock “DREAMER” Song sub in for JJANGU. As the season has progressed, however, those wrinkles have mostly been ironed out as the Outlaws continue to grow.
Hitting Their Stride
Halfway through their Summer Showdown qualifiers and the Houston Outlaws once again find themselves in a familiar spot. They looked phenomenal in their two matches last week, pouncing on a faltering Shock and dismantling the Titans with ease. This time around, though, they’ve made some noticeable improvements.
For starters, the team has really developed their own style so far. While the rest of the West has been mostly building on the metas from the May Melee and June Joust, Houston has leaned heavily into double shield compositions.
On its own, that’s nothing special. Those comps have had their place throughout the season on certain maps. However, Houston has decided they want to make that their signature style, playing the Orisa-Sigma duo 80% of the time. It’s a wild deviation in a league where many teams aren’t playing that style at all.
The most impressive thing so far has been the Outlaws’ ability to play many different variations of the comp. They can play it like a Brawl comp, duking it out in close quarters with Mei and using Symmetra teleporters to compensate for their lack of mobility. The next map, they can shift into a spread-out Poke style, letting Happy and Danteh create opportunities on comfort picks like Hanzo and Echo. Then they can go full anti-Dive with endless crowd control abilities to make a Winston’s life miserable.
Overall, the style is fantastic for Houston. It simplifies things for their young tank line, and gets so many of their players on their best heroes. Piggy on Sigma has been a revelation, with stats that blow the rest of the league away. Crimzo looks fully in command on Baptiste, perfectly positioning himself to stay safe and have maximum impact. Danteh and Happy get to flex as needed and have fully lived up to their star reputations so far. All in all, it seems like a perfect recipe for the Outlaws.
A Golden Opportunity
As good as Houston has looked, it won’t mean that much until they can deliver against the league’s best. They’ll get that chance this weekend. Round 4 against Dallas lies in front of them, as does a match against the surging Boston Uprising. If Houston can avoid a total flop in those two matches, we’ll also see the Outlaws take another shot at Knockouts in the Summer Showdown.
Dallas has been something of an Achilles heel for the Outlaws since the Outlaws claimed their initial meeting way back in Week 1. Dallas’s dynamic style has caught Houston off-guard, but the Outlaws should be at their most confident right now.
Dallas has already shown some issues playing against Orisa compositions so far this stage. That was against a Mayhem squad in a deep slump, so how will they fare against a much more polished Outlaws squad. Dallas will remain favorites until someone manages to dethrone them, but Houston just might be the one team in the West capable of toppling the kings of the region.
The final weekend of the Summer Showdown begins on Thursday, July 8th at 3 PM ET with the Atlanta Reign taking on the London Spitfire. All games can be viewed on the OWL Youtube channel.