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Overwatch League 2022 Kickoff Clash Preview

Bradley Long

With the 2022 Kickoff Clash, this weekend the Overwatch League will hand out its first trophy under Overwatch 2. This new era of OWL will come alongside a reminder of where we’ve been. For the first time since 2019, fans will be in the arena to scream for the champions as they celebrate winning a title.

Overwatch League Kickoff Clash

The Overwatch League will take the stage in front of fans once again this weekend. (Photo courtesy Blizzard Entertainment)

So much about the league and the game itself has changed since then. The game had only just added Role Lock. Rookies like Joo-seok “Twilight” Lee and Minki “Viol2t” Park were taking the league by storm. Overwatch 2 was still unannounced.

In this moment, the past and future collide. Rookies take the stage in front of fans for the first time, while veterans return in an attempt to make their mark on a new game. To help prepare you for all the Kickoff Clash action, we’re picking out the favorites and dark horses from each region.

West – Favorites

Through four weeks of qualifiers, a relatively clear hierarchy has started to emerge. At the very least the three top teams have started to separate themselves from the pack. If any of the Fuel, Shock, or Gladiators don’t make it to at least the Lower Bracket Final, someone has pulled off a big upset.

We’ll start with the team at the top of the standings. The San Francisco Shock were something of an enigma coming into the season. Viol2t and five rookies aren’t exactly the dynastic superteam we’ve come to expect from the Shock, but it doesn’t seem to matter when the rookies are this electric. Dong-hyun “Proper” Kim has been everything he was billed to be, but the rest of the team has exceeded even optimistic expectations.

His fellow teammates from O2 Blast, Se-jin “FiNN” Oh and Jin-woo “Kilo” Jung, have been excellent, but the real revelation has been Colin “Coluge” Arai. He’s looked like a worldbeater on the traditional off-tank heroes he played in Overwatch, but he has also proven to be incredibly versatile. It’s early in the season, but he might just be the most well-rounded tank in the league at the moment.

Right behind them in the standings thanks to a Week 1 flub, the Dallas Fuel have mostly picked up where they left off last season. If anything, they’ve actually plugged some of their holes by adding two talented hitscan DPS to the roster in Tae-hoon “Edison” Kim and Min-seo “guriyo” Kang. Now, the challenge is figuring out how to best use those pieces alongside the existing core.

Dallas Fuel Kickoff Clash

Photo courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

So far, the Fuel have looked their best playing around Han-been “Hanbin” Choi’s Zarya. It’s tough to find anyone that can match him on the pick at the moment, and the brawl comps that go with Zarya seem to be taking over the meta in the West. They still have Eui-Seok “Fearless” Lee in their back pocket for Winston maps, but for now, Hanbin is the man.

Finally, we have the LA Gladiators. Historically, talent has never been the problem for the Gladiators, and this team is no exception. Every player is individually elite, no doubt. At times they’ve lived up to the hype. Taking both Dallas and San Francisco to five maps is no small feat, but the Gladiators still have some demons to exorcise. This weekend will be their first chance to do so. It’s hard to pick them to win until they actually do it, but don’t overlook this team for the Kickoff Clash.

West – Dark Horses

The remainder of the West is a jumbled morass of teams with serious talent who just can’t seem to put it all together. Everyone here is either very inexperienced, inconsistent week to week, or struggling with the meta in some way.

If all goes according to chalk, one of these teams will slip into fourth place and secure a very important league point. The Florida Mayhem have a golden opportunity to be that team. Thanks to a solid map differential, they avoid seeing any of the top three in the first round. A rematch with the Atlanta Reign is the first hurdle to clear, but this team has been steadily improving since that Week 1 loss.

Few teams this season have established a style quite like the Houston Outlaws. They’ve been early adopters of Doomfist as a tank, letting Dante “Danteh” Cruz put his mechanical skill to work. At times, it’s been phenomenal. At others, it’s been easily read by opponents and shut down. The latter seems more likely at this point, but they have been trying to integrate Min-jun “PIGGY ” Shin with mixed results.

Toronto Defiant is the platonic ideal of a middle-of-the-pack team at the moment. Despite what seems like a favorable meta, they haven’t really been able to take advantage. They’ve traded wins with other teams at their level, beaten the bottomfeeders, and gotten demolished by Dallas. Internal turmoil makes it even less likely that they put it all together for this tournament even if the talent is there.

Atlanta has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season so far. A strong Week 1 with a fairly unique preference for Doomfist made them look like an early contender, but they’ve fallen off as the rest of the league figures out how to deal with their counter-engage style. Dropping a series to the London Spitfire last week doesn’t inspire much confidence here.

Lastly, we have the up-and-down Washington Justice. They’ve had their moments where they look significantly better than some of the teams above them. Mostly that’s been when Gui-un “Decay” Jang plays like a true superstar and takes over the game. Outside of that though, the same issues that kept them down last year – lack of coordination and inconsistent performance – seem to be back again.

East – Favorites

As we move over to the East, everything becomes much more muddied. We get just four teams in the tournament, and all of their matches have come in the past two weeks. That isn’t much time for teams to evolve and correct mistakes, but there are plenty of things to work on across the board here.

Is this the year that the Hangzhou Spark finally put it all together? They still have a large, bilingual roster, but maybe they can avoid some of the pitfalls that held them back in past years. They’ve avoided unnecessary substitutions, they’re playing cohesive and effective compositions, and individually, everyone is playing well.

The DPS duo of Zheng “shy” Yangjie and Jun “AlphaYi” Kim has been one of the best in the league so far. They’re capable of playing any of the meta DPS picks, but also have a few niche options in the back pocket. Together with a solid backline and a pair of veteran tanks, they’ve made the Spark the most consistent team in the East so far.

In order to actually take the Kickoff Clash title, the Spark will have to fight through the reigning overlords of APAC, the Shanghai Dragons. Shanghai has exhibited some of the same early struggles as last year and haven’t quite hit their groove. For most people, they remain the favorites until proven otherwise, but they’ve been far from invincible.

Kickoff Clash

Photo courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

Perhaps more than any other team, the Dragons are having a tough time with only one tank on the field. That’s not to say Pan-seung “Fate” Koo or Jun-woo “Void” Kang are playing poorly, but rather that the team doesn’t function as well with only one of them on the server. Even if they aren’t firing on all cylinders, the Dragons should not be underestimated.

East – Dark Horses

So far this season, the Seoul Dynasty have done everything you want from a gatekeeper team. Their two losses came against the top two, and they took a map off both Shanghai and Hangzhou. They’ve taken care of business against the teams below them, mostly in effortless fashion. Still, they’ve left fans with the familiar feeling of wanting more out of what is clearly a talented team.

Individually, everyone on Seoul is performing. Joon-yeong “Profit” Park is still doing Profit things, terrorizing backlines and taking over fights singlehandedly, After a slow start, Myeong-hwan “smurf” Yoo has been one of the league’s most flexible tanks. The pieces are there for a great team that can challenge for the top spot in the region, but delivering on that promise remains the toughest part for Seoul.

Just limping into the tournament despite a brilliant 2-0 start to the qualifiers, Philadelphia has been hard to get a read on. At their best, they swept Shanghai and took Hangzhou to five maps. At their worst, they got trounced by Seoul and even the Chengdu Hunters. Finding their true level is not very easy at the moment.

On some level, this all makes sense. The team is chock-full of very skilled rookies. In Overwatch 2, they have plenty of opportunities to put their stamp on the game with individual plays. At the same time, they don’t have the experience and the composure that comes with it. It might be hard to get over that hump so early in the season, but if they do this team can hang with the best in the East and maybe even win the Kickoff Clash.

The 2022 Kickoff Clash begins on Thursday, June 2, at 3 PM ET as the San Francisco Shock take on the Washington Justice. All Overwatch League coverage can be found on the OWL Youtube page.