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Overwatch League 2022 Playoff Preview

Bradley Long

A very strange year for the Overwatch League is approaching its dramatic conclusion. As fans start to sink their teeth into Overwatch 2, the league’s 12 top squads converge on Anaheim for a joyous reunion of both regions for a LAN event. The double-elimination bracket will also see the first action for Kiriko at the highest level. A meta shakeup and an ultra-competitive field of hopefuls should make this one of the most exciting and unpredictable postseasons in OWL history.

2022 OWL Playoffs

The Shanghai Dragons are set to defend their title as the 2022 Playoffs begin in Anaheim. (Photo courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment)

Format and Schedule

Like the previous tournaments this year, the 2022 playoffs will see teams competing in a double-elimination bracket. The top four are seeded directly into the second round, while the bottom eight will kick off the action on Sunday. The four winners will move on to face the top seeds who get to draft their opponents in order. The Dallas Fuel will have the first selection, followed by the Shock and Gladiators, with the Dynasty matching up against the final remaining team.

Those selections are incredibly impactful during a tournament featuring a new meta. Any team in the first round could get hot and Seoul or Los Angeles would be looking at very tough opening games. Meanwhile, Dallas and San Francisco will theoretically face weaker competition as they get their tournament legs underneath them. That alone could be the difference between an early exit and a deep run.

The tournament will run for six days from Sunday, October 30th, through Friday, November 4th. The final two days will have a crowd in attendance at the Anaheim Convention Center. On every day except the last, matches begin at 5:30 PM ET (9:30 PM UTC). Friday’s action starts at 8 PM ET (12 PM UTC) and will feature both the Lower Bracket Final and the Grand Final.

The Meta

2022 has already been one of the best seasons in terms of meta that we’ve seen in OWL history. Aside from the Summer Showdown, where Junker Queen reigned supreme following her release, no picks have been utterly dominant. Changes to the game throughout the beta kept the league meta feeling fresh, and meta variety has been through the roof across the entire season.

For the playoffs, teams will once again have to contend with a shift in the meta. The arrival of Kiriko is expected to change things dramatically. She’s unlikely to be a must-pick in the vein of Junker Queen, but she should have a very prominent place in the playoff meta. With an emphasis on mechanical skill and coordinated timing, Kiriko’s kit lends itself to high-level play. With the number of talented flex supports in the playoffs, mastering Kiriko could be the difference maker.

Alongside the new support, a number of balance changes are coming in the playoff patch. As reported by GGRecon, some of the strongest heroes during the Countdown Cup have received nerfs heading into the playoffs. Sombra, Genji, Zarya, and D.Va have all been taken down to varying degrees, with the nerfs to Genji and Sombra being the most drastic. Both flanking damage heroes saw their damage reduced significantly, to the point that they probably won’t be very prevalent during the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Zarya has seen significant play throughout the season thanks to her great survivability and damage potential. Both of those will take a hit after nerfs to her bubble duration and cooldown. Still, teams haven’t had a ton of time to practice this patch, so some might still rely on the comfort she brings.

That being said, there was one glaring omission from the list of heroes receiving nerfs, and that’s Sojourn. The power of her railgun is tremendous in the hands of the world’s best damage players, and she wasn’t touched at all in the playoff patch. If your team doesn’t have an elite Sojourn, making a deep run is going to be a challenge.

Beyond Sojourn’s dominance, remaining picks are going to depend on team styles and map selections. Winston will feature heavily in dive comps. Some teams might attempt rush with Reinhardt or Zarya. D.Va could still be very strong despite minor nerfs to her damage. Lucio and Kiriko should lead the way for supports, but they certainly won’t be universal.

Overall, the meta should give a solid reflection of what this year has been about. Preferred style will determine a great deal, and it seems unlikely that any one composition will take over completely. The best teams will be those that can adjust as the bracket proceeds and quickly find their best approach.

The Favorites

Competition has been at an all-time high this year, especially at the very top of the league. Across the five tournaments in 2022, we’ve seen four different champions, with the Gladiators being the only repeat champion. Beyond the title-winners, the Shock also put together an elite regular season despite going 3-3 in the Countdown Cup to close the year. Those five teams constitute a clear upper crust, and they should all be considered serious threats to win it all.

The Fuel are the top overall seed after building on their success from the previous year. All year long, they were the most consistent team in the West. After faltering during Midseason Madness, they really hit their stride, losing just a single match the rest of the way. Choi “Hanbin” Han-been put together an MVP-level season, but it may be time for Lee “Fearless” Eui-Seok to step up if Winston plays a major role in the playoff meta.

In 2022, San Francisco said goodbye to most of the old guard. Park “Viol2t” Min-ki was all that remained of the back-to-back champions, at least until they brought back Kwon “Striker” Nam-joo a month ago. Instead, this year has been about the new blood, specifically the likely MVP and Rookie of the Year, Kim “Proper” Dong-hyun. He doesn’t need a title to prove himself, but it would certainly cement his status as the best player in the world.

At their best, the Gladiators were the strongest team in the league this year. Two titles in the Kickoff Clash and Midseason Madness established them as the team to beat early on before Junker Queen derailed their Summer Showdown. With that bump in the road in the rearview, they take aim at their third trophy of the year. Led by two of the league’s most consistent superstars in Kevin “kevster” Persson and Kim “Shu” Jin-seo, the Gladiators have proven themselves capable of greatness.

2022 OWL Playoffs

Photo courtesy of the Overwatch League.

Seoul is a fascinating team. Like Dallas, they won a regional tournament and placed second in another. Like Dallas, they flopped out of the Midseason Madness bracket. The only thing separating the Dynasty from the league’s top seed is one regular season win. That might make all the difference as they stare down a likely matchup against their East rivals, the Shanghai Dragons. Still, this meta could be great for their star duo of Yoo “smurf” Myeong-hwan and Park “Profit” Joon-yeong, so don’t be surprised if the Dynasty pull this off.

Finally, we have the Dragons themselves. They have a dangerous match against Hangzhou in the opening round, but the defending OWL champs will be the clear favorites. Shanghai has been hot and cold throughout the year: 6-0 and a title in the Summer Showdown immediately followed by a 3-3 Countdown Cup when seeding was on the line. We know the heights this team can reach, but it’s hard to say which version of the Dragons we’ll see in Anaheim.

The Dark Horses

While the top five appear to be a cut above the rest of the league, anything can happen in the postseason. A new hero and a new meta have the potential to upend our perception of the hierarchy. If that happens, these are the teams best poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Throughout the regular season, the Houston Outlaws have proven themselves to be the most consistent team in this tier. They finished three league points ahead of their nearest competitor and only four behind Shanghai. They found ways to beat top teams or at least push them to their limits all year, despite some serious limitations. Dante “Danteh” Cruz found himself picking up the tank role for this team and somehow became a Rolestar candidate. We’ll have to see if he can keep it up in a new meta and lead the Outlaws to a tournament breakthrough.

Perhaps more than any other team, Atlanta has had a rollercoaster of a season. Third-place finishes in the Kickoff Clash and Midseason Madness gave way to a malaise that left them with a nearly even regular season record. At times, they looked like world-beaters. At others, they fell flat on their faces. Either version of the Reign could be the one to show up in Anaheim. It’s hard to have much confidence in Atlanta, but more than anyone else in this tier, the Reign step up come tournament time.

It might be foolish to believe in the Philadelphia Fusion and the Hangzhou Spark, but both of these teams have undeniable talent up and down the roster. If the meta shifts towards dive, both teams have the personnel to take advantage and punch above their weight class. For Philadelphia, much will rest on the health of star rookie Kim “ZEST” Hyun-woo following an arm injury. For the Spark, it will be Zheng “shy” Yangjie leading the way on Sojourn.

2022 OWL Playoffs

Photo courtesy of Stephen Kazumi for Toronto Defiant.

The remaining teams in the West, London, Toronto, and Florida, all have their cases as well. The Spitfire have made their style work throughout the season. The Mayhem and Defiant are potentially well-suited to the coming meta. Realistically, though, it’s hard to see any of these teams making a truly deep run. They might outperform the rest of the league’s middle class, but anything beyond that would be a massive accomplishment.

All in all, this has the potential to be an unforgettable postseason. Kiriko will be incredible to watch at the OWL level, and the league is more competitive than ever. Overwatch 2 has injected some new life into the game, and the return of international LAN play should deliver fireworks from start to finish. As the Overwatch scene turns its eyes toward Anaheim, the only question is who will lift the trophy and claim the title of best in the world?