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OWL Midseason Awards 2023: Early Favorites and Dark Horses

Bradley Long

The Overwatch League returns to play next week following its Midseason Madness tournament and an interlude for World Cup Qualifiers. Just two months of regular season play separate the league from playoff competition and the culmination of another year’s efforts. At this point in the season, our end-of-season awards often feel like they’re already decided. This year might just be the exception. At the midseason mark, the 2023 OWL awards are all hotly contested, but who will actually take home the hardware?

Most Valuable Player

Let’s start with the biggest individual award of them all, MVP. At this point, no one has really been able to separate themselves from the pack. There are compelling cases for a number of players, even some from middle-of-the-road teams.

Still, the conversation needs to start at the top of the table. The Reign are the league’s most dominant team by a healthy margin and their strength is a true group effort. Aside from their two tank players who split time on the role, there’s a decent case to be made for every member of the Reign.

2023 has seen a meta defined by the Sombra-Tracer DPS combo and Atlanta’s is unmatched. Lee “LIP” Jae-won has long been the best Sombra in the league without a real challenger to his throne. With so many top Tracer players, Jeong “Stalk3r” Hak-yong has stiffer competition on his main pick, but he’s still pulling away from the pack. In Midseason Madness especially, he elevated to new heights and took over matches more than any other player.

The Reign’s support line also produces two top candidates in Kwon “Fielder” Joon and Han “ChiYo” Hyeon-seok. Even in a meta that often takes him off his favored Lucio pick, ChiYo is having a remarkable season. His dependability makes him incredibly valuable, but it’s an uphill battle to stand out enough on main support to win this award. That’s why Fielder might have the best odds of any Reign player. He’s an established star who only keeps getting better, especially when the meta lets him play Ana most of the time.

Outside of the Reign, there are a number of great candidates. In the East, Kim “ZEST” Hyun-woo, Huang “leave” Xin, and Choi “ChoiSehwan” Se-hwan are all powering their teams’ success with high-octane DPS play. Still, the lack of strength in the region will hurt their cases across the board.

Among the contenders in the West, two young stars stand out after leveling up their performance in their second season. Ham “SOMEONE” Jeong-wan is the beating heart of the Florida Mayhem, flexing between a variety of picks and playing them all to a high level. No tank means more to their team.

While the Washington Justice haven’t had the same team success as the Mayhem, they’ve been a solid squad with one transcendent player in Kim “AlphaYi” Jun. He flashed this potential last year with Hangzhou but was often overshadowed by Zheng “shy” Yangjie. This season, he’s the superstar and he’s proving he belongs in the MVP discussion.

Rookie of the Year

Last year’s ROY race was maybe the most boring imaginable. Before the season started it was essentially preordained that Kim “Proper” Dong-hyun would be the best rookie the league had ever seen. Then he was exactly that. The only question became whether he should be both MVP and ROY.

This year the field is certainly more open. Unfortunately, there aren’t many rookies currently playing at an extremely high level. Atlanta’s Kim “D0NGHAK” Min-sung is the favorite at the halfway mark without a doubt. He’s no Proper, but he’s performing quite well on a top squad despite entering the year with significant doubts about his OWL readiness. As long as he continues to play most of the tank minutes for the Reign, he really should have this one in the bag.

Most of the league’s anticipated rookies came from the O2 Blast roster that dominated Contenders last year. Unfortunately, they largely haven’t lived up to those expectations. The San Francisco trio of Chae “HeeSang” Hee-sang, Park “Junbin” Jun-bin, and Choi “MAX” Su-min have struggled to make the OWL transition in the same way their O2 teammate Proper did last year.

The best O2 products have been the supports Kim “Bliss” So-myung and Park “Babel” Sang-jun. Bliss had big shoes to fill in Dallas after ChiYo’s departure, but he’s found his stride as the season progresses. Babel has looked great at times on Ana, but his limited playtime will likely keep him from threatening to actually win the award.

Coach of the Year

To be completely honest, very few people have the knowledge to adequately evaluate coaches in the Overwatch League. Almost all of them are players, GMs, and other coaches. Even then, they can only intimately understand the coaches they work with on a daily basis. So much of coaching is a black box with no way to know what’s happening inside. That makes picking a winner here very difficult in most years.

That said, Jordan “Gunba” Graham should absolutely be the Coach of the Year. With a win in the Pro-Am tournament and a third-place finish at Midseason Madness, no team is outperforming their expectations like the Mayhem. They’ve done an excellent job continuing to develop their young talent while incorporating new players seamlessly into the system.

The Coach of the Year award often has an element of rewarding past performance, and Gunba deserves his flowers for his many years of lifting OWL teams above their talent level. Everywhere he goes, his teams win more than expected, and it’s about time he takes home this award.

Gunba’s biggest competition likely comes from Atlanta’s Blake “Gator” Scott who has seemingly handled the transition into a coaching role extremely well. He’ll lose some points for having so much raw talent on his roster, but he still deserves a shoutout here.

The only other dark horse is Zouheir “GetAmazed” Baba of the Washington Justice. His return to the league after a year away has been impressive for sure. Washington are making the most of their talent and GetAmazed is proving that his success with Paris wasn’t a fluke. If they keep it up, he’ll definitely get some attention for what he’s done with another undermanned squad.