OWL Week 1 Overreactions
The 2021 Overwatch League season kicked off last weekend with a spectacular opening salvo of action. OWL Week 1 brought a barrage of upsets and surprises from start to finish. The season has only just begun, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start throwing out hot takes and bold predictions.
“It’s too early.” “There’s not enough data yet.” “Half a dozen teams haven’t even played their first match.” These are the arguments of the responsible OWL observer, the kind who wants to make reasonable inferences based on consistent performances over the course of the season.
To those people, we have only this to say: why do you hate fun? Drawing conclusions after one week of games clearly isn’t the way to go if things like accuracy and thoroughness matter to you, but it sure makes for a good time. When else can you confidently state that Houston is the best team in the league? Before that opportunity escapes us, here are the big takeaways from OWL Week 1.
Philly Doesn’t Even Need Its Full Team
Poko? Who’s that guy? FunnyAstro? Never heard of him. Eqo and sHockWave? Friendship ended. Now Rascal is my best friend.
The Fusion defied all expectations this week, going 2-0 despite adding two emergency replacements less than ten days before the season. Jinmo “tobi” Yang and Hong-Jun “HOTBA” Choi acquitted themselves nicely, slotting in temporarily while the Fusion attempt to sort out visa issues keeping several players trapped in their home countries.
The biggest coup for Philly has to be the addition of DongJun “Rascal” Kim. His Week 1 performance leaves you wondering if there’s anything this guy can’t play to an elite level. After playing less than 20 minutes of Tracer in his three previous seasons, he’s suddenly going toe to toe with Junyoung “Profit” Park on his signature pick? He might have been an emergency pickup, but right when the Fusion needed it, and Rascal is proving himself to be the ultimate flex yet again.
The Sky Is Falling in Atlanta and LA
That is not how Week 1 was supposed to go for the Gladiators and Reign. Both teams had been hyped up tremendously going into the season, and both fell flat on their faces coming out of the gate.
Despite all the talk of a Gladiators super team, it was simply nowhere near that level in Week 1. Strange substitutions took two of the team’s most vocal leaders, Grant “moth” Espe and Indy “SPACE” Halpern, out of the lineup at times during their opening-week losses. The team was trying to do too much too soon instead of focusing on the basics at the beginning. One bad week won’t sink the Glads, but panic will start to set if it doesn’t bounce back against London and Boston this week.
As for the Reign, its Week 1 showing was entirely too familiar for Atlanta fans. The team looked one-dimensional, excelling on rush comps but struggling to keep up on other styles. Its new DPS additions, Kai “Kai” Collins and Sehyun “PELICAN” Oh, were phenomenal, but the rest of the team wasn’t always pulling their weight.
The Reign doesn’t seem to have solved any of the fundamental issues with its team. It has moments of brilliance, but it tends to crumble when opponents put up any meaningful resistance. We saw it over and over against top teams last year, and we saw it against Toronto on Sunday. In a region that doesn’t have any pushovers, Atlanta can’t afford to repeat their past mistakes.
Jake Has Fixed the Houston Outlaws
On the flip side, there’s one team that has clearly found the solution to whatever it was that plagued it. First, it was a Map 5 victory against its in-state rivals to open the season. Then it was a stunning upset over the two-time defending champs in a do-or-die Map 6. Most teams would fall apart after going up 2-0 on the Shock only to watch the comeback start to materialize. Last year’s Outlaws certainly would have folded under pressure.
This time, however, the Outlaws displayed a newfound fortitude. Where did it come from? Some might credit the leadership of new Head Coach Jaewon “Junkbuck” Choi. Others will point to the confidence that comes with a fresh start and hungry players. They would all be wrong. Clearly, the credit belongs to Jake “Jake” Lyon, the once and future king of Houston.
Sure, he only played one map. Yeah, he’s not even playing his natural role. None of that matters. What matters is that Jake has fixed the Outlaws. After a year away from the team, he’s gained the perspective needed to guide them to success they’ve never before experienced. His natural leadership means he barely needs to play to lift Houston to victory. When the Outlaws finds itself in the Grand Finals this year, it will undoubtedly be because they had Jake to show them the way.
The Hunters Will Win the East
In its first two seasons, the Chengdu Hunters were rarely taken seriously. It wasn’t a terrible team by any means, but it has been something of a novelty rather than a real threat. The team’s insistence on playing around Menghan “Ameng” Ding’s Wrecking Ball limited their flexibility and got them labeled as the wacky OWL team. With massive offseason changes, is 2021 the year it leaves that behind and becomes a contender?
Yes and no. This is still the Chengdu Hunters, and all of its players come from China, a region that has historically marched to the beat of its own drum in Overwatch. The team has Xingrui “RUI” Wang back as Head Coach after a year away from the team. His influence shaped the Hunters into a wholly unique team in 2018, and it’s still apparent now. It still has players like Hu “JinMu” Yi, who picks heroes few other players are touching. It still plays a ton of Wrecking Ball.
The difference now is twofold. First, the Hunters have more talent than in previous iterations. An expanded DPS line gives it more options, and Zhou “Mmonk” Xiang, a late flex support signing, looks like a breakout rookie. Second and maybe most important is that Chengdu no longer relies on Ameng as the only choice at main tank.
The addition of Jiaxin “ga9a” Qiu has opened a world of possibilities to the Hunters. His Wrecking Ball might be even better than Ameng’s, so it still has that comfort pick. However, he can actually play other main tanks to an elite level. He’s young. He’ll have much to learn at the OWL level, but his presence on Chengdu is transformative.
Time will tell if the Hunters has really changed, if it figured out how to take RUI’s unique style to the next level. For now, the team can relish in their victory over the presumptive East favorites in Shanghai. It was a complete victory, the most convincing single showing from any team across the league.
The win mirrors last year’s 3-0 sweep of the Dragons to start the season, and of course, we know how that turned out for both teams. For now, though, we can blissfully ignore that fact. We can choose to think that new and exciting things are coming. We can believe in the Chengdu Hunters.
The Overwatch League will return for Week 2, where the remaining six teams will make their debuts. The action starts with Paris vs. Vancouver on Friday, April 23rd, on the OWL Youtube channel.