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Storylines to watch in OWL Week 1

Bradley Long

Time flies when you’re having fun. The adage is immediately obvious to anyone who has whiled away hours playing games with friends or found themselves lost in conversation with good friends. The corollary, one that’s equally evident, is that time slows to a crawl when there’s something to anticipate on the other side. So it has been in the lead-up to the start of the 2021 Overwatch League season.

Hotba OWL Week 1

A last minute addition, Hotba is back with the Fusion ahead of OWL Week 1. Photo Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

The league’s fourth year comes on the heels of the most trying period in its history. COVID-19 wiped out any chance for a normal season, and the six months since the 2020 Grand Finals were necessary to regroup and reevaluate what the league would look like going forward. On Friday, the OWL returns to our lives after an extended and transformative offseason. Before the action starts, let’s set the stage for OWL Week 1.

Meta Forecast

First things first, trying to predict the OWL Week 1 meta before a single game has been played is a fool’s errand. Every season, the first week is inevitably a complete mess. Teams trying to translate scrims to competitive matches find a different environment with different results. Hero pick rates are all over the place before a meta coalesces and an equilibrium is reached.

Still, some trends have emerged from scrim rumors and recent play in Contenders around the world. In North America and Europe, Brawl comps have been the go-to option. That’ll mean a lot of Reinhardt, paired alongside D.Va or Zarya in the tank line. Speedboost will make Lucio a must-pick in these comps, with Moira or Baptiste doing most of the healing and farming ults quickly. DPS picks will likely be pretty varied. But expect to see a lot of McCree, Mei, and Reaper in these comps.

On the other hand, Korea has been leaning towards higher mobility comps. Variants featuring Zarya alongside either Winston or Wrecking Ball fit well into the established fondness for dive comps in Asia. Sombra should continue to be picked more in the OWL’s East region, with picks like Tracer, Genji, and Ashe also being very popular. Brigitte and Ana seem to be the premier supports, but that will largely depend on map choices.

All in all, the meta should be a fun one to see play out. No comp seems strong enough to force everyone to play the same way. Fans should obviously take OWL Week 1 with a grain of salt. But anyone rooting for meta variety can be cautiously optimistic.

Last-Minute Moves for Fusion and Fuel

The offseason hasn’t been kind to everyone. Securing visas has been an issue for teams across the league trying to bring in players from other countries. Philadelphia, in particular, has struggled with its transfer into the East region. Four players on the roster have been unable to make the move to South Korea.

In their stead, the Fusion has signed capable replacements in DongJun “Rascal” Kim, Hong-Jun “HOTBA” Choi, and Jin-mo “Tobi” Yang. Even given its pedigree, the team is still facing a difficult start to the season. They haven’t had time to fully gel and even given HOTBA’s experience with the team and his tank partner Dong-Gyu “Mano” Kim, expectations need to be tempered.

For the time being, Philadelphia is trying to get up to speed and scrape out wins wherever possible. We’ll get our first look at the Fusion against Seoul, but the main target should be its Sunday match against the Valiant.

A team in similarly dire straits is the Dallas Fuel. Just three days before it opens the OWL season against the Outlaws, Dallas got the crushing news that Gihyo “Xzi” Jung is stepping away from Overwatch to seek treatment for a back condition. His departure leaves a massive hole in a Fuel DPS line that already had some issues with flexibility.

Given the visa issues we’ve seen around the league, it could be a while before reinforcements arrive for the Fuel or Fusion. Keeping up with the pack will be tougher than ever this season. But hopefully, both teams can keep their heads above water for the time being.

Rookie Debuts Galore

Season after season, the Overwatch League is flooded with an overwhelming amount of new talent. It seems like the well would dry up, but every year there’s a handful of players who make their debuts and are immediately superstars. Last year we had KyeongBo “Alarm” Kim, Gicheol “Cr0ng” Nam, and Jae Won “LIP” Lee. This year looks to be no different.

In the East region, Chengdu and Guangzhou have the most to get excited about. For the Charge, the focus will be on the DPS. Zijie “MYKaylee” Zou looks to be a strong replacement for Jeong Woo “Happy” Lee’s hitscan prowess, but it’s Sewhan “ChoiSewhan” Choi who’s the crown jewel. If he pans out, the Charge has an elite talent to build around for years to come.

Chengdu’s shiny new toys come all over the roster, but it’s Jiaxin “ga9A” Qiu and Jiale “Farway1987” Cao who steal the show. China’s most well-rounded main tank and a stud flex support, these two should be cornerstones for a Chengdu team that has serious potential to compete in the East.

The West region is missing out on some of its biggest newcomers in Week 1. Neither Paris nor London play this week with their rookie-laden squads. We’ll have to wait to see Washington’s Taeseon “MAG” Kim and Sung-won “Assassin” Kim as well. Still, there’s plenty of exciting debuts in NA.

The two biggest will be Sehyun “PELICAN” Oh for Atlanta and Young-hun “MuZe” Kim for the Gladiators. PELICAN enters the year as one of the league’s most hyped rookie DPS, and this Atlanta team seems well equipped to center him as a primary carry. On the other hand, Muze is joining an absolutely stacked lineup. He’ll be the young rookie surrounded by seasoned veterans and elite talent. It’s an ideal situation for a player who could grow into a true superstar.

Two teams relying on rookies in key positions are the Defiant and Outlaws. Houston will debut its new tank duo of Min June “Piggy” Shin and Myjing-heum “JJANGGU” Choi. For its part, the Defiant has Soonjae “ANSOONJAE” An, Jeongsoo “Aztac” Park, and Hosung “Na1st” Lee available for OWL Week 1.

Matches of the Week

Gladiators vs .Shock (Friday 4:30 PM ET)

The second game of the season features the two teams with the strongest rosters on paper in the West region. The holes are minimal, and the talent is simply tremendous across the board. This could easily be the start of a budding rivalry, given the caliber of these teams and the fact that Grant “moth” Espe left the Shock for the Glads this year. If we’re lucky, this will be the first of many meetings in 2021 since both teams should be going deep in tournaments throughout the year.

Reign vs. Mayhem (Saturday 4:30 PM ET)

Speaking of rivalries, this is one of the few that seems to have gained much traction in the league’s first few years. Games between Florida and Atlanta have generally been tense, hotly contested affairs. Both squads come into the season thinking they can compete at the top of the region, so the winner here will earn a huge bump in credibility and confidence moving forward.

Hunters vs. Dragons (Sunday 6:30 AM ET)

Of all the great matchups of opening weekend, this is probably the most interesting. Shanghai has been the most successful Chinese OWL franchise. Chengdu has established itself as the Chinese team. The Hunters are looking to compete this year after leveling up the depth and skill they have on hand. Shanghai is looking to stay at the top of the East and could be even stronger than it was last year. Given Chengdu’s history of giving the Dragons trouble, this could easily turn into a must-watch slugfest.

The Overwatch League kicks off with the Battle for Texas as the Fuel take on the Outlaws at 3 PM ET on Friday, April 16th. Matches can be viewed live on the OWL Youtube channel.