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The Biggest Moments From The Overwatch League 2020

Bradley Long

When the world came to a halt this year, the Overwatch League 2020 season kept marching forward. The global pandemic may have scuttled the league’s ambitious plans for 2020, but play continued with the move to an online format. Nothing about this year was normal, but still the players and teams delivered an unforgettable season filled to the brim with instant classics and incredible highlights.

Overwatch League 2020

The 2020 OWL season was a wild ride from start to finish, culminating in San Francisco’s second straight title. (Photo Courtesy Robert Paul - Blizzard)

This year was all about rolling with the punches. Whether it was the shift to online play or the introduction of Hero Pools to shake up the meta, the teams that thrived in 2020 were the ones who bent without breaking. Chief among the league’s elite were the San Francisco Shock, who defended their 2019 title with another dominant run, losing just three times across the entire season on their way to a second OWL trophy.

While the Shock cemented their budding dynasty, the league as a whole underwent a massive transformation. Teams that had previously been laughingstocks, the Florida Mayhem and Shanghai Dragons, became legit contenders. An influx of rookie talent flooded the league with new faces and raised the bar for greatness.

The 2020 season may not have exactly gone according to plan, but the mere fact that it happened is cause for celebration, especially when it gave us so many memorable moments.

A Taste of What Could Have Been

The Overwatch League season started on a hopeful and somewhat triumphant note as the league rolled out its homestand model for 2020. After two seasons mostly confined to the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, the OWL took the show on the road. Homestands in New York, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, and Houston gave fans the chance to see their teams compete in person and delivered unique viewing experiences week to week.

Overwatch League 2020

Photo Courtesy Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.

Unfortunately we only got five weeks of homestand action – and none of the planned events in China or Korea – before the league had to move online. In that short time though, the homestands delivered some of the most memorable moments of the season. Whether it was Haksal and Ryujehong teaming up for a stellar Nanoblade, the seven-map “Toilet Bowl” between Houston and Boston, or London’s heartbreaking spawn door hold against Washington in front of the Justice fans, the homestands proved the value of the league’s unique geolocation model.

Whether Homestands will return in 2021 or beyond remains to be seen, but it would be a shame if the league never gets to fulfill its ambitious vision. These live events are capable of engaging fans in new ways, and their success was going to be pivotal as the OWL sought to stand out in a crowded esports market.

Hero Pools Change the Game

2020 saw the introduction of a feature intended to combat the perceived stale metas of previous seasons. Each week, four highly played heroes would be deactivated to force meta diversity. The idea had merit, but the implementation was messy to say the least. At first there were two different Hero Pools, one for OWL and another for the live version of the game. Eventually the feature was removed for most ranks in competitive play before being scrapped entirely for everyone except the pros.

Even then, players complained that the weekly rotation made practice too stressful. There simply wasn’t enough time to adequately prepare new styles and plans weekly. The league remained committed for fear of seeing another meta dominate in the way that GOATs plagued the 2019 season, but Hero Pools were contributing to already mounting issues with player burnout.

Finally, something close to a happy medium was implemented. Hero Pools would last for two weeks, followed by two more weeks with every hero available. Teams got more time to adjust and the league avoided falling into a meta rut. The system can, and probably will, benefit from some more tweaking in the future, but on the most basic level it was a success. The league saw more meta diversity than ever before this year. Plus, the cutest moment of the year would never have happened without them.

Vancouver Hits the Reset Button

Entering the season, the Vancouver Titans were looking to build on the success of their 2019 campaign. After posting the league’s best record and making the Grand Finals, they were primed to be one of the top competitors for the Overwatch League 2020 title. Through two games they were their usual dominant selves. Then the pandemic hit, and internal issues started coming to the surface. A divide between the Titans’ roster and staff, all of them Korean, and Vancouver’s Western management had been brewing for some time. After a brief attempt at relocating the players to Korea, the Titans chose to release the entire roster and start anew.

The fallout painted Vancouver’s management in a poor light. Despite having struck gold with their 2019 core, Vancouver didn’t seem to realize their good fortune. They pushed out team centerpiece Bumper in favor of bringing in a flashier name in Fissure. They also placed the team in a truly spartan housing situation – dorm style rooms at a complex meant for teams training for short periods of time. When the team was meant to travel consistently, it might have been fine, but the pandemic made the situation untenable.

Overwatch League 2020

Photo Courtesy Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.

Ultimately, the Vancouver situation squandered what should have been an elite team. In their place the Titans fielded a squad of players fresh from Contenders who were simply set up to fail. They were thrown together midseason amidst a global pandemic with players scattered across the globe, trying to build synergy and give themselves a fighting chance week to week. They acquitted themselves nicely, winning four more games despite their circumstances.

It was a tragic situation all around. The league lost one of it’s best and most beloved teams, and their replacements weren’t given a fair shake either. Now the former Titans have been scattered to the wind. Just three are currently signed for 2021, and several may never play in the OWL again. Legendary figures like Haksal and Ryujehong were robbed of a chance to go out on their terms. It can only be described as a black mark on the 2020 season.

Tournaments Bring the Hype

With the allure of homestands out of the equation, the league needed something to excite fans. A 20+ game regular season is all well and good with live crowds to bolster the energy levels. It’s another thing entirely when the monotony of online play settled in. To give the season some natural punctuation marks, the league settled on a tournament structure, using the weeks leading in as seeding matches.

Starting with the May Melee, the format was a rousing success. With money and wins in the season standings on the line, teams brought their A-game. High stakes matches between the best teams in the league proved to be a recipe for success. Two more tournaments, the Summer Showdown and Countdown Cup, were soon to follow after the great reception from fans and players alike. The league has also committed to bringing back tournaments in 2021.

The tournaments consistently produced some of the best matches of the season. Whether it was Shanghai’s reverse sweep over Seoul in the May Melee, SP9RK1E’s dominant debut in the Summer Showdown, or the epic slugfest between the Shock and Fusion in the Countdown Cup, the tournaments gave us the biggest moments of the season.

There was no bigger exclamation point than eqo’s clutch Dragonblade in the final map of the Summer Showdown Grand Finals. With his team on the verge of being full-held and losing the series, eqo pulled off an overtime masterpiece that will go down as one of Overwatch’s all time great plays. They would wind up falling to the Paris Eternal, but for a moment eqo turned back the clock to 2018 and gave the Fusion a chance at glory.

The Shock Lose an MVP but Don’t Miss a Beat

The Overwatch League said goodbye to its fair share of legends in 2020. Players like Haksal, Corey, BigGoose, and Taimou all chose to leave Overwatch behind this year. None came as a bigger surprise than the out of the blue retirement of 2019 MVP sinatraa.

Citing lost passion for the game, sinatraa made the move to a new title, Riot’s fledgling tactical FPS, VALORANT. He’s since picked up right where he left off in Overwatch, winning multiple tournaments with Sentinels and emerging as one of VALORANT’s brightest stars. Who says Overwatch players can’t aim?

Shock Overwatch League 2020

Photo courtesy Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment

With their deep roster and talented bench, the Shock were in better position than most to lose such an important piece. Still, questions lingered about their ability to reach the same heights without their MVP in the lineup. As evidenced by their 2020 title, those concerns proved unfounded. If anything, the Shock may have been better in the Overwatch League in 2020 than in 2019. Certainly given the volatile nature of the Hero Pools meta and the 2020 season in general, their performance was more impressive this time around. They faced stiffer competition for the most part and emerged from the season with fewer losses than in 2019. They won two of the three tournaments, as opposed to just one stage title last year. And of course, they topped it off with their second straight championship.

More than anything else, the Shock’s 2020 run is a testament to their head coach, Crusty. The system he’s built has proven incredibly resilient, and he consistently gets the most out of his players. On his watch, the Shock have established the league’s first dynasty, and after a stellar offseason, they don’t look like they’re slowing down anytime soon.

The Dragons Take Flight Behind Their MVP

It was a sentiment echoed throughout the Overwatch League 2020 season. This was not your father’s Shanghai Dragons. While their 2019 squad made great progress, this was the year that Shanghai finally left their 0-40 2018 season fully in the rearview mirror. With 2018 veteran Fearless as their starting main tank, the journey was made that much sweeter.

There’s an argument to be made that the Dragons were the best regular season team this year. They dominated the APAC region, winning two of the three tournaments and dropping just three matches en route to the league’s best overall record. Their blend of rookie talent like LIP and LeeJaegon with veterans like Void and Fleta created a juggernaut that loomed large over Asia.

The Dragons had a number of standout performers in 2020, but Fleta outshone them all. Perhaps more than any other player in the league, he was a Swiss Army Knife for his team, playing a wide array of DPS heroes across every meta that Hero Pools threw their way. After two disappointing seasons with Seoul, Fleta finally got his chance to shine this year, picking up the league’s MVP award based on his incredible flexibility.

The Grand Finals Finally Deliver

In each of the OWL’s first two seasons, the Grand Finals really weren’t all that grand. In 2018, the Spitfire laid the smack on Philadelphia, winning 3-1 and 3-0 in their two matchups. 2019 wasn’t any better as the Shock rolled the Titans 4-0 in convincing fashion.

This year’s Overwatch League 2020 Grand Finals Weekend had the weight of great expectations, despite past disappointments. After being separated all year long, the best teams from each region were finally coming together for a climactic clash. On every level, Grand Finals Weekend was a huge win for the league. Despite the constraints of a remote broadcast, the production team put on an innovative and exciting show. Aside from the Fusion looking lost in the playoff meta, the teams were evenly matched and performed at a high level. The double-elimination bracket gave every team a fair shot to prove themselves, and built the hype to a crescendo for the Grand Finals.

San Francisco took home another title, but this time around they were pushed to their limit. Seoul proved a worthy opponent for the defending champs, taking the Shock to six maps with nearly every one going down to the wire.

In a match that will go down as an all-time classic, the Shock needed clutch performances from STRIKER and super to bring home another trophy. The series cemented the Shock’s budding dynasty, and served as a phenomenal capper to an unforgettable year.

The 2021 OWL season is expected to begin in late spring of next year, with the league’s 20 teams returning to action once again. After a chaotic year, the 2021 league format has yet to be announced.