The OWL’s final playoffs before OW2 could be its best ever
On Saturday, the Overwatch League will crown its fourth champion. Whoever it is that raises the trophy at the end of the playoffs, they will also be the last team to do so, at least last in the game we know as Overwatch. Overwatch 2 is nearly here with its shiny new heroes, fast-paced 5v5 gameplay, and enticing story content.
The Overwatch 2 era will come in due time. For now, the moment belongs to Overwatch and its final major tournament. So how does the league send Overwatch out with a bang? The best playoffs ever should do the trick. More than ever before, that’s what the league is primed to deliver.
A Meta in Harmony
Across three seasons, one thing that has always plagued the league is late-season patches that shake up the meta that defined the entire year. In Season 1, double-sniper lifted London to a title after an up-and-down season. The shift to 2-2-2 role lock put an end to the GOATs meta of 2019 but left us with a bizarre Doomfist and double-shield meta. Last year’s playoffs were defined by Roadhog despite the fact that he was played less than 1% of the time during the regular season.
The Shock’s dominant run saved us from champions that look out of place these last two years, but we weren’t terribly far from a Washington Justice title in 2020 following a 4-17 season. That was only possible in a perfect storm of pandemic rule quirks, but even absent consequences, huge meta shifts before playoffs are never good. The level of play drops noticeably, and the product isn’t well-served by a competitive environment that feels random at its most pivotal moments.
All of this is to say: they finally got it right this year. The last balance patch hit the game in early August, and those changes aren’t exactly earthshattering. For the first time, the OWL playoff meta should look basically just like the regular season. That alone is cause for celebration.
Then there’s the meta itself. There’s no question that the league has never seen such a diverse meta over an extended period of time. Past playoffs have been far more rigid in what they require from teams. It seems unlikely that any team will be able to win it all with a mastery of just one composition.
That’s not to say that a specific style won’t be the thing that carries someone to a title. After getting a net buff on the last patch, Wrecking Ball could very well be too strong to overcome on most maps, at least in the hands of teams like Shanghai and Chengdu. Even if that’s what plays out, those squads will have to prove it against a variety of looks from their opposition. Lucky for us, that’s when Overwatch is at its best.
A Wide Open Race
It’s a familiar mantra. Playoffs are here, and everyone has a chance at the title. In an eight-team field, it’s not always true. It certainly hasn’t been the case in playoffs past. This year, however, the peculiarities of the season might deliver on the promise that every team has at least an outside shot.
For starters, it’s been a while since most of these teams have played. It’s been over a month since the top two seeds, Dallas and Shanghai, have played a match. Given that they locked their positions so early, you could say they haven’t played meaningful Overwatch since the middle of July.
What that spells for our presumptive favorites is yet to be seen. It could be a needed break that leaves them fresh and prepared for a title run. It could be they come out slow with not a lot of wiggle room. Shanghai has had a season on par with any in OWL history, but is it really impossible to see them getting upset by the Shock in Round 1?
The Countdown Cup seemed to indicate that Chengdu and Los Angeles are real title contenders, but those matches had a Hero Pool that won’t be present here. Anyways, those matches are a month in the past, hardly reflective of current form. Even teams that didn’t look airtight in their last outings have had at least a couple weeks to make adjustments.
Throw in a meta that gives every team the chance to sculpt their own style, and you’ve got the recipe for a volatile brew. Where a sudden meta shift creates chaos that hurts the product, uncertainty in the outcome of a match or tournament heightens the tension and ups the intensity. There should be plenty of both to go around this week.
Something for Everyone to Love
These playoffs bring finality not only to Overwatch as an esport but also to each of the eight playoff teams. We’ve been blessed with an abundance of storylines throughout the season, the best of which are about to reach their resolutions. Every team remaining has a hook that makes their team worth rooting for.
The Shock had a down year by their standards but finally, look comfortable in time to threaten the threepeat. They are the Overwatch League’s first dynasty, and they aren’t ready to give that up. Expect Seonchang “ANS” Lee and Minki “Viol2t” Park to be in top form. Whether that’s enough remains to be seen.
Visa issues put the Fusion behind from the start of the season, and they’re just now catching up. Can they unlock their boundless potential and make a dark-horse run? Can Washington do the same and finally live up to their preseason hype? The upset possibility is there with both these squads if the stars align.
Atlanta is making their fourth trip to Hawaii in as many months. The consistency is remarkable, but they’ve always been a step behind the elite teams. They’ll be underdogs once more with their MVP candidate Sehyun “Pelican” Oh unable to join the team following a collapsed lung. A deep run would validate their year.
No one has been closer to a title without winning than the Chengdu Hunters. Xin “Leave” Huang carried the team to two finals, including a 7-map affair in the Countdown Cup. For them to lift the trophy would be a tremendous moment of catharsis and a historic peak for Chinese Overwatch.
After thwarting the Hunters’ last title shot, the Glads are riding high. Their season has been a steady climb to becoming one of the most dynamic teams in the league. This roster has no holes, compositionally or individually. The playoffs might simply be their coronation.
That brings us to our two titans. Much of the 2021 season has been defined by these two behemoths going at each other. Dallas struck fast and true to start the season, defining the May Melee meta and nearly doing the same for the June Joust. It took one of the great comebacks in Overwatch history for the Dragons to wrest control away from the Fuel. The Summer Showdown cemented the Dragons as the league’s undisputed top dog.
These rivals are two of the best teams Overwatch ever produced. Their triumphs across this incredible season are even sweeter when you consider the pain these franchises have seen. 0-40 seems a long way from here. As Overwatch nears the end of its run, it’s worth remembering: all things change, often for the better.