After a long and trying regular season, the playoffs are almost here for the Overwatch League. Before we launch into the postseason, however, it’s useful to take stock of a year filled to the brim with unexpected obstacles. Even as the league’s planned slate of homestand events was derailed, OWL talent flourished in 2020, with an influx of new faces who raised the bar across the board.
Last week we highlighted the best of that talent with our Role Star picks for the season. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the rest of the awards slate. The league will hand out four individual awards this year: two for player performance, one for coaching, and finally the Dennis Hawelka Award for positive impact on the Overwatch community.
MVP: KyeongBo “Alarm” Kim
Any discussion regarding the most valuable player award has to begin by defining value in Overwatch. Is it simply the best, most talented player in the league? Do you prize consistency or peak performance more? Does team success factor into what is ostensibly an individual award? How do you account for play time and flexibility throughout Hero Pools? To what extent do statistics matter?
In making this decision, I settled on a holistic approach that takes into account these questions, but centers on one in particular. If you replace a specific player with one of average skill and a similar profile in terms of hero picks and play style, how much does the team suffer as a result? Obviously, it’s not exactly an objective metric, but it’s one that I feel provides a useful lens through which to view value in Overwatch.
Which brings me to my choice for MVP. By any measure, Alarm had an all-time great season in his first year in the OWL. He played nearly every minute of the season for one of the best teams in the league and was a statistical giant on multiple heroes throughout the year. Just about the only mark against him is the Fusion’s lack of a title in any of the three tournaments played this year.
When it comes to my central MVP question, Alarm is simply undeniable. He did absolutely everything for the Fusion this year from the flex support position. It’s evidenced in his Hero Usage throughout the season. His most played hero was Ana with just a hair over 30% of his time. After that, Baptiste, Brigitte, Moira, and Zenyatta all come in between 16.9% and 17.8%.
Throughout the year, Alarm was statistically the deadliest support in the league, with only San Francisco’s Minki “Viol2t” Park in the same ballpark. Across all his heroes, he was never lower than 5th in Final Blows, Eliminations, or Damage per 10 minutes (minimum 120 minutes played) and he topped the charts in a number of categories.
Alarm’s ability to pick up basically every hero in the support lineup was vital for the Fusion throughout the season. While Daniel “FunnyAstro” Hathaway and Isaac “Boombox” Charles split time depending on the meta, Alarm was constant who could fit whatever style the Fusion asked off him. At no point in the season did they have to worry about fielding a subpar support, because Alarm was elite on everything. No other support in the league was asked to do as much, and frankly, I don’t know that any of them are capable – certainly not to the same level.
Honorable Mentions: Viol2t, ByungSun “Fleta” Kim, Hanbeen “Hanbin” Choi.
Coach of the Year: Michael “Packing 10” Szklanny
Right off the bat, it must be said that coaching in Overwatch is an inherently difficult thing to evaluate. Even if you had perfect insight into every strategic decision made by a team over the course of a season, you wouldn’t have a full picture of what a coach means to the team. So much goes into managing personalities, motivating players, and setting up a team for success that judging coaching is something of a fool’s errand.
That being said, it’s still possible to see the effect a great coach can have. In the case of Packing10, that comes down to his ability to get the most out of fewer resources. Under his leadership, the Valiant have massively overperformed expectations, going from an expected bottom feeder to a top-5 team in North America.
It all started in the offseason, where the Valiant were simply unable to compete for top-tier free agents. With the team rebuilding for 2020, they had to rely on their ability to scout lesser-known talent and elevate them in the Valiant system. In that search, they left no stone unturned, holding open tryouts that saw nearly 1000 players vie for a spot on the LA roster.
It’s that dedication that led Packing10 and the Valiant to virtual unknowns like Sanglok “DREAMER” Song and players like Jae Ho “RaiN” Park who were discarded by other organizations.
Packing10 has also exhibited an admirable commitment to the well-being of his players throughout a difficult 2020. Multiple times this year, he’s given his players much-needed rest when their mental health was suffering under the strain of the global pandemic and a stressful season. His ability to navigate those pitfalls while still leading the Valiant to the fifth-seed and a playoff bye is beyond impressive.
Honorable Mentions: Dae-hee “Crusty” Park, Byung-chul “Moon” Moon, Donggun “KDG” Kim.
Rookie of the Year: Hanbeen “Hanbin” Choi
If this were a real award ballot, I would feel honorbound to give this one to Alarm as well. After all, if someone is MVP as a rookie then it follows that they would also be rookie of the year. As much fun as it would be to continue singing Alarm’s praises, we’re all better served by giving a little love to another one of OWL’s incredible rookies of which there were a ridiculous number this year. Seriously, narrowing this selection down to one rookie was nearly as tough as deciding MVP.
Hanbin is more than just a deserving candidate, he’s been the rock for the Paris Eternal all year long. When they started strong, going 5-2 out of the gate, Hanbin was there leading the charge on D.Va and Sigma. When his teammate Gihyo “Xzi” Jung had to return to Korea midseason, Hanbin held it down and helped keep Paris above water. Finally, when Xzi returned and Yeonghan “SP9RK1E” Kim came of age, Hanbin remained his steady, stellar self as Paris ascended to new heights.
To be that kind of consistent presence as a rookie is impressive. To do it on a team with as many moving parts as Paris, that’s a startling achievement. Tank play is never going to be as flashy as SP9RK1E Dragonblades or Xzi pulling gamewinning Widowmaker flanks out of nowhere, but no one is more responsible for the Eternal’s overachievement than Hanbin.
Statistically, Hanbin has been the best flex tank in the OWL this year, full stop. On Sigma, the most played hero across the entire league in 2020, he topped the charts in Damage, Eliminations, and Final Blower per 10 minutes (minimum 90 minutes played). Toward the end of the year, he repeated the performance with Zarya. On D.Va, he put up a plebian second place in Damage and Final Blows.
With playoffs fast-approaching, Hanbin is the single most valuable player on this Paris roster. There is absolutely no concern that he’ll have any issues regardless of how the meta shapes up. If the end-of-season dive comps stick around, his Zarya and D.Va were insane. If we move towards a meta dominated by Roadhog, there’s no doubt that he’ll be landing hooks left and right. He is the epitome of dependability during a season where solid ground has been hard to come by.
Honorable Mentions: Jae Gon “LeeJaegon” Lee, Kai “KSP” Collins, Jae Won “LIP” Lee
Dennis Hawelka Award: Caleb “McGravy” McGarvey
This award carries quite a bit of history with it. Starting with the namesake of the award, Dennis “INTERNETHULK” Hawelka, you’ve got one of the most important community figures in early Overwatch esports. He was a vibrant personality who touched every part of the pre-OWL scene before his untimely death in 2017.
The Fuel’s Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod was a deserving first recipient of the award that bears the name of his EnVyUs teammate. His unrelenting positivity and affable nature made him beloved in the community. Last season, Scott “Custa” Kennedy was a natural heir thanks to his leadership with the LA Valiant and his charitable work on his stream.
With Custa moving to the OWL broadcast this year, McGravy has taken up the mantle within the Valiant and the community as a whole. During a rebuilding year for Los Angeles, he was a returning veteran within the team and someone who brought a strong voice to a team with little shared history. He’s remained a vital part of the team throughout their impressive 2020 campaign as well.
Beyond his impact inside the team, he’s been a role model for the Overwatch community. He’s used his platform to call out misogyny and be a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement on social media. On top of that, he raised thousands on stream for the Trevor Project during Pride Month. Between his presence as a leader in-game and his willingness to put his influence to work, there’s no one better to carry on the legacy than McGravy. The retweet from Halsey doesn’t hurt either.