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Know It OWL: Confusion and celebrations in the Overwatch League

I told you this week was Shanghai's week

Featured post Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment

This week a lot of people have been asking me which teams are shaking out as the ones to watch in this season of the Overwatch League, or how their favourites are doing. The answer to these questions is always: no one knows, every single team has either caused or suffered an upset (or both!), and everything is chaos.

Except for the New York Excelsior, obviously, who continue to crush it.

The introduction of flail-weilding healer Brigitte and the subsequent meta shake-up at the end of the inaugural season appears to have been just the beginning of a much longer confusion. With New York failing to adapt quickly, fifth- and sixth-placed London Spitfire and Philadelphia Fusion were the ones who made it to grand finals. But, while the Excelsior seem to have picked themselves up from their stumble and look strong at the top of the League again, having won all four of their games, everyone else’s disarray continues unabated.

It is, I think, good news. The unpredictability of the results means there’s rarely a match where you can safely bet on the outcome and tune out. Plus, it’s worth rooting for the underdogs more than ever.

It’s bad news, however, if you’re a fan of season one stage four champions the Los Angeles Valiant, who are yet to win a single game and find themselves at the very bottom of the rankings as a result. On the other hand, this is a plus for me specifically, because I needed a new losing team to support after the Shanghai Dragons broke their 42 match streak by beating the Boston Uprising.

Sean Castello for Blizzard Entertainment

If this seems like a buried note for someone who cried when it happened, don’t worry, it’s because I already wrote about it so as not to turn this into the weekly Shanghai Dragons feelings column. Still, here’s the short version: the Uprising traded main tank player Noh “Gamsu” Youngjin to the Dragons, who promptly turned around and helped them secure their first ever victory against none other than his former teammates. Poetic.

While the Dragons’ first victory was the best, it was also part of a weird trend that emerged this week: teams giving up their fourth map after netting a 3-0 victory. As the League is a best of five format, a 3-0 is all they need, but a fourth map is always played to establish the differential that will be used in case of tie breaks. It’s important, and yet multiple teams seemed to entirely fall apart during it.

As well as Shanghai and Boston, this happened to the Vancouver Titans, who otherwise stomped the San Francisco Shock. The Hangzhou Spark also pulled it off against both the Houston Outlaws and the London Spitfire despite losing to both this week. (And yes, the pretty in pink team looked incredibly strong in week one. I must have cursed them by saying I liked them.)

While team strength may be wildly open for question, some have made a name for themselves in terms of entertainment value. There’s been a lot of variety in hero picks across teams, far from the all Goats all the time fears that some continue to have, and the Chengdu Hunters have been an especially interesting one to watch. Their soft spot for hyper-mobile hamster hero Hammond, who will swing around, knock people into the air, and dash away, all while chittering excitedly, is great fun.

I’ve also come to love seeing cheery ice manipulator Mei do her thing, like in the Atlanta Reign’s attempt to defend the second point on Horizon Lunar Colony. Ilya “Nlaaer” Koppalov splitting Toronto Defiant players off and forcing the whole team into inopportune positions with her wall ability is both a pleasing curiosity to watch and a pretty effective strategy.

Other players who stood out this week include the Los Angeles Valiant’s Zenyatta, Kim “Izayaki” Minchul. Despite his team not achieving any wins so far, he’s been stacking up almost as highly as New York’s Bang “Jjonak” Sunghyeon in stats. On the off chance this is the very first thing you’re hearing about Overwatch League (which is fine! welcome!): that’s good news. Jjonak has famously and consistently been so far ahead of the pack in his Zenyatta play that the small nerf made to the character last year was widely and only half-jokingly considered to be targeting him directly.

Ex-minor league standouts RunAway have also been making an impact after graduating to become the newly formed Vancouver Titans. The only team besides New York and the Paris Eternal to have won all of their games, their existing synergy looks strong. You can see it from their incredibly coordinated ultimate usage, making Choi “Jjanu” Hyeonwoo one of the deadliest D.Vas in the League, and in the way they manage to protect main tank Park “Bumper” Sangbeom. A very aggressive Reinhart player, he can make an incredible impact on games, but only thanks to the support of the other members propping him up.

Except for this unlucky pin, which did lose them an entire point. Whoops.

With the rankings in such flux, teams continue to rely on their external branding to court fans, and again, no one is better at this than the Spark. Their illustrative graphics showing anthropomorphic versions of each team, created for all of their games so far, have been a particular highlight of seeing them play — even if their results have been in freefall this week.

The Houston Outlaws, for their part, made it a week and a half before realising that using the social media slogan #TexasHard might not go quite as planned. They’re #AnteUp now. I’m sure that will stop the jokes.

Next week, well, things will still be chaos, so who knows which games will be the exciting ones? The only predictions I feel somewhat safe in making appear on Saturday, when the New York Excelsior should be able to keep their winstreak going against the Toronto Defiant, which will be followed immediately by the Valiant’s losing streak probably getting longer at the hands of the Titans. But still, if things get shaken up, I won’t be especially surprised any more.

Until then, here’s a back cap that I really, really wish had worked.

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Jay Castello

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Jay writes about video games, falls down endless internet rabbit holes, and takes a lot of pictures of flowers.

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