The Overwatch League is finally back tomorrow*! Before that, though, we've got plenty to cover: a turbulent preseason showing, last minute player issues, and a look at the most exciting upcoming games.
First, though, we’ve got to talk about Goats.
Sadly, that doesn’t mean the adorable animal. Goats is a kind of obscure name given to a team composition of three tanks and three healers. It’s named after the second division team that popularised it, so you’re more likely to hear the phrase “triple-triple” used on official broadcasts. You know, like how they can’t say “teabagging” on an all-ages stream so call it “tactical crouching,” except less enabling of the deeply embarrassing normalisation of simulating an unwanted sex act on your opponent.
Anyway, Goats has been all the rage in top-level games during the offseason, and not everyone is a fan. Teams playing triple-triple usually line up D.Va, Reinhardt, and Zarya as tanks and Brigitte, Zenyatta, and Lúcio as healers. It’s a contentious meta, with many disliking the focus on playing conservatively until you can wipe out the entirety of the opposing team with a combination of ultimates - usually Zarya’s graviton surge to gather them all together and D.Va’s self destruct to blow them up. It’s also a far cry from the sizzle reels we got from season one, with Widowmakers plinking squishy characters out of existence by clicking on their heads or Tracers tearing through teams with a few well-placed clips.
To be honest, it was never as ubiquitous in the second-division Contenders (the top level of play available to watch while OWL was on hiatus) as it was made out to be. Variations like ‘Dive Goats’ sped things up by adding Wrecking Ball or Winston in place of Reinhardt, and damage characters like snipers, Sombra, and Pharah saw plenty of situational play.
Still, recent nerfs to Brigitte (who has picked up the mantle of most hated character from Symmetra and Mercy) and D.Va, plus buffs to tank-destroying characters like Reaper, should also help to mix things up somewhat. We’ll probably still see plenty of Goats play in the early games, but as teams learn to adapt and get used to playing other compositions, it’ll eventually fall out of favour, as all metas do.
However, it turns out that not playing Goats can also get people riled. This week, the preseason games began with a whole lot of messing around - teams didn’t play their usual compositions, and individuals shirked their roles, leading to an entertaining, if sometimes confusing, mix of fun and talent on display. Not everyone was pleased, though, including League commissioner Nate Nanzer, who tweeted that he was “disappointed” that the games weren’t properly competitive, and that the fans had been “let down.”
Maybe they shouldn’t have been marketed as realistic scrims, but ah, it all seemed like a good laugh. As a compromise of sorts, the League switched the weekend games to Mystery Heroes, with players being randomly assigned characters every time they died, essentially formalising the idea that these were going to be meaningless games from now on. (I'm even not overly jazzed by the fact that the Dragons won their match.) In the end that might have been for the best - the streams were plagued with production issues, so fingers crossed those have been ironed out for the upcoming big day.
After Mystery Heroes, individual players faced off in 1v1s with gunslinger Ashe and sniper-healer-granny Ana. About all you need to see is this incredible shot from the Los Angeles Valiant's Chae "Bunny" Joonhyuk, catapulting himself out into the open with Ashe's shotgun knockback and flicking a headshot onto his opponent. (The leadup is also left in so you can get an impression of how much wriggling around was involved in any one of these games.)
Last night, at 2am GMT, there were some Capture The Flag games, but I'm writing this in the past, so let's go ahead and assume that nothing groundbreaking happened. And tonight, again at 2am, there'll be showmatches between some members of the community, including streamers and League broadcast talent. That's in the future, so again, let's hope it all went according to plan but that it wasn't especially spectacular. If you're reading this on the day it comes out and you're a night owl, here are the details.
But - tomorrow*! There’ll be no more messing around as the season kicks off, especially on day one, which is stacked with headliners. First up is a rematch of the grand finals, Philadelphia Fusion vs. London Spitfire, followed by the impressively consistent New York Excelsior against the Uprising, who surprised everyone by going unbeaten in stage 4 last season after a rockier beginning.
Then there’s Seoul Dynasty, who as I mentioned last week will be an interesting one to watch, against local favourites the Los Angeles Gladiators. And finally, finally, the Shanghai Dragons have a chance to net their very first real win when they face off against the Hangzhou Spark. Their main tank player, Lee “Fearless” Euiseok, has returned to Korea following some health problems (hopefully unrelated to the Dragons’ somewhat infamous harsh training schedule) but still, I believe it’s possible.
After opening day, things settle into a more familiar format, where you’re more likely to want to single out the interesting matches or follow your favourites. Many new teams will be making their first appearances, like Friday’s second match, Atlanta Reign vs. Florida Mayhem. Though Reign is an expansion team, the Mayhem also rebuilt their roster from scratch after a disappointing first season, so this will be an opportunity to see whether it was an effective strategy.
Those of us in Europe will be able to see our local rivalry play out when the London Spitfire face the Paris Eternal on Saturday, and Eternal fans are likely to want to keep their fingers crossed for some sniper play so that they can celebrate their star Widowmaker specialist Terence “SoOn” Tarlier at his highest potential.
Until then, here’s the sort of fun and games Nate Nanzer doesn’t want you to see:
Justice for hammer-only Torbjörn; clearly a legitimate strategy.
*Technically in the wee hours of Friday morning if you live in the UK or anywhere east of the meridian line. Brew some coffee.
Postscript: I was finishing this column late on Tuesday night, right when the news broke that Activision Blizzard, despite earning a record revenue, would be laying off 8% of their staff - an estimated 800 people suddenly left without jobs. This post is here, it's done, but it's hard to muster the same enthusiasm I felt when I drafted it earlier this week, and it felt wrong to let the whole thing go by without expressing my condolences, and anger. Unionise the games industry.