Overwatch League's first week of homestands saw a varied meta, hyped atmospheres and the Shock remaining on top. There's a lot to talk about going into the Philadelphia homestand, and our writers have several questions they'd like to see answered.
Was Washington's Stage 4 resurgence last season for real?
Washington DPS Corey "Corey" Nigra has been gaining a lot of praise the past few months after a solid performance with the World Cup-winning Team USA and then apparently being quite good in scrimmages as well. If Washington continues to trend up, it'll be on his back.
When Washington first entered the league, it did so on very short notice before the offseason in late 2018. Then its first hire, assistant GM Kate Mitchell, parted with the team she built in April. Under new management, the Justice made changes in the second half of the season last year and that upward trend began. I think it will continue but I don't think they'll be a top team in this season.
-- Jacob Wolf
When we covered the Overwatch World Cup, Team USA all made sure to specifically give love to Corey. His DPS play, specifically his aim, was extremely impressive. Watch out for him, he's incredible. I kept hearing that over and over. Now, Corey has been around basically an all-star team of Overwatch and has learned what it takes to win a chip -- which he can now take back to the nation's capital and build from there. It's not outlandish to expect big things from Washington this season. And if you need more proof, take it from Kim "Haksal" Hyo-jong.
-- Arda Ocal
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I love Washington's DPS duo of Corey and Stratus. What we've seen so far from the Justice is that in any sort of DPS carry meta, Corey will pop off if the team gives him room to do so. The main questions are around their tank line. Lukas "LullSiSH" Wiklund is unable to play for the foreseeable future due to visa issues, leaving Gye "rOar" Chang-hoon and Elliot "ELLIVOTE" Vaneryd as the team's only tanks, the latter of which is unproven in the league. In fact, the only issues I see arising for the Justice will be from the fact that they have fewer options than top-tier teams like the San Francisco Shock in a league that, due to hero pools, will increasingly rely on flexible players and coaching staff. I do think that the 2019 resurgence was "for real" but I also think that it will be difficult for the Justice to consistently stay at the top for the entirety of the season.
-- Emily Rand
While I don't know if Washington is for real, I know Corey is. From talking to various players around the league during opening weekend in Dallas, Corey and the Justice go hand in hand; it's impossible to bring up one without the other. His aim has been praised by the likes of Haksal, and Corey's ascension to superstardom status has been the focal point of anything positive thrown the way of Washington's chances this year.
I think the Justice have a decent team around their sharpshooting ace, but I don't believe their Stage 4 performance can be replicated throughout the entirety of 2020. The Justice of today fall somewhere between the swill they produced for the majority of 2019 and the dominance they exhibited in the final stage, and for a franchise that was seen as a laughingstock not too long ago, that's not a bad place to be.
-- Tyler Erzberger
Is it new colors, new team for the Mayhem, or are they still going to be stuck at the bottom of the barrel?
I love the new colors and the team finally finding an identity outside of being unofficial sponsors for McDonald's, and they should see better results in 2020. Like Washington, I expect the Mayhem to be a fringe playoff contender, but at least they'll look stylish doing it.
I feel that the Mayhem will be better this year relative to their peers, both because I believe their offseason changes improve them as a team and because I feel like certain other teams will be worse. I'm particularly excited about the addition of Kim "Yaki" Jun-ki and Gang "Gangnamjin" Nam-jin, who I enjoyed watching on RunAway. I still believe that many of the players competing in Tier 2 in South Korea are better than a fair amount of Overwatch League players and I think that could be true for these two.
Alongside former RunAway teammate Lee "LeeJaeGon" Jae-gon, Gangnamjin is one of my most highly anticipated Overwatch League support debuts. While it's sad that they won't be a support line together, Gangnamjin is a remarkably strong support pickup for Florida. The Mayhem have picked up excellent individual pieces before and not gone very far with them, so the real test isn't in the rebrand or even the lineup, but how well they can coordinate together. Having rosters locked at 2-2-2 allows for more individual and flashy plays to make highlight reels, but it's still coordination and synergy that make good teams. The most interesting pickup for the Mayhem may actually be Kim "KuKi" Dae-kuk, former Seoul Dynasty and Los Angeles Valiant tank player, as Florida's new coach.
As for the rebrand, I love the new "Miami Vice" color scheme. It definitely makes the team stand out more, and piggybacks off of their black, neon blue and neon pink jerseys, which were some of the more eye-catching secondary jerseys released last year.
THANK GOODNESS! The Mayhem did it right with the colorway. Give me Miami Vice for South Florida or give me NOTHING. Pretty much the most exciting thing about the Mayhem last season was Avast's "Chuck E Cheese Chad of the Match #BringTheMayhem" meme (by the way, did I miss AvastCon?). After their 6-22 2019 season, they got a new coach, decided not to pick up the option on five players and picked up two Korean Contenders players whom Jacob mentioned. So yes, I believe this is an improvement and this team will at least do better than 6-22. I still am unsure if this team will compete in the playoffs or watch from the Chuck E Cheese ball pit.
How will the canceled Chinese homestands affect the league going forward?
Activision Blizzard has been under the microscope and criticized for a lot of things as it pertains to Season 3 of the Overwatch League, but the decision to cancel/postpone the homestands in China indefinitely certainly isn't one of them. This was absolutely the right call; nobody is disputing that. How the schedule shakes out as a result of this remains to be seen. Maybe there are new homestands and locations announced; maybe there are some games played in Burbank, California, again.
My bigger concern with homestands and viewership is where will it be in midseason. When the newness has worn off, and there are inconsequential games, will the audience drop? Or will the hype from opening weekend last?
Overwatch League needs as many wins as it can get right now. Opening weekend was a win and generated a lot of momentum for the league, from a public perception perspective, and it would have been great to carry that momentum into China, a market the Overwatch League very much needs to be successful.
I won't criticize the decision -- because it is the right one for the safety of players, staff and fans -- but the circumstances just stink. I was told that the Shanghai homestand was sold out and that the other Chinese teams were excited to put on a good show too. That would've been huge for the Overwatch League, particularly as I believe some of the North American and European homestands will be lackluster by comparison to those in the New York, Dallas or the Chinese markets. I wish things were different.
I agree that the safety of the players, staff and fans should always come first, but the lack of decisive action in terms of rescheduling the matches from Blizzard isn't great. The logical solution here should be to host the matches between the Asian teams online and cast them with a bare-bones production. It won't be flashy and viewership might suffer from not having the live audience element implemented, but I would take that over backloading the schedules for the teams that are missing matches because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Before the season even began, I said that China was the market Blizzard needed to grow in if they had any chance of taking Overwatch League to the next level. China is by far the biggest consumer of esports in the world and it's a giant setback that hotbed cities like Shanghai will have to wait to hold their first homestands.
This is a tough break for the league and the teams. I'll reiterate what others have said here in that it's a necessary move to ensure the safety of both fans and the players. Yet, Activision-Blizzard really needed the Chinese viewership and fandom, especially after their initial botched entry into China (seriously, you had so many established Chinese orgs who made teams almost immediately when the game was released and somehow squandered that initial momentum). Buy-in from the Chinese market had the potential to not only prove that homestands could work on a regular basis, but also that interest in the game could be revitalized in the world's largest market. It's going to be a lot more difficult to retain that audience now that these homestands are canceled for the foreseeable future, despite the growing fan bases of all four Chinese teams.
Has Overwatch League ironed out production issues for Week 2?
I certainly hope so -- but in saying that, it's incredibly challenging to put on a live production, especially in venues that you haven't been in before. Nobody truly understands that unless they've been in that environment, and many take it for granted because when it's done at its peak, it looks easy. Trust me, whether you're on the talent side or the production side, it's not.
There were a couple moments where some cuts and fades were bizarre and maybe awkward, on-air talent were on the air maybe a couple seconds longer than they should have and maybe they didn't know ... but Uber and Mr. X turned one into a charming moment where they just started dancing. What else can you do in a moment like that? Just own it and make it fun. Props to them.
My biggest question is: Will Hexagrams finally learn what the Brooklyn Bridge looks like? That's just inexcusable.
I don't know about you, but I want more funny Cheez-It moments. Joking aside, I hope they have. The Overwatch League is a huge target of criticism just by nature of the cost of the league and the manner in which they've dealt with PR crises the past year.
No major esports broadcast can afford those type of production issues. But the Overwatch League cannot under ANY circumstance afford them. If it happens continually moving forward, it won't be as funny as the Cheez-It moment -- it'll make them the laughing stock of the big esports leagues.
Will the meta solidify, or will we still see a huge variety of heroes being played?
This may be a "hot take," but I actually think that the meta is pretty solidified after the first week and not nearly as wacky as people are making it out to be. As it stands, teams are experimenting in the DPS positions while main tank and support roles remain predictably static. The first two heroes that could be on the chopping block right now are Lúcio and Reinhardt, with Mei clocking in as the league's first DPS hero to be eliminated at a whopping 84% usage rate. Most of the compositions involved Mei setting up for hitscan heroes like McCree or Widowmaker, although we did see a few outliers, like Paris' Symmetra priority.
I'm not a fan of hero pools -- I think we saw enough variety with the 2-2-2 role lock at the end of last season -- but I'm not the target audience of the Overwatch League. I think we'll continue to see teams use Mei for setup alongside other DPS heroes until she's banned.
We're in a good spot after the opening weekend when it comes to heroes being played. Only three heroes (Lucio, Reinhardt and Mei) were used over 70% of the time during opening weekend compared to the first stage last year where the triple-tank, triple-support composition of Zarya, Brigitte and the rest of the "GOATS" meta crew all had usages above the 70% mark. While a small sample size, there have been more pocket pickets like Haksal's Genji and Dallas bringing out the Junkrat along with the staple heroes than we saw last year around this time where everyone was playing the same thing except for the Chengdu Hunters and their literal Wrecking Ball to the status quo.
I had fun watching the games in Week 1. Let's see if things continue to be volatile in Week 2 or if we start to see another hero or two join the ranks of Lucio, Reinhardt and Mei to create a concrete pre-hero pools meta.
I feel the meta will continue to be fluid and, to be frank, if it continues to be like it was this past weekend in New York and Dallas, I'm going to be sad to see hero bans be enacted. It feels like just as balance changes were made that made the game more interesting, hero bans will alter the meta in a way it may not need to. Obviously we're speculating off a small sample size. But I am excited to see how things change as the season continues.
"You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend."
That is a quote from Bruce Lee. It also answers this question.
As long as it's not GOATS, I don't care. Sincerely. I want it to be fun. I want to ENJOY watching Overwatch. So if that means hero pools, so be it. I give credit to the league for trying it. If it doesn't work, and it's truly an awful experience for the viewer and the pro, then try something else. Don't flame the attempt. At the end of the day, what we should want is this: Give us ENTERTAINMENT. That's the core of esports. Make it FUN for the viewer. Reinhardt was one of the most picked heroes in Week 1 (Reinforce where you at? Oh right, on the desk, my bad. Rock that turtleneck all season), and likely would have been banned in Week 2. What changes are made? Who does what, where? On paper that's interesting. Bans don't last longer than a week anyhow. At worst it could possibly alternate: on, banned, on, banned, etc. But these are professionals who grind the game several hours a day for money. You don't think they can't adapt to what is thrown at them? For the most part they are in their spots for a reason. So, maybe it's a fluid meta, like Bruce Lee said.
WEEK 2 PICKS:
Mayhem vs. Outlaws
Arda: 3-1 Outlaws
Emily: 3-1 Outlaws
Jacob: 3-1 Mayhem
Tyler: 3-2 Mayhem
Justice vs. Fusion
Arda: 3-2 Justice
Emily: 3-1 Fusion
Jacob: 3-2 Fusion
Tyler: 3-1 Justice
Justice vs. Outlaws
Arda: 3-2 Justice
Emily: 3-2 Justice
Jacob: 3-1 Justice
Tyler: 3-1 Justice
Mayhem vs. Fusion
Arda: 3-1 Fusion
Emily: 3-2 Fusion
Jacob: 3-2 Fusion
Tyler: 3-0 Fusion