There was little question to which teams were the best in the Overwatch League's first season. The best teams had the best records, the worst teams had the worst records.
This isn't true of this season.
There are 28 total matches in the season for a 20 team league divided into two 10 team divisions. That means each team plays every team in their division twice and every team outside their division once.
That also means each stage is only seven matches long. A team won't even get to play half the teams in the league during a stage, let alone nearly every team like they could last season.
As a result, the Overwatch League has displayed the strength of schedule for teams prior to the start of matches. What is strength of schedule?
Image credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
Strength of schedule displays how easy or hard a team's matches have been. This is often determined using the record of the team's opponents.
The Overwatch League broadcast displays strength of schedule of a team by calculating their opponents' overall record. In a game like Overwatch, however, that is far from the most accurate showing of strength of schedule.
Every stage is played on a different patch and therefore is played with a slightly different meta that can make and break some teams. While the Overwatch League season has been dominated by GOATs thus far in this season, slight changes between Stage 1 and Stage 2 weaken and strengthen teams. For example, the Shock were good in Stage 1 but were given a near certain map victory on assault maps in Stage 2 when they proved to be the best at utilizing the game's newest hero, Baptiste.
Dividing strength of schedule into separate stages makes sense. It's hard to argue a team that played the Gladiators in Stage 1 got an opponent as difficult as Gladiators' opponents did in Stage 2. Of course there are other changes throughout the season that can shape the strength of teams. The very same Gladiators were a lesser team until Decay became old enough to play and then had time to gel with the lineup. The Justice are a better team now with ArK and sleepy than they were in Stage 1.
Sometimes those changes don't fit perfectly into separate stages, such as when Decay joined the Gladiators before the end of Stage 1. While dividing strength of schedule by stage unfortunately cannot account for the Gladiators resurgence with Decay in the final week of Stage 1, getting more granular with strength of schedule risks cherry picking and opinion reigning supreme in determining teams' strength of schedule.
In dividing teams' strength of schedule by stage, the overall strength of schedule will be determined by using opponents' records in just the stage the team plays them in. For example, a team that played the Defiant in Stage 1 played a 5-2 team, not a 7-7 team. Of course, that also means a team that played the Defiant in Stage 2 played a 2-5 team.
The following list will be ordered by the team with the hardest stage schedules this season. It will also include their opponents' combined record for each individual stage.
Stage Strength of Schedule
Does not take into account matches played in Stage 3.
- 1: Los Angeles Valiant (.622), Stage 1: 33-16, Stage 2: 28-21
- 2: Seoul Dynasty (.591), Stage 1: 25-24, Stage 2: 33-16
- 3: Boston Uprising (.581), Stage 1: 27-22, Stage 2: 30-19
- 4: Guangzhou Charge (.561), Stage 1: 25-24, Stage 2: 30-19
- T5: Houston Outlaws (.551), Stage 1: 24-25, Stage 2: 30-19
- T5: Chengdu Hunters (.551), Stage 1: 27-22, Stage 2: 27-22
- T5: Florida Mayhem (.551), Stage 1: 23-26, Stage 2: 31-18
- 8: Toronto Defiant (.531), Stage 1: 24-25, Stage 2: 28-21
- T9: Shanghai Dragons (.510), Stage 1: 28-21, Stage 2: 22-27
- T9: Paris Eternal (.510), Stage 1: 27-22, Stage 2: 22-27
- T9: Washington Justice (.510), Stage 1: 27-22, Stage 2: 23-26
- 12: San Francisco Shock (.500), Stage 1: 28-21, Stage 2: 21-28
- T13: Hangzhou Spark (.490), Stage 1: 21-28, Stage 2: 27-22
- T13: Atlanta Reign (.490), Stage 1: 23-26, Stage 2: 25-24
- 15: Dallas Fuel (.439), Stage 1: 26-23, Stage 2: 17-32
- 16: Los Angeles Gladiators (.429), Stage 1: 24-25, Stage 2: 18-31
- 17: Philadelphia Fusion (.418), Stage 1: 16-33, Stage 2: 25-24
- 18: Vancouver Titans (.408), Stage 1: 19-30, Stage 2: 21-28
- 19: New York Excelsior (.388), Stage 1: 21-28, Stage 2: 17-32
- 20: London Spitfire (.367), Stage 1: 22-27, Stage 2: 14-35
These rankings are mostly useful for teams closer to the middle of the pack, as it can be what sets some teams apart over others.
There are exceptions to this, however, and the Valiant definitely fit that bill. They have the highest stage strength of schedule and it's not even close; Stage 1 was particularly brutal for them as five of the seven teams they played had their better stage in Stage 1 (they also played the Titans, who were equally as good in both stages at 7-0). As the Valiant's play slowly improved and their schedule got slightly easier in Stage 2, they improved and finished the stage 3-4. Such a trend could indicate that the Valiant aren't a team that belongs at the very bottom, although it doesn't necessarily mean they're good either.
The other two teams with notably difficult schedules thus far are the Dynasty and the Uprising.
The Dynasty escaped an unforgiving Stage 2 with a 3-4 record to end up 7-7 on the season overall. That record should get drastically better, and all of their matches with the Fuel, Excelsior, Spitfire, Gladiators and Titans are out of the way. In fact, of the teams that finished Stage 2 with a winning record, they only have two matches with the Shock, one match with the Spark and one match with the Fusion remaining. With this in mind, they should be able to rise in the standings.
Image credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
The Uprising's schedule has been surprisingly more difficult than it appears at first glance. Getting to the halfway point with a 7-7 record despite facing teams winning over 58% of their games is a promising sign for the Uprising as they prepare to make their playoff push.
One narrative that has persisted throughout the season has been that the Fusion, Spitfire and Fuel have had fairly easy schedules that have helped bolster their record. Their stage strength of schedule is consistent with that narrative as the three teams have had schedules that are among the six easiest in the league. In fact, the London Spitfire schedule has been the easiest in the league thus far.
What's most notable about the Spitfire's schedule is that their Stage 2 was the easiest stage in the league this season -- and by a significant margin. Their opponents in Stage 2 had three fewer wins than anyone else's opponents had in either stage this season and the Spitfire's Stage 2 was the only stage in the league not to include a single team with an in-stage winning record. On top of all that, they played against both of Stage 2's winless teams.
The Fusion's schedule has been the fourth easiest thus far this season, however they don't necessarily need to prove themselves against better teams to end the season in playoff contention. Of the eight teams that had a winning record at the season's halfway point, only three of them (including the Fusion) were in the Atlantic Division. The three worst teams in the season thus far are in the Atlantic Division, as well. With no remaining matches against the Excelsior, Spitfire, Fuel or Shock, the Fusion may continue to scrape by on a schedule less difficult than that of most teams.
Whereas the other two mid-table teams with easy schedules play in an Atlantic Division that has yet to produce many threatening teams, the Fuel still have many tough challenges ahead in their schedule. Much like the Spitfire, they had the benefit of playing both winless teams in Stage 2 and only really distanced themselves by playing a singular team with a winning record in Stage 2 (that team being the Titans). The Fuel still have to play the Shock, Titans, Excelsior and Spitfire once and must play the Gladiators and Spark twice.
One team with a weak schedule thus far that has escaped scrutiny has been the Gladiators, who have had the fifth easiest schedule in the league. Their Stage 3 is much tougher -- and includes the Titans twice.
One thing worth mentioning about determining strength of schedule through individual stage records is that each team has a greater impact on their opponents' records in each stage than they would on the season overall. A single match plays more significantly in a sample of seven matches than it does in 14, and could explain why all eight teams that made it to the season's halfway point with winning records played schedules that are among the nine easiest in the league.
The hardest schedule among those teams? The San Francisco Shock's with an opponent win rate of .500 in-stage.
With talk of small sample sizes, how does the traditional strength of schedule -- one that takes into account teams' overall record -- compare to the stage strength of schedule?
Strength of Schedule
Does not take into account matches played in Stage 3.
- 1: Seoul Dynasty (.582)
- 2: Guangzhou Charge (.561)
- 3: Los Angeles Valiant (.551)
- T4: Shanghai Dragons (.541)
- T5: Paris Eternal (.536)
- T6: Hangzhou Spark (.531)
- T6: Houston Outlaws (.531)
- T6: Toronto Defiant (.531)
- T9: Boston Uprising (.520)
- T9: Washington Justice (.520)
- 11: San Francisco Shock (.500)
- 12: Florida Mayhem (.495)
- T13: Dallas Fuel (.464)
- T13: Philadelphia Fusion (.464)
- T13: Chengdu Hunters (.464)
- T16: Vancouver Titans (.459)
- T16: Los Angeles Gladiators (.459)
- 18: Atlanta Reign (.454)
- 19: London Spitfire (.424)
- 20: New York Excelsior (.408)
While the teams with the best records still generally had easier schedules, the pattern was less pronounced on the typical strength of schedule calculation.
The Spark saw the most notable change, jumping from the 13th hardest schedule to the sixth hardest schedule. However this change is largely the result of several of their Stage 1 opponents having weaker Stage 1 performances than they did in Stage 2.
The change to a strength of schedule based on overall record also gives a little more credit to the difficulty of the Spitfire's, Fusion's and Fuel's schedules.
In general, the strength of schedule for teams is less extreme when accounting for the overall record of their opponents. While there was one team that faced opponents that had a winning percentage of over .600 and two teams who faced opponents who couldn't muster .400, there were no teams that fit this bill in the overall strength of schedule calculation.
Despite this, there were less teams that had a balanced strength of schedule with this calculation. There were six teams within 10 points of .500 in the stage strength of schedule, and there were only two teams like that when measuring traditional strength of schedule.
As mentioned before, the small sample size of matches contributing to stage strength of schedule can skew the data to make stronger teams look like their schedules are significantly easier and can make weak teams look like they've gone through the gauntlet.
Despite that, the stage strength of schedule is still useful for measuring the difficulty of a team's matchups. This can be especially true when it's compared to a traditional strength of schedule rating. If the number is lower than what their traditional strength of schedule suggests, then they likely played their opponents at their weakest states. If higher, they played their opponents while they were at their best.
This is not an ELO rating nor can it tell the actually strength of a team like a good ELO rating may be able to. However, stage strength of schedule does provide additional context to a team's performances that a traditional strength of schedule cannot.