Last week, the Overwatch League pre-season gave fans their first substantial look at the competition. The four-day affair was by no means a letdown, and fans walked away with new favorite teams, budding rivalries, and a renewed lust for Overwatch esports. Unluckily, the inaugural season is nearly a month away.
To keep you company through the long, dark off-season, here are five key takeaways from pre-season and corresponding expectations for season 1 – starting with the games themselves.
The competition is tighter than anyone anticipated.
A glance at the match scores from the inaugural pre-season will reveal the obvious: the competition was close. Five of the twelve matches ended 3-2, meaning a fifth tie-breaker map was played, and only two matches ended 4-0. Three teams won all their matches – Seoul Dynasty, Dallas Fuel, and Los Angeles Valiant – but none looked invincible.
Valiant struggled on day one against one of the most disparaged rosters in the League, the San Francisco Shock – and that was after the Shock played four maps against the Florida Mayhem. Meanwhile, Fuel and Dynasty both narrowly and unconvincingly beat out the Houston Outlaws. The Philadelphia Fusion did not compete at all. In perhaps the most shocking upset of the weekend, a 7-man roster of eclectic, unassuming talent, the Los Angeles Gladiators, defeated the London Spitfire.
Los Angeles Gladiators prepare for day two of pre-season.
However, there are some factors to account for. Firstly, all eligible players had to compete in pre-season. This requirement will not be reflected in the regular season, and although many teams will utilize alternates, it is unlikely that Spitfire, for example, will field all twelve players for one match. This requirement undoubtedly influenced last week’s outcomes.
Furthermore, teams were not taking pre-season particularly seriously. Most players had only recently arrived in Burbank; the results had no impact on their Season 1 standings; and, scrim time was limited. The majority of teams are still familiarizing themselves with each other, and while everyone wanted to win, this competition was ultimately a series of glorified showmatches.
The individual performances of players and teams last weekend matter less than the larger picture pre-season paints for early Season 1: the underdogs are not going to allow the juggernauts fans have come to admire to simply waltz into the playoffs. As the season progresses, gaps, or tiers, will undoubtedly develop, but initially, the potential for and expectation of tight competition is alive and well.
Teams are still experimenting with substitutions.
One of the newest, least familiar aspects the League brings to competitive Overwatch is an expanded roster size. With the exception of Florida Mayhem, every team has at least one surplus player; Spitfire has six. How coaches intend to utilize every player – or if they will at all – has yet to be determined.
At pre-season, substitutions were seemingly made based on map choice and hero pool, and ostensibly to utilize every player. During the regular season, substitutions could be made with any number of factors in mind, from the map being played to that week’s opponent to recent meta shifts, and all would be with varying frequency.
New York Excelsior recently announced a starting lineup, but it remains unclear what significance the title has, or if other teams will follow suit. Blizzard may be requiring that all teams declare a starting six, but if so, the question remains of whether the lineup must be chosen for marketing purposes or has tangible consequences in-game.
Regardless, pre-season was a glimpse into which players coaches value most and how they intend to utilize the remainder. The relegation of players to ‘starting’ and ‘bench’ roles could have a negative impact internally (pro gamers are not known for their resilient egos), while a poor utilization of players could determine a team’s success or failure. The value of competent coaching staff will become apparent as the season progresses.
LAN competition is shaking up the so-called meta.
If you have noticed an uptick in the number of Widowmakers in your matchmaking games recently, then you can thank the Overwatch League. The sniper was a favorite throughout pre-season due to her incredible pick potential when played on LAN. Andrej “babybay” Francisty was the first to wow the audience with his Widow skill, but memory of his performance faded fast as legendary sniper after legendary sniper graced the stage.
McCree, Roadhog, and Mercy were also popular picks. Mercy’s prevalence was expected – pros have lamented her “must-pick” status since the initial overhaul of her kit – but Roadhog less so. The off-tank’s “buffs” were initially disparaged for turning Roadhog into an ultimate battery, but he has seen some use in various compositions, especially those with solo support. Outlaws used the tank on first point Numbani, while Fuel ran him alongside Orisa and Junkrat on Oasis, to name only two instances.
Dallas Fuel talks strategy between maps.
Junkrat did not see overwhelming use, save for on those maps one would expect (e.g. Lijiang Tower: Control Center). Pharah was used somewhat frequently and to varying degrees of success, and Bastion compositions on Junkertown remain alive and well. Most teams were not ready to risk running Moira.
The variety of heroes used throughout pre-season is indicative of a diverse regular season to come. Although it is unfortunate that Mercy and Widowmaker are likely to remain must-picks, pre-season proved that the potential for innovative strategy is there. Most heroes are viable on at least one map, so the worst-case scenario is that we continue to see mirrored compositions, but that the composition changes with each map. If nothing else, the tyranny of dive compositions has seemingly come to an end.
Heading into January, viewers should pay particular attention to if and how Roadhog and Orisa fit into the pro scene, as well as how each support hero’s usage wanes with the introduction of Moira.
Real-time statistics are already improving OverTalk, and the best is yet to come.
The analysis provided last week by casters and analysts alike was more engaging than usual, and it was thanks to the production team and the audience having access to relevant, real-time statistics on each player.
Analysts used the stats on each player’s kills, damage, healing, and so on primarily to make comparisons between pros, pointing out everything from eliminations by Zenyattas to the average time Tracers held onto Pulse Bombs. These comparisons were rooted in tangible, verifiable truth, rather than speculation, and the change was refreshing.
Some comparisons were misleading – comparing flat damage output, for example, is risky business when compositions and playstyles are not parallel – but insightful nonetheless. As the season wears on, analysts will become better at analyzing the data they are provided, and match breakdowns will teach audiences more about players and their playstyles than can be easily discerned by casual spectators.
Pre-season merchandise was only the tip of the iceberg.
If you were disappointed by the lack of socks, notebooks, water bottles, and so on in the Overwatch League gear store last week, then never fear – more merchandise is on the horizon. Most importantly, while player-specific jerseys are a certainty, rumor has it that only six of each roster will have their jerseys sold. How those players will be chosen is unclear, but if teams are asked to declare a starting six, then the answer may be obvious.
Additionally, Blizzard recently confirmed that fans will be able to buy League teams’ in-game skins with Overwatch League tokens. Proceeds from token sales will benefit the teams, but the cost of tokens has not been announced, and it is unknown if League tokens or skins will be included in loot boxes.
No one can accuse Blizzard Entertainment of half-assing their merchandising; budget accordingly!
The Blizzard Arena lobby was stocked with Overwatch League merchandise throughout pre-season.
The Overwatch League inaugural season kicks of January 10, 2018. See the Overwatch League’s official website for more details.