Many teams in the Overwatch League have struggled to utilize their bench players in a way that benefits the team without bruising egos. The Los Angeles Gladiators have taken an approach that is unique among the rest of the Overwatch League teams; they rotate their three DPS players in and out with every map.
While some teams may keep one DPS in and rotate other DPS players around him, every DPS player sees some time watching from the sidelines on the Gladiators. While one map may feature Asher and Hydration, the next may see Asher play alongside Surefour. Asher isn't immune from substitutions, and may end up watching Surefour and Hydration play at some point during the series.
"The meta is very flexible, I think the DPS spots in particular have to be very flexible," said Gladiators' Head Coach David "dpei" Pei. "The [DPS rotation] came more into fruition dependent on the meta, dependent on the maps, also depending on performance on certain maps."
The team is enabled by its tanks and supports to play whichever DPS it needs. "I think because we have really stable comms between the tank line and the support line, it makes the DPS more plug and play," dpei said.
Even with the change to the team's main tank in Stage 2, this remained true. "I think [Fissure] fits naturally, if not better, just because he is really, really vocal and really decisive, so it helped everyone in a way," said dpei.
While other teams have been rumored to have internal problems within and others have even shown those problems to the public in an effort to be transparent, the Gladiators have managed to avoid being plagued by internal strife thus far. "[The DPS] understand why they should play some maps and shouldn't play other maps based on what we view the meta of the map to be. Everyone has an understanding of why we're using certain DPSes over others."
While the Gladiators began the season with an additional DPS player to rotate in and out, they couldn't do so with other positions. Since then, they've added another main tank in Fissure. Additionally, Kongdoo Panthera announced the transfer of Void, although no such confirmation has come from the side of the Los Angeles Gladiators or Blizzard. Should Void join the Gladiators, the team will be able to rotate in an entirely different tank line between maps, should it want to.
That doesn't necessarily mean the Gladiators will want to, however. "Every role could do this," dpei said, "but I think the most diverse role is DPS right now, just because you have to play a lot of different stuff." He mentioned that main tank and off-tank tend to be restricted to Winston and D.Va on most maps, with other tanks occasionally getting playtime on a few.
Image Credit: Blizzard
While the Gladiators are unique in their use of a full rotation of DPS players, it is far from the most unique strategy they've utilized. With the series on the line against the Houston Outlaws, the Gladiators left their spawn doors of Ilios Ruins with flex support Shaz on Tracer, main support BigGoose on Sombra and flex DPS Hydration on Lucio. They won the round to secure Ilios and a 3-2 series win against the Outlaws.
"We were all sitting there nervously like 'Is this working?' because we're going to be a meme after this if it doesn't work," dpei said through laughter. "We thought people on Reddit were going to flame us as coaches because we put them on those stupid off-roles if it doesn't work, but if it does work we were going to look like geniuses."
The Gladiators discovered the composition mostly through trial and error, according to dpei. "We tried a couple of things that just didn't work, and we felt that having a Tracer on that map would be really beneficial overall, but we also felt Widow was really good on that map."
Wanting to make Hydration's hero pool work on the map, the team thought back to scrims in which players were sick and Hydration had to play Lucio (a character, dpei mentioned, that Hydration loves playing). "It was half-joking at the time but our coaching staff wanted to try it because we thought it might work," dpei said. He said the team used it three or four times in scrims and the composition had a pretty high success rate, although teams may have thought they were just trolling, he admitted.
Hydration extended overtime for his team by dying to a D.Va bomb while on Lucio. From Hydration's Twitter.
Future strategies are up in the air entering a Stage which includes Overwatch's newest map, Blizzard World, in the map pool. "Right now, I assume everyone is confused or doesn't know [what they'll run] just because we haven't practiced [Blizzard World] yet. I think the first couple of scrims will be very telling on what we think we want to do," he said.
"Blizzard World should be interesting for Stage 3 because a lot of teams are taking a longer break right now and it's the newest map, so there should be some weird strategies coming out or very different ideas for the meta on the map. So it should be interesting at the very least."
After finishing Stage 1 with a 4-6 record, the Gladiators went 6-4 in Stage 2, pushing the team to .500 on the season. That currently puts the team eighth in the overall standings and two games out of a playoffs spot. While the team put on an impressive showing in the second stage, dpei talked about what he believes the team needs to improve on in the second half of the season to secure a place in the postseason.
"I think the biggest thing is consistency for us. In Stage 1 and 2 inconsistency showed, even when we won games there was inconsistency within a match," he said. "We're going to be looking to see if there's anything we can do coaching-wise as far as in-game strategy for that."
"If we can play at our best the whole time we can be a very good, top tier team."