The start of the third season of the Overwatch League is upon us, bringing with it a new way of holding games and new rosters. Although it has been an off-season full of changes and experimentation, there are lots for old fans and new to look forward to.
After two seasons of hosting games at the Blizzard Arena in California, Overwatch League is going on the road in 2020, and will instead be playing matches in teams’ home cities. New York Excelsior will host the first Homestand Weekend at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, and Dallas Fuel at the Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas.
The idea for Homestand Weekends was that it will create a local fanbase, much like with traditional sports teams, and that they will draw in a home crowd.
How can I watch the games?
In previous seasons, fans could keep up with games on Twitch, as every match was streamed live. Viewers could also earn League Tokens, which if they linked their Battle.net and Twitch accounts, they could put towards team skins in Overwatch. There was also the chance to win exclusive in-game sprays, and OWL Twitch emotes.
However, last month, Blizzard announced a new deal with YouTube, meaning that all games this season will be streamed exclusively on the platform. The deal included exclusive streaming rights worldwide, excluding only China.
This deal had a mixed reception from fans, but there is no telling how the move to YouTube Gaming will affect the community aspect of the League. On Twitch, Overwatch League usually sat between 100,000 and 150,000 concurrent viewers during streams. Aside from dedicated fans, this is likely because many Twitch users browse streams when first logging in, so if they see that the OWL is on and that the chat is hyped up, they check it out.
It may not be the most accurate comparison, but the new Call of Duty League had about 75,000 viewers on YouTube during its first week. This is a large dip in viewership from what OWL is used to on Twitch.
However, one advantage that YouTube offers is a more accessible video-on-demand system.
How does Overwatch League work?
All 20 teams in the League are split into Pacific and Atlantic divisions that then play 28 games each in the regular season. The top team from each division gets the top two seeds in the playoff games, along with four teams that, regardless of division, have the best win records in the League. The teams that rank seventh to twelfth go to a wild card tournament to determine the final two spots in the playoffs. Playoffs are double-elimination.
The Pacific division consists of Chengdu Hunters, Dallas Fuel, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, Los Angeles Gladiators, Los Angeles Valiant, San Francisco Shock, Seoul Dynasty, Shanghai Dragons, and Vancouver Titans.
The Atlantic Division includes Atlanta Reign, Boston Uprising, Florida Mayhem, Houston Outlaws, London Spitfire, New York Excelsior, Paris Eternal, Philadelphia Fusion, Toronto Defiant, and Washington Justice.
What teams should I keep an eye on?
One of the most apparent teams to watch is San Francisco Shock, last season’s champions. They are also one of the obvious favorites for opening weekend, and the team intends to maintain their victory from last year.
During the off-season, Shock was one of the teams who made the least changes to their roster. One of the most significant changes was the addition of a new Assistant Coach, Ji-won “Arachne” Lee. Although they didn’t tweak their players much, they made behind-the-scenes changes to challenge themselves in the new year, instead of sticking to their tactics from last year.
They dominated last season and have the potential to do the same again, but getting comfortable with their success and plays from last season would have been a sticky trap to fall into for San Francisco.
Another team that was successful last season is the Vancouver Titans. They came second in the 2019 season playoffs, losing to San Francisco Shock, and took the Pacific title during the regular season (as explained above, the top Pacific team and Atlantic team at the end of the season advance to playoffs).
Unlike the team that previously defeated them, the Titans worked tirelessly on perfecting their roster during the off-season. Perhaps the most significant new player in their roster is Jehong “ryujehong” Ryu, who is regarded as one of the best support players in the League, especially for his Ana play. He is also an amazing Flex Support, making him a valuable asset to the team in any meta or situation.
Chan-hyung “Fissure” Baek was also signed to Vancouver for this season to replace Jang-hyeon “TiZi” Hwang and Sang-beom “Bumper” Park, last year’s main tanks. This addition was met with some backlash from fans, mainly because TiZi was widely regarded as one of the best main tanks from last season, but also because Fissure has previously had issues with the LA Gladiators and Seoul Dynasty.
Vancouver, very much like San Francisco Shock, has the potential to take the crown this season, as long as they keep themselves together. Last season, they had the tendency to lose their composure, especially if forced into a choke by their opponents.
They should also play around Hyojong “Haksal” Kim, their Flex DPS, more often. Haksal made some of their biggest and most successful plays last year, and he has terrific game sense, but a lot of the time, his team was not behind him.
The New York Excelsior is also an obvious team to watch. They have consistently been at the top of the League since the Inaugural season, and their roster is stacked (as it has been throughout the team’s history). Perhaps a couple of their best assets is the 2018 MVP Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang and Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, who has been named one of the best captains in the League.
During the off-season, the team let go of Tae-hong “MekO” Kim to the Houston Outlaws, and Yeon-oh “Fl0w3R” Hwang. However, it is doubtful that NYXL will suffer following the loss of these players, especially considering they picked up Hong-joon “HOTBA” Choi along the way.
HOTBA has previously been signed to Guangzhou Charge, and his Sigma plays gained notoriety during the playoffs for their ability to turn the tide in a fight. Hopefully, he can hone his skills to include other tanks, such as D.Va, and then work closely with Dong-gyu “Mano” Kim, NYXL’s other main tank.
New York is a very confident and assertive team, and there’s not any doubt that they will dominate this season, just like they’ve dominated every other season.
Although Toronto Defiant didn’t have much success last year, it is worth watching them this season due to the number of high-profile changes they made during the off-season. This includes, most notably, the addition of Brady “Agilities” Girardi and Lane “Surefour” Roberts, two fan-favorite DPS players who were previously signed with Los Angeles Valiant and LA Gladiators.
Last season, Toronto had a lot of potentials but never seemed to be able to tap into it, which was frustrating for fans and even more so for players and staff. However, if Surefour learns to adapt to the current meta – which was his issue last season with the Gladiators – we could see some of his raw talent and impressive plays that we got used to in the previous season. Surefour also didn’t have the opportunity to play and show off his skills last season, so hopefully, the Defiant will give him a chance.
One problem that Toronto may face this opening weekend is their tank lineup, which is starting with Andreas “Nevix” Karlsson and Adam “Beast” Denton. The main problem for Beast is that he came from a Contenders team, Fusion University. The team was successful, and he proved himself to be a good tank player, but this will be his first experience of the League, where the level of play is notches above that of Contenders. Hopefully, he will be able to adapt quickly and step up when his team needs him. Nevix, however, played for San Francisco last season but got hardly any playtime. Now that he is in the starting lineup, fans can hope that he is eager to play again and will bring his best plays.
If the meta shifts to a more DPS-focused meta, then the Defiant will most likely start and maintain a winning record, especially with Agilities and Surefour on the team. However, if they coordinate and become more adaptable, they have the chance to be still unbeaten regardless of the meta.
The 2020 season of Overwatch League starts on Feb. 8th with Toronto Defiant vs. Paris Eternal in New York, and LA Gladiators vs. Vancouver Titans and LA Valiant vs. Dallas Fuel in Texas. You can view the schedule in your timezone here and watch the games on YouTube.