3 predictions leading into the first season of the Overwatch League
Over a year’s worth of a wait and Overwatch League finally has its dates set. The preseason will start with exhibition matches on December 6th - December 9th and the Regular Season begins with the start of the new year on January 10th. That being said, there are three things that stand out to me as topics that not only are interesting staging grounds to start a more long-form discussion—some of these could very well be their own article, but they are incredibly important to start talking about. Before any ribbons are cut, here are my 3 biggest predictions about the Overwatch League.
1.) The Metagame will fluctuate more than usual.
Something that I’ve previously talked about was the stabilization that will undoubtedly occur once the Overwatch League begins. I can only assume that teams during the pre-Overwatch League era teams could only really prove their worth with very high consistent placements within tournaments. Streaming and building a brand through those means do come into play, and some professionals have gone that route, but some of the best ways to do that are to place very well in tournaments. This means that these teams have to dedicate a lot of practice time to only what is proven to work and cannot afford to allow much time to counter the metagame or “counter-strat” for that matter.
Once these teams join the Overwatch League, they join with a breath of fresh air and security, more importantly. The league brings with it financial security, a more structured environment outside marketing and brand building, and a consistent tournament/league environment that can and will incentivize players to put in the effort.
That being said, teams should be able to afford to allocate more time to being more creative with how they approach the game. This means less of a strict metagame and more of something that resembles an outline. This tends to happen during new patches for around 3-4 months before people latch themselves to a specific composition that is the “meta.” I expect this 3-4 month period to extend quite a bit, but I believe toward the end of the first season a strict meta will arise. However, leading into Season 2 and with the addition of new patches, maps, and heroes being added to the game, this could result in a more “stylistic metagame” where teams play more to their own strengths and ideas and not to what is just assumed to be the “best composition.” We are already starting to see this shift, but with the security that the Overwatch League should bring, I expect it to be expedited quite a bit.
2.) South Korea will surprise you.
We all know that South Korea takes gaming incredibly seriously—this is well documented—but people still seem to doubt them. There is a reason why 45 of the 113 players in the Overwatch League hail from South Korea. That makes up nearly 40% of the player base for the Overwatch League. Wrap your head around that. The next highest in terms of players within the league is the United States with 17. Combine all of these things and you start to see what I'm talking about. South Korea is scary at how many amazing esports talents they churn out.
Known previously as “Shadow”, Lee "Crown" Min-ho is the mid laner for team Samsung Galaxy, the team that toppled SKT in the grand finals of the League of Legends World Championships. Obviously, you could guess that he is native to South Korea just from his name alone, but did you know he originally was drafted from South Korea and first played in Brazil? In 2014 he was featured on teams like Team 58ers and KaBuM! Black. It was not until 2015 that the mechanical mastermind we know as Crown to grace the LCK Stage on Samsung Galaxy.
Another apt example comes in Overwatch.
Before we knew him as the Tracer that changed Team EnVyUs, Hyeon "EFFECT" Hwang was a talent that was on the bench of Meta Athena. He first helped The Meta during the MyTh Cup on the starting roster. After The Meta was rebranded to Meta Athena and Meta Bellum, EFFECT would float around the amateur scene and would find himself on the bench, waiting for a call-up team Meta Athena. Before his team would ever call him up, he was acquired by the western team, team EnVyUs during APEX Season 3 and would see much success with the team during APEX Season 3 helping the team take the rematch against X6-Gaming and helping the team win Contenders Season 1.
Much like the Spanish Inquisition, South Korea tends to do extremely well, even in games you might not expect them. For the Tekken series South Korean natives Kim “JDCR” Hyun Jin, Choi "Saint" Jin Woo, and Bae "Knee" Jae Min are all at the top of their class. In Street Fighter you’ve got Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo and Lee “Poongko” Chung Gon (Poongko also is quite well versed in Tekken as well). The list goes on and on.
Obviously, we have to note South Korea’s dominant legacies in League of Legends and the Starcraft franchise, but this is about the wide reach that South Korea has. Still, to this day, people seem a bit too absent-minded when it comes to what this country’s esports scene can churn up, what talent they can foster, and one day they will learn. There are swarms of talented players in South Korea. They will rise to the top, an organization will find them, and they will surprise you. It is just a matter of time.
3.) Strong cores could succeed early. Deep benches should succeed in the long run.
I’ve been in favor of large rosters since early in APEX Season 1 and 2. The more time I’ve had to sit and let that idea marinate, the more I think it is the correct call. However, there is a catch; when you build a new team filled with new players and new attitudes performances will be very inconsistent. San Francisco is a good example of this idea. They’ve invested in building for the long term with key fixtures in Nevix and Sinatraa. Will they succeed early? That is the $150,000 question. However, a team like Florida is a known quantity. I know exactly the product I am getting when I look at the Florida Mayhem.
Many could draw an argument to this prediction by pointing at GC Busan, a new team that has done extremely well, and that is completely fair. A rookie team, straight from the amateur scene from South Korea, comes in and crushes any and all expectation. I would wager GC Busan are the outliers here. Look at the Season 2 Challenger’s representatives in Meta Athena. An amazing team for their time, but they didn’t manage to get the job done in the quarterfinals. Look at Season 3 Challenger’s representatives in X6-Gaming, they still prove to be quite formidable, but still have yet to break through to the semifinals after having a stellar run through the amateur scene. There are many teams that are on their climb up the rungs of the ladder that looks great but have a hard time pushing past that plateau.
For a western example, look no further than our favorite corn dog, dogs, FNRGFE—A new team that played for less than a week, filled with tons of veteran progamers that did very well. They too seemed to be plagued with consistency issues. Or take a look at EnVision’s success early and plateau late into that same season as an example. New teams can do well to a point, then their experience and teamplay seem to fall a bit compared to their peers. That being said, large rosters, with no core to support them, could struggle with synergy and consistency and may start the Overwatch League a bit slow. For newer teams, the midseason could be huge as they attempt to fill out their rosters with the rumored mid-season signing period.
With that said, look at what teams ‘could be’ some of the most frightening. London has the first royal roaders in Overwatch, the winners of APAC 2017, GC Busan as their core and has light seasoned that with some of South Korea’s finest talent. Standing shoulder to shoulder with GC Busan is a majority of KongDoo Panther’s finest players. This ideology in team building is mimicked by Seoul Dynasty, the Houston Outlaws, the Dallas Fuel, and many more. Conceptually, these teams seem to have similar outlooks on team building. Will they all have the same success? No. 12 new players all grasping at the chance to compete is a breeding ground for talent. The pressure will create you diamonds, but you have to give it time. You can remedy the slow ‘get up’ of a new team by having a strong core of about 3-4 players from a preexisting team that has seen success in their home region. There is no right or wrong answer on how to build a team, just different ideologies, but I would wager that larger teams will find a bit more success as the League processed into it’s second and third season.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLG’s of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel.