The time has finally arrived. The 2021 Overwatch League season is quickly rolling into the station. While things have changed, the world may be different, but the preseason excitement never changes. Year after year, we say the same thing; this is the best year of competitive Overwatch—and this season is no different. With the injection of new talent, the format adding more stakes to the game, the Overwatch League looks to be in a good place. And this translates to just how difficult this season's power rankings are to judge.
The Overwatch League has a problem when it comes to power rankings. No one clarifies what exactly they are measuring. Sports do it one way, other esports do it their way, each argument is valid, but the fun in the pre-season festivities is to create discussion. Without letting this devolve on a commentary about power rankings, these are my own individual metrics that I’ll be judging and grading teams on. This is the general principle that I’ve stuck with when grading this season’s teams; this is strictly a list of teams in order of perceived power, not where I believe they will place at the end of the season. For instance, a team that I place towards the bottom could finish somewhere between middle-of-the-pack and last place in the regular season. The same rule is applied to top teams. We’re measuring paperweight here. If a team looks good on paper, they’re higher on the list. If not, then we ship them down the river. When it comes to the actual measurements, it won’t be a mathematical breakdown of points gained or lost, but more of a judgement call based on specific criteria that I believe is important. That said, here is what I’m looking at.Teams that have signed two flex support are viewed more positively. If there were to be a position close to mid-lane in League of Legends or the quarterback in American football, it would be flex support. They manage some of the most important non-ultimate cooldowns in the game, they also manage some of the most important ultimates, while also keeping a nice balance of damage and healing for their teammates. Flex support is an incredibly vital position to excel at and if you have two strong cases that ideally can be interchanged if the metagame were to call for it, you’ve got a strong foundation. Roster balance has been something that has been interesting to follow over the last few years. Ideally, each roster is built with a number of intangible roles in mind, and in a perfect world they would have their counter-weights, but roster balance also pertains to compensation. While judging my power rankings, and hopefully creating your own, each area of tanks, supports, and DPS needs compensation for its weaker area. If one part of the triangle is weak, another angle must be strong. Again, ideally, they’re all balanced—and some teams are—but, for example, some compensate for a weak support line with a strong tank duo, others a wide and flexible DPS core with tanks that are untested. I tend to favour teams that are a bit more balanced.Overwatch League is getting to a point where coaching is becoming something to take use as evidence in support of a team’s strength. However, think of this more as extra credit. If there is a proven coaching buff, then we add a little spice. Depth cannot be discredited. And before we start making claims that teams historically have not been able to properly manage wider rosters, I don’t disagree, but that doesn’t take away from their overall perceived power. Claims like that tend to slide off the back of end of season placings and not a general overview of the team as a whole. If a team has a twelve-man roster, where each individual has their own assumed avenue into the starting roster, then we’ve graded them appropriately.1.) San Francisco ShockRepeat champions are unbelievably impressive. After the introduction of hero pools, there was no fathomable way for a team to be consistent. Each week a new set of heroes would be randomly selected to be removed. If the format is consistent how could we have expected the teams to be consistent? That’s what we thought, and that’s how wrong we were. That is the kind of team the San Francisco Shock are. For my money, they are the greatest Overwatch team of all time, and this season does not detract from that glowing review in the slightest. Landing talent like the ever flexible all-star from the London Spitfire, Lim "Glister" Gil-seong, the Guangzhou Charge’s wunderkind, Charlie "nero" Zwarg, and easily one of the most standout rookies from last season, Brice "FDGod" Monsçavoir to name a few, but on top of that, they’ve been able to maintain the premier coach in competitive Overwatch, Park "Crusty" Dae-hee. It doesn’t get better than that. With the pedigree of this team, the talent they’ve attracted, there is not a stronger team coming into this season than the San Francisco Shock. That said, there are some questions that need to be answered. With the new addition of talent comes the cost of some of their most beloved. We’ve seen FDGod perform extremely well on the 2020 Paris Eternal, what will he bring to the table with the Shock? While they’ve never shied away from a deep DPS rotation, the coaching staff has a puzzle to solve with the 2021 iteration. Speaking of, the Shock did part ways with a lot of their coaching staff this season which cannot be understated. Will the new regime be able to bring the same level of excellence that we know and love? That aside, if you fancy yourself a bet, put it all on the Shock. They’ve won the past two years in some of the most foundation shifting metagames. 2.) Shanghai DragonsIt is a difficult task to improve something that is already proven, but the Shanghai Dragons have continued forward. After such a strong showing during the 2020 Overwatch League season, with such a large roster, it’s no surprise that most of their offseason was spent shedding players rather than adding to their ranks. However, two power moves were made that should see the Dragons take their game to the next level. Joon "Erster" Jeong needs no introduction to competitive Overwatch League fans. After dominating Overwatch Contenders China alongside Lucky Future Zenith, he gave the Atlanta Reign some of his best years yet. Now Erster reunites with Dragons’ head coach, Moon "Moon" Byung-chul, from their collective debut on Mighty AOD. That said, Erster isn’t the ghost from Moon’s past that is resurfacing on the 2021 Dragons lineup. After a successful run with the Florida Mayhem, Koo "Fate" Pan-seung, now makes his way back to Asia to compete in Shanghai.Nearly five years in the making, these three individuals now stand among some of the most talented Overwatch players in the world. The pre-established synergy, the skill, it is sold wholesale to whoever is looking to buy. After being domestically dominant and performing well internationally, the 2021 Shanghai Dragons have only improved from where they stood last season. Just fingertips away sit the Overwatch League title however now the table in the east seats an increasing number of hungry competitors. Will Shanghai be able to wade through the storm of talent once more and challenge for the title?3.) Philadelphia FusionThe Philadelphia Fusion have caught an undeserved bad reputation. Somehow dominating the regular season and making the top four in playoffs is overshadowed by not winning a monthly tournament. Even while making the finals in said tournaments, we’ve deemed them chokers and somehow “overrated.” Not that it needs to, but this is the season that narrative scurries away to the back corners of the internet “as fanboy-triggering as that sounds.” And when you look at their offseason you’ll understand why.Out of all nineteen teams that tried and the one that showed up late to presentation day after not contributing anything to the project, the Philadelphia Fusion easily won the offseason. First, they sign one of the most tenured main tanks left in Overwatch at the moment in Kim "Mano" Dong-gyu. Next comes Niclas "sHockWave" Jensen, a young DPS prospect who looked quite promising last season. And most recently Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun has joined their ranks. Now, take a breath and remind yourself of the pieces they still have on this team. Their support line is still intact, their DPS is still legendary, but we’ve saved the best for last. After playing architect in Paris and winning a ring in San Francisco, Kim "NineK" Bumhoon has brought his talents to Philadelphia. If that thunderclap of a roster doesn’t wake you up from a dead sleep, I’m not sure what will. Discount their 2018 performance all you want, they still beat the Boston Uprising and toppled the odds on favourites in the New York Excelsior. 2019 was disappointing, that goes without saying, but in 2020 they bounced back in a big way. While their move to Asia has me a touch worried, this roster is built to challenge for a title and that is exactly what we’ll see come April. 4.) Washington JusticeTumultuous doesn’t begin to describe the Washington Justice’s franchise debut and subsequent sophomore album. However, Overwatch has a funny track record of helping leaves turn. What was once disappointing can quickly become world-class, and the 2021 Justice are a crystalline example of that in motion. Their offseason started with locking down DPS ace Jang "Decay" Gui-un. After nearly completing one of the biggest Cinderella runs in Overwatch history, Decay sheared any doubting arguments that he isn’t a dominant threat on the server. Next to him now stands one of the most contested rookies coming into the season, Kim "Mag" Tae-sung. I’ve been outspoken about main tank depth in the past. It is a role that is frankly shallow and is worth the money you can spend on it when talent arises, and Mag exemplifies that through and through. What once was a forgettable main tank on an Overwatch Contenders China team, then became a strong and proactive Reinhardt for RunAway during the GOATS metagame. And past that point, Mag never looked back. He’s been on everyone’s radar for a while and to see him land with the Justice is a welcome sight. Last but certainly not least, the Washington Justice acquired former world champion Kim "Fury" Jun-ho. These three alone should be able to sell you on the 2021 Justice. No analysis, cut the pleasantries, just look at their track records alone and you can begin to see why the Justice has begun to embody the cherry blossoms they paint their merch after. This team is turning a new leaf and in a big way. While the support line is slightly questionable, especially for the tier they are in, the Justice compensates in a big way with a world-class tank line and an MVP calibre DPS player who is among the few superstars in the league. The 2021 Washington Justice is not a team to take lightly and if they managed to make the playoffs, I would not be surprised to see them repeat another insane upset-filled run.5.) Los Angeles GladiatorsHere sits another team that has mailed their letters of intent early and with purpose. The Los Angeles Gladiators are playing for a title, and if things were slightly different, they’d make the top four without a question in my mind. In the past, the Gladiators have always been a team that was difficult to place when it came to power rankings. They were also thought to be clearly better than most teams, but when you placed them alongside the title contenders their names didn’t seem to fit. Without really wanting to, they end up quite high without a strong justification. This season, the Gladiators fit perfectly.Kim "Shu" Jin-seo is a stud that rarely gets the credit he deserves. Grant "moth" Espe needs no introductions. And another promising rookie main tank will make his debut this season. Kim "MuZe" Young-hun has been on my radar since his performance on Talon Esports at Overwatch Contenders: The Gauntlet in 2019. He is someone who can play the entire cast of main tank heroes to a fair degree and is not only a competitive pick up but he’s also a play for the future. The 2021 Los Angeles Gladiators are coming in swinging and they are aiming for the parking lot on this one. 6.) Seoul DynastyWhile the Seoul Dynasty didn’t have the offseason I would have liked them to have, they didn’t really need to do a whole lot. Someone like Lim "Toyou" Hyeon-woo seemed to be an obvious choice after last year’s performance and thus far in the pre-season, he’s looked to really come into his own. However, the one gamble that Seoul is relying on is the intangibles from Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol and Jung "Anamo" Tae-sung. If the Seoul Dynasty can transmute these leadership traits into more consistent performances then the eastern division might be left with some serious bullet holes left within it. If they can’t foster that in time, they still can rely on Park "Profit" Joon-yeong to be the spearhead he’s always been. The 2021 Seoul look is still as potent as ever, just without the big upgrades that other teams have had.7.) Hangzhou SparkSpeaking of upgrades, the 2021 Hangzhou Spark has courted an embarrassment of riches to their neck of the woods. Not only have they kept some of their best pieces, but they’ve added talent like Lee “MCD" Jeong-ho, Jia "LiGe" Chengjie, Shin "BERNAR" Se-won, and Zheng "Shy" Yangjie. It is difficult to look at this team and not just daydream of all the different kinds of metagames they’d excel at. However, the big worry I have with this roster is how it is managed. Not everyone is going to be able to have starting time, which takes a measurable toll on morale, to a point where players can check out. Even just keeping most of the roster intact would be a win especially when it comes to the tournaments with hero pools. Having that depth will ensure they have the flexibility to be able to pilot any metagame even conceivable. That’s the crux of how high the Spark can go. That said, their starting six—whoever you’d like to give the nominations to—is easily a competitive team in both Asia and when it comes to international play. The 2021 Hangzhou Spark is going to be a fun ride, and I for one hope they can unlock the potential of their twelve-man roster. 8.) Dallas FuelThe Dallas Fuel will have their most competitive season to date with this roster, I am certain of that. Their new look not only is impressive but gives them building blocks for the future. Taking the old Element Mystic core and adding in a player like Kwon "Fielder" Joon will net them success. My only concern is when it comes to specific metagames. Kim "SP9RK1E" Yeong-han and Kim "Doha" Dong-ha should be respected for their DPS play, but between them, they don’t have a Tracer that can rival some of the best in the league. That’s not to say the Fuel cannot find a slightly more creative solution to that problem, but that already paints them into a corner. Barring that, solid roster that should be aiming for a playoff lock—and past that point, anything can happen. The wait is over Dallas Fuel fans, this is where everything comes together—but keep in mind—it only gets better from here.9.) Florida MayhemCertain teams don’t need to change a whole lot to still manage to position themselves for playoffs, and for my money, the 2021 Florida Mayhem are one of those teams. They’ve made a big improvement by signing main support Kim "SLIME" Sung-jun and that cannot be understated. We’ve seen what Son "OGE" Min-seok can do in the past and he’ll be a solid fit for the team at main tank, at the very least. The upside is with such consistent threats around him, I suspect OGE will be able to really find himself and evolve this season. Past that all the strong points of the roster remain intact. However, their experiment with rookie DPS player Baek "Checkmate" Seung-hun consistently has me intrigued. I put a lot of trust in the coaching staff and management to have an eye for upcoming talent, so Checkmate will be a story to follow in the coming months, especially when it comes to hero pools. Mayhem should be talked about in the playoff race with the potential to surprise like they did last year at the May Melee. 10.) Chengdu HuntersThe Chengdu Hunters have done extremely well even though they’ve limped through these last few seasons. Since their debut in 2019, they’ve always struggled with having a strong main tank presence. Sure, they managed the best they could but that isn’t going to cut it this year—and they’ve made the changes to finally get the limp fixed. Enter Qiu "GA9A" Jiaxin. This is someone who can play the field of main tanks at a high level, while also still being able to take the familiarity of Wrecking Ball and apply it to a similar degree as the Hunters did in the past. This is a huge upgrade already, but the Hunters’ parade doesn’t stop there. Legendary head coach Xingrui "RUI" Wang has come back into the fold along with some outstanding rookie supports in Zhou "Mmonk" Xiang and Cao "Farway1987" Jiale. Gone are the days we can laugh and point towards the Hunters as easy prey for top teams. This is not a squad you want to sleep on.11.) New York ExcelsiorThe Empire State has always held a top spot when it comes to competitive Overwatch and this season they’ve taken a bold approach to their 2021 rebuild. Shedding nearly everyone but the 2018 season MVP Bang "JJoNak" Sung-hyeon and Kim "BiaNcA" Dong-wook, this new look Excelsior leans on the power of the 2021 rookie class, and if their pre-season is anything to judge then it does hold potential. Both Lee "FEATH5R" Seung-woo and Kim "Gwangboong" Gwang-won look to be important fixtures for the DPS rotation and Jo "Friday" Min-jae looks to be a good fit at support. That said, the big story here sits among some of the league’s returning players. Jo "Yakpung" Gyeong-mu never got a fair shake on the Toronto Defiant and we know what Lee "Ivy" Seung-hyun can do when he is given resource, can they help to push this rookie core over the edge? If I’m being honest, I’m not sure where to sit with the NYXL. This is a team I could get very wrong, but my gut tells me this is going to be a slow start to 2021 for New York with a strong upswing towards the end of the year.12.) Guangzhou ChargeCompetitive but rarely enough to make a dent, the Guangzhou Charge feel very similar to where they sat last season. While familiar faces make up the bulk of the 2021 Charge, that is not inherently a bad thing. After his preseason performance, I’m nearly ready to say that signing Park "KariV" Young-seo might have been more of a lateral move than we once thought. The question boils down to consistency though. Another pre-season star has been Ou "Eileen" Yiliang. Yes, he was a big reason they won last year's Summer Showdown, but with what we’ve seen thus far, Eileen is on track to possibly lead the team to a similar performance sometime this year. The Charge’s big move this offseason was landing DPS prospect Choi "ChoiSehwan" Se-hwan. His rookie debut should be stellar alongside such a competitive team. His name, among others, should be eyed for early nominations for rookie of the year, that is what kind of expectations he’s got on his shoulders. That said, question marks have to put around this team when you look at how competitive the eastern division has become. I’ve got a feeling we’re in for a bumpy ride with the Charge this season. I’d brace for a bit of a rollercoaster ride.13.) Atlanta ReignI view the 2021 Atlanta Reign a lot like the 2019 Philadelphia Fusion. The team isn’t bad inherently, but when you measure it against the field, it becomes hard to push them up the rankings. Teams have made wholesale changes to their entire roster and the Reign just has done enough in my opinion. That’s not to say that the Reign have had a quiet offseason. They’ve onboarded talent like Kai "Kai" Collins and Oh "Pelican" Se-hyun is easily another early nod for rookie of the year and someone people are going to want to follow. Most of the franchises the Reign would be competing against have made some serious upgrades to their rosters, Atlanta feels similar and not in a great way. Last season they played a “gatekeeper” sort of role and underperformed, and unfortunately, I get similar vibes this season. 14.) Boston Uprising2021 has smiled on the Boston Uprising and it feels good to see them look so promising. Fresh faces, new additions to the coaching staff, retention of talent, all lights are coming back green ahead of their April debut. With the current format, teams are rewarded for having a hyper-carry style of DPS player. Someone who can mechanically brute force their way through certain hero pools or take a playoff patch and flip it on its head. And the Uprising’s solution to the problem is Kim "Valentine" Byeong-ju. Flexible as they come, we saw what Valentine was capable of in the preseason and I only expect more to come from him. Easily a nod for rookie of the year. On top of that, Seo "Stand1" Ji-won has been an absolute workhorse since his days in Overwatch Contenders. He deserved a starting role on a team since his rookie season and Boston will be better for signing him. The team, as a whole, is slowly returning towards their 2018 form, and while more time needs to be given to them to see them fully turn the corner, the Uprising are finally living up to their namesake.15.) Toronto DefiantQuietly having an impressive offseason, the 2021 Toronto Defiant have a lot of things going for them. Lee "Na1st" Ho-sung finally gets to have his rookie debut after being a name that scouts were tailing since his days on Meta Bellum. Kim "SADO" Su-min has gone above and beyond when it comes to putting season two doubters to rest. He’ll be a consistent piece to the Defiant’s front line and standing behind him is Mun "Lastro" Jung-won. The team has a lot of bright spots, but that doesn’t mean things are picturesque by any means. The one thing I see this team having a difficult time with is properly coordinating compositions that call for mid-to-long range hitscan. That is not to say that Andreas "Logix" Berghmans isn’t skilled at the role, but I’m concerned that the initial hurdles that this team is going to face regarding communication will hurt the team in the long run. Potentially a strong team, but I am skeptical about how the project comes together. 16.) London SpitfireThe 2018 world champions have had a bit of a problem capturing the same glory all those years ago. However, this year looks to be the start of a project that could see the London Spitfire become a seriously competitive force, but also give the amateur division a clear pipeline to the biggest stage in the game. Comprising a slew of names that made their academy team, British Hurricane, so dominant in Overwatch Contenders Europe, this is a team that the region as a whole can rally behind. Those who’ve weathered the storm with the Hurricane for the last couple seasons are very familiar with what tank duo Hadi Daniel "Hadi" Bleinagel and Mikkel "Molf1g" Djernes are capable of doing, but it’s the returning ace that no one is talking about that I believe will steal the show. While he’s been playing in the shadows of some incredibly talented players, Johannes "Shax" Nielsen is going to show up in a big way. If there are any Valiant fans looking for a new team to support, I can guarantee that you’ll find the same punchy, underdog vibes from the London Spitfire this season.17.) Houston OutlawsThe 2021 Houston Outlaws roster does not dazzle the eyes. It doesn’t beg captivation, it doesn’t have marquee names, this is a roster that is going to have to have all their horses and prospects in line if they want this heist to work. However, one saving grace is that Choi "Junkbuck" Jaewon is partly-heading up the operation. If this iteration succeeds I believe it will be off the back of stellar coaching from Junkbuck and Harsha "Harsha" Bandi. If they can land a dice roll that sees Dante "Danteh" Cruz and Lee "Happy" Jung-woo in the right metagame, they might just be able to strike gold. Outside of that, the roster feels untested, but that isn’t always a call for the guillotine. While the roster has its questions, the coaching staff should be trusted enough to play for mid-table highwaymen looking to improve for 2022. 18.) Paris EternalI’ll say this; I hope I get to write another apology note to the Paris Eternal this season. There are some incredibly promising names on this roster, some of which have surprised me during the preseason, my issue is when it comes to head-to-head hypothetical matchups, I see them struggling. When you pair them against members of their tier, even a tier above, they undoubtedly will be competitive, but as you climb that ladder things become increasingly dire. I do suspect Emir "Kaan" Okumus to be in talks for 2021 rookie of the year, but this is a foundation year for Paris. This is where the vision starts. That said, they’re going to need time to bring the right pieces home to see this roster truly shine.19.) Vancouver TitansWith a proper offseason to practice and gel, we will get a more competitive Vancouver Titans. In a vacuum, this should be a great fresh start for a team in-nee. The roster isn’t fantastic but is led by a historically successful coaching staff, so it can’t be that unpolished. And I’d like to sympathise with that idea, but I fall on the same sword I did with Paris. When you look at how impressive these other teams are, I can’t help but start to drop the Titans. After speaking with head coach Steven "Flubby" Coronel I am interested to see how well Abtin "ShRedLock" Shirvani and Dalton "Dalton" Bennyhoff perform this season. That said, Vancouver is going to have to lean into the underdog mentality to boost them up the regular-season rankings. 20.) Los Angeles ValiantBefore we go full Dr. Banner and smash the Los Angeles Valiant in two, their DPS duo could be okay. Now that the good news is out of the way, let’s tackle the bad because the Valiant has it in spades.Can you really expect much from a team whose listed starting main support has—and let me check my notes—zero experience playing the role? What, did Zhang "Highbee" Zening take a page out of the old Valiant notebook? Is he toosmart to play flex tank? Also, why did we have to dig up Yelin "NvM" Wen? He hasn’t played since 2018, let that sink in. That makes roughly two blind spots for the roster and with the commentary around the team recently, it doesn’t seem likely that these are likely to change in the near future. If there was ever a white-flag moment in Overwatch history, this would be it. They’ve deferred their problems to another organisation, and frankly, the players deserve better. That said, we’re looking at last place and it isn’t close. I do not see the Valiant making any semblance of a run unless some serious changes happen.
Chaos IncarnateThe Seoul Dynasty are inherently still going to be a toss-up, however, the lack of hero pools should see them thrive more often than not. That said, Seoul still calls upon its core, which has never been a pillar of consistency. However, what they do bring in is knockout power. We saw it in season one, we saw it last season in the playoffs, Seoul Dynasty will continue to be a strong competitor, but with bouts of turbulence throughout the season. As of writing this, the Dallas Fuel is going to find issues in certain metagames. If we’re to be honest with ourselves, their Wrecking Ball performance in the pre-season did not instil much confidence and the fact that they still do not have a strong Tracer player coming into the season has me concerned. When they’re situated in a metagame that suits them, they’ll be very good. When certain criteria are met through hero pools or just through the natural cycle of the game, I have a feeling it is going to get scrappy for the Fuel. 2021 Most ImprovedThe Chengdu Hunters have made probably the biggest individual improvement, by finally acquiring a strong main tank. And somehow the Philadelphia Fusion managed to improve by landing a massive coaching signing and taking one of the most promising European DPS players in the league, but when it comes to overall improvement on a grand scale you’ve got to give the nod to the Dallas Fuel. After a disappointing 2020 season, they’ve brought on board the former core of Element Mystic nearly in its entirety. The massive vision shift signals a thrust towards becoming contenders, a dream that has eluded the Fuel since its inception since its debut in 2018. While it is not reflected in their rankings necessarily due to how many other teams upgraded and performed, I stand by my statements made late last year. I believe this season will be the best iteration that we’ve seen come out of Dallas and with a few minor adjustments they easily can be counted as top competitors looking ahead to next year.Bears And BullsThe teams I feel I have the most opportunity to be wrong on are the Philadelphia Fusion (too bullish) and the New York Excelsior (too bearish). Philadelphia Fusion has an incredibly strong roster on paper, that goes without saying. However, I do worry about what some of the logistic hurdles could do to such a team. Moving to Asia, visa troubles, even failing their own expectations, these concerns all pile on top of one another and in a strange way, they could be the team we all evaluate too high. The New York Excelsior has always been a top competitor in the Overwatch League. After being the darlings of 2018 and finishing in a very respectable third place in 2019, the Excelsior is looking to rebuild their winning ways. I’ve said they have some impossible shoes to fill, but with some of their preseason showings, and with the new rookie talent on their roster, I may be selling them short due to their division. If New York was playing at home, in the west, I have no doubt they’d be in contention for some of the top spots.If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @VolamelImages courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment
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