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Organized by Blizzard, Overwatch is a team-based online shooting game that has integrated certain ideas from the MOBA genre. The game has been in existence since 2016, and has steadily gained popularity over time, having as many as 30 million players. In the same year of release, they won a number of awards, including the Best New Esports Discipline of the Year and Game of the Year.
As it’s the case with most esports, and by extension sports in general, a team-based franchise league forms the basis of Overwatch, with the game’s developers regulating different aspects of the championship, right from player salaries to schedules.
In 2019, the season’s final attracted 320,000 peak viewers. This encouraged YouTube to buy the broadcast rights of the event the following year. It sums up how far the sport has come since its inception six years ago.
As the new season kicks off now, let us have a lowdown on the teams and match-ups.
Pick: LA Gladiators
LA Gladiators is one of two teams from Los Angeles, California, USA – the other being LA Valiant – in the Overwatch League. The Gladiators compete in the Western Division. In a sign of how serious the franchise has been to get up and running in the most professional way, they roped in esports organization Sentinel, formerly Phoenix1, to run the team.
Phoenix1 had the experience of running a League of Legends team in the North American LCS. For the record, the franchise is owned by Stan and Josh Kroenke, owners of the LA Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and Arsenal Football Club among other sports franchises.
Playing in the West Division – categorized based on the geography of the teams – LA Gladiators finished second in the 12-team pool, with 11 wins and five losses. For the record, toppers Dallas Fuel and third-placed Atlanta Reign also had the same win-loss ratio. On the combined table – east and west teams put together – they finished a creditable fourth on the table in the 20-team pool (east 8 teams, west 12 teams).
Prior to that, the LA Gladiators won their first-ever championship when they took home the Countdown Cup after they took down the Chengdu Hunters 4-3 at the end of an intense seven-map series. That earned them USD 100,000 in prize money, apart from picking up three crucial league points that bumped them up in the postseason rankings, which is why they were ranked second in the West region. It also meant they had a straight bye to the playoff rounds.
The LA Gladiators were given a bit of a reality check in the playoffs. A win over Philadelphia Fusion set up their semi-final against Shanghai Dragons, who beat them 3-1. This was followed by a loss to Atlanta Reign in the losers’ bracket round-2.
And their campaign came to a grinding halt. Yet, there was much to be happy about for the franchise at the end of the season. Vast improvements, a playoff show, a title win among their highlights. This makes them the favorites going into their opening game of the brand new season against New York Excelsior.
New York Excelsior are picking up the pieces from a forgettable 2021, where they finished sixth in the East standings with more losses than wins (7-9 record). On the combined table, they were a lowly 14th out of 20 teams, which means they failed to make the playoffs.
Now, with the new season upon us, they’ve pulled off an impressive last-minute signing of a second tank player in Jack “Vulcan” McArthur to boost their stocks. He is set for a debut after previously having been part of a few Overwatch Contenders roster. Currently, he is the only non-Korean member of the roster.
Pick: San Francisco Shock
Last year, Paris Eternal finished with an even 8-8 win-loss record during the regular season, and while that may have been cause for a few roster changes, they’ve gone in with a more balanced approach this time around.
What worked for them was the manner in which they turned around a poor start and ended on a high. This is perhaps why them not rejigging their roster massively isn’t such a big surprise. They have kept faith in their majority-European roster. The Eternal are also running with the league’s minimum roster of six players.
That said, they did make one key acquisition – signing of Glister, San Francisco Shock’s former DPS player. They have whittled down just the one slot for the tank role, but have retained both main tank Dean and off-tank Vestal for the upcoming season.
Both players have been deemed as X-factor players and such players tend to get a slightly longer rope than the others purely on the basis of what they bring to the table. Both players started poorly last year but gained confidence as the season went by and ended strongly. They will be hoping for a much-improved showing this time around.
Eternal made some big changes in the management sphere though, with former Overwatch League player JMAC taking over the role of head coach after playing more of a support role last year.
Known to be a shrewd tactician, the team is banking on his invaluable inputs to make further inroads as they build towards the season with a roster they believe is formidable.
All said they will have to play out of their skins to match San Francisco’s might. For much of the league’s existence, the team has carried an aura of invincibility around them. Aura of unparalleled success and glistening trophies to their cabinet.
The two-time champions fell from grace last year, with a series of insipid performances that manifested itself because of a number of tactical and personnel issues. This meant they failed to make the grand finals and the Dragons snatched away their spot as the league’s most invincible outfit. Now, they’re back up and on the road to redemption having wiped the slate clean.
They are now without their biggest superstars in Matthew “Super” DeLisi, who is now retired. They’re banking on their rookie power to drag the side back to their heydays that they experienced not too long ago.
Their only retention from their previous season is veteran support VioL2T, who had a poor 2021. He’s likely to stick to flex support duties this time around. Among their most impressive off-season signings is FiNN, who joins Viol2t in the support line.
Pick: Atlanta Reign
Atlanta Reign were third in the West Standings, with a 11-5 record as mentioned earlier. In the overall tally, they stood fifth. Florida Mayhem endured a nightmarish previous season, with more than twice the number of losses to wins.
They won five, lost 11 and ended 10th in the West Standings. Overall, they were a lowly 16th. So in terms of a match up, Atlanta are the overwhelming favourites for this one. What makes Atlanta’s run in the playoffs inspirational is the manner in which they emerged from the lower brackets to make an inspired run to the final, where they lost 4-0 to the Shanghai Dragons.
In many ways, Atlanta is looking to shed bridesmaid status. Eternal favourites who always find ways to slip up at the final hurdle. The new season is another opportunity for them to prove that isn’t the case anymore.
Reign have chosen to revamp their roster with Overwatch Contenders talent. They’ve invested in youth to drive the team forward. After the previous season, they lost some cornet talent with players like Pelican leaving the team.
Two of their biggest stars, though: tank gator and Hawk have remained with the team and brought with them the competitive juices required to pep up the squad from time to time. It is their support line that seems the most threatening though, with Ojee and Ultraviolet, long-time teammates with Overwatch Contenders, finally making their debuts. Cohesion and clutch play, as always, will be the key for the side going forward.
Florida Mayhem have a diverse squad and are out to typify the saying ‘unity in diversity’ with players from four separate regions: North America, Australia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
DPS Checkmate is their only retention from the 2021 roster. He had a remarkable stint as a main tank last year and will be looking to carry forward the good showing. He will likely stick to the same role this time around too alongside Hydron and Xzi.
They will also perhaps rely on SOMEONE, a talented main tank, and off-tank Australian Adam, who gets a shot at redemption after being left without a job and visa following his stint with the LA Valiant last year.
This may seem as their best effort to make the most out of their available options, but whether it is good enough remains to be seen. Don’t set your expectations too high on the group yet, they’re very much a work in progress.
|Overwatch League 2022 Information|
|Teams||San Francisco Shock, Paris Eternal, Atlanta Reign, Florida Mayhem|
|Time||Thursday, May 5 at 3.00 PM EST onwards|
|How to watch||Official Twitch channel|
With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. A writer at night and the founder of a gaming company, Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specialization includes soccer, basketball, tennis, and esports betting. Email: [email protected]More info on Nikhil Kalro
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