Tournament titles? Playoffs? What can we expect from the Justice this year?
Disregard their name and their checkered past, the Washington Justice come into the 2021 Overwatch League season prepared to cause some disorder. It is hard to think of the Justice the same way as we approach the start of the new season. This is the team that floundered their debut and failed to even get off the line in 2020, brings one of the most exciting rosters to North America for the fourth and arguably most competitive season of the league to date.
Housing one of the league’s true star players, alongside a promising rookie prospect and paired with a former world champion, it is difficult to argue them out of being a top team in North America, let alone a pre-season playoff nod. However, are the Justice, the most dangerous team in the Overwatch League?
Before we start crowning the champions of chaos, what exactly does it mean to be a dangerous team?
Let’s start with a few examples. The London Spitfire throughout 2018 were easily one of the most dangerous teams. The same could be said about the Paris Eternal in 2020, and you could say that the 2020 Seoul Dynasty were quite dangerous in their own ways as well.
The throughline here is this strange balancing act between being a consistent threat when it comes to a team’s competitive level and maintaining enough star power to punch above their perceived weight class. However, there is an underlining level of uncertainty that dangerous teams carry as well. It is the fact that you can’t always guarantee the outcome of the majority of their matches.
I think, looking at the tiers, I would like us to be an S tier team.
— Aaron "PRE" Heckman
A dangerous team is one that is upset-prone—but removed from the negative connotation. In the most literal sense, the definition sticks; they are a team that is prone to upsetting highly valued teams, while still managing to stay within a hypothetical playoff boundary. And when we look at the 2021 Washington Justice lineup as it stands today, they very clearly have the potential to be a breakout team this year.
Holding on to a star like Jang "Decay" Gui-un for not one but two years is insane as it is. Then you add in Kim "Mag" Tae-sung who came into the offseason as one of the front runners of his rookie class. Splash in some former world champion status with Kim "Fury" Jun-ho. And top off the dish with the former assistant coach of the Hangzhou Spark, Han "Sup7eme" Seung-jun. This core to the roster already is eye-catching and for good reason, but there is a something more obscure that underlines their strength.
What makes the Washington Justice so interesting as a franchise is, as blunt as is might sound, the fact that they don’t have much in the way of a track record to live up to. Their debut outing was marred by narratives of ill preparation, and their 2020 performance saw little improvement followed by the shuffling of the front office before finding a miraculous playoff run. Now, with a fresh coat of paint and a clear vision put in place, the Washington Justice stand opposed to their past. When you look at their branding, this isn’t the same disappointing team.
As a thought experiment, remove the logos and the name from the equation and try to evaluate the roster just on their merits alone. If it helps, swap the branding of another team and slap that on this Justice lineup. You’ll find that this team not only looks promising, but you can start to argue some matchups that never even remotely held residents within the realm of possibility. Even Justice’s general manager, Aaron "PRE" Heckman, has high hopes for the team coming into April.
In an interview with GGRecon, PRE shared what kind of regular-season finish he would be happy with at the end of 2021.
“I think, looking at the tiers, I would like us to be an S tier team,” PRE said. “I would like us to be a team that, at the end of the season, if we aren’t in the conversation for a strong finish, people would be disappointed or looking at something weird like the meta or something. I think that we have built a very strong team. I think the conservative and risk-averse version of me, which is a fair amount of my role, is saying [we’d] solidly make the playoffs. Not be a team that’s on the bubble, not be the team that has to do the napkin math at the end of the season.”
And it isn’t just people close to the Justice, even peers across the Overwatch League ecosystem rank the Justice high in certain regards. In an official Overwatch League survey of 20 general managers and front-office officials, the Washington Justice and their players are highlighted throughout. The Justice was surveyed to be within the top four teams in the Western region. Decay was tied with Kim "Alarm" Kyung-bo as early candidates for the regular-season MVP award. And Mag topped the questionnaire as the most likely to win 2021’s Rookie of the Year award and was tied with Choi "Hanbin" Han-been as players who will make the biggest impact on their new team.
From all of this, we can safely say that the Justice are a dangerous team, but this begs the question; are they the most dangerous in the Overwatch League?
Yes, the 2021 Washington Justice will be the most dangerous team in the league—but not necessarily the most successful.
Again, if we return to our definition of dangerous, these are teams that are not only strong competitors but are also upset prone in a positive way. In that sense, the Justice have to be considered slight underdogs, in some capacity, to upset a team and when we compare them to some of their peers, they very clearly are. The Justice have almost no expectations with their past performances, and even those who are high on them argue about if or where they sit within the top five in their region, let alone any kind of global ranking.
Think of it this way; the Washington Justice have a higher than average skill floor, meaning their weakest day is still very competitive within the Overwatch League and even more so in the Western region. However, their skill ceiling looks to rival, and even surpass, some of the best competitors in the league. However, this doesn’t make them the best team, just the one with the highest performance peaks.
There will always be teams like the Shanghai Dragons and the San Francisco Shock who will top power rankings and who are likely candidates to win the 2021 Overwatch League season as a whole. Nevertheless, the Justice have an inherent potential to win one of the four tournaments in the upcoming 2021 season and perform well throughout the rest. If we look at their franchise history, it is more likely than not that they will either win or come very close to winning one of the four tournaments. Stage 4 of 2019 saw the Justice shoot up the rankings once they were out of playoff contention with the advent of role lock and 2020 obviously saw a massive meta shift that they found comfortable. Regardless of the time period and with multiple rosters, Washington always has a peak where you could see a far off argument where they could be talked about in a high class.
Now, with their best line up to date, with little to no expectation, and some of the brightest stars in the league, the 2021 Washington Justice are not only likely seasonal playoff contenders, but they are a team that is going to crush some dreams along the way.
Not only is this Justice lineup a team that Washington can be proud of, but they are also on track to become title contenders if they play their cards right.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment