Can 2022 Flip The Script For The Houston Outlaws?
With the Overwatch League venturing into a brand-new title in Overwatch 2, the narrative of "fresh starts" will near cliché - but one rightful harbinger of that touching story are the Houston Outlaws.
After four years without a playoff appearance and a little more when we narrow our lens to focus on stages or monthly tournament success, the Houston Outlaws look to reinvent themselves coming into the new year. Can this fresh start and their playoff core lead them into newfound territory, or will this be business as usual?
We can’t ignore the very rational fear that this coming season will echo familiar sentiments ushered in past pre-season discussions. Expectations were high in 2020 when Houston secured players like Lee "Jecse" Seung-soo and Kim "MekO" Tae-hong. 2021 saw them land impeccable talents like Lee "Happy" Jung-woo and William "Crimzo" Hernandez. However, since their franchise inception, there has always been a hole in the roster itself - and recently it’s been centred around this DPS rotation.
For a moment, let’s throw this in reverse and head back to Overwatch League season three. The Outlaws built the DPS stable of Jiri "LiNkzr" Masalin, Dante "Danteh" Cruz, Jeffrey "blasé" Tsang, with occasional appearances from João Pedro "Hydration" Goes Telles. Even for its time, it was a game of "who do you put next to Danteh?" Blasé had his moments on Doomfist, and if there was a dedicated hitscan meta, we know what kind of damage LiNkzr could do - but the consistency was not a luxury in the era of the hero pool system.
2021, as much as it did improve, held a lot of the same woes. Happy was phenomenal, but Danteh did not have a consistent partner, particularly in dive centric metagames that ended up being fairly dominant throughout the back half of the season. Lineups that featured any number of permutations from a pool including Echo, Tracer, and Sombra were the key to unlocking playoffs success. The Outlaws have one fantastic ace that can pilot all three heroes - but until Dolly the Sheep meets esports, Danteh can’t play both positions at once. And with a new game, brings new faces - and that’s where excitement floods in.
Now we arrive at change. The 2022 Houston Outlaws has already begun to take shape, and this initial problem at DPS has immediately been addressed. 2021’s Rookie of the Year, Oh "Pelican" Se-hyun, has brought his talents to Space City. Along with him follows former Atlanta Reign star flex support Kim "Ir1s" Seung-hyun. These two pieces alone not only instil name recognition and skill, but it showcases that the Outlaws have taken a good look in the mirror. They knew where their problems stemmed from in the past and landed one of the biggest names that have entered the league in recent memory. These two pieces alone sure up a lot of flexibility problems, both covering and complimenting each other’s hero pools. However, the Outlaws have to continue making moves.
There is no doubt that the core of players the Houston Outlaws have signed are skilled enough to strike deep into the heart of the inaugural playoffs held for Overwatch 2, the issue lies in the supporting cast. Another sore spot for the Outlaws has historically been main tank with this last year being the best foot forward. The issue they face alongside their peers is how to properly fill that role. Do you bank on flex tanks being the play in the long term, or do you lean more on your traditional main tanks continuing to be league staples? Perhaps you throw your budget at it and sign two complementary elements—but is that cost-effective? No one is sure on the best practice for a number of reasons, but this area is something the Outlaws in particular need to get right.
As it stands now, Houston has maintained Shin "PIGGY" Min-jun who look phenomenal on Sigma, but left some question regarding how deep his hero pool actual went. Adding someone like Kim "Kellan" Min-jae from Overwatch Contenders or even bringing back some of their tank core from last year wouldn’t be awful. And that still only gets to the surface of some of the issues we can already see.
Outlaws’ fans are now left wondering, if not Happy - then who? Currently, Houston has traded one issue for a smaller conundrum; while Pelican joining is a massive boon, what happens if they need a dedicated hitscan? With the information that is public, Overwatch 2 seems to be quite the lethal game and with the reduction in overall damage mitigation, hitscan could make a smashing return. To cover all their bases, the Outlaws need to land a prominent sniper, someone akin to Jung "Xzi" Ki-hyo. Someone who doesn’t need to start outside of their particular metagame and who has some tenure of success. Just shoring up any possible issues is going to increase their chances overall, and that’s something this organisation needs most; tangible results.
After last year’s disappointing finish in the play-ins, Houston was left disappointed again. For such a beloved franchise with faces synonymous with the Overwatch League itself, this brand needs to string together some success, and this coming season can be that year. While the league shifts its sights on Overwatch 2 and teams continue to improve and retool their roster, we cannot count out the Outlaws under the guise of historical precedent.
Unless we’re more charitable to the ideas of hexes and curses, this is a new Outlaws roster. The sins of the franchise's past should weigh too heavily on the shoulders’ of their new members. That said, Houston has put a strong foot forward. Those initial thoughts that are filled with surprise and excitement should be bottled, especially knowing the coaching staff is tinkering under the hood. The DPS core is in a good position, the tank line needs a bit of reassurance, and the cherry on top would be to nab not one but two more additional supports. Again, this coming season will be about versatility or agility. Teams have to move on very little knowledge, so they either build for it now or have to scramble mid-season—which is an under-explored realm to be fair. And yet the 2022 Outlaws work with such a strong base that it should inspire confidence.
Is this the year? At the risk of moving too early and perhaps being a broken record; Pelican feels different, and the community should put a lot of stock into Choi "Junkbuck" Jae-won as a coach. This team has some serious power behind it to not see them see newfound glory. If 2021 was a rebuild year, then we’d have to agree with the sentiments shared by Danteh and Jacob "JAKE" Lyon - overall it was successful. As long as that growth continues, which it looks like it has, then the Outlaws should be in the driver’s seat moving forward.
As it stands now, 2022 looks quite good for the Houston Outlaws.