Every Overwatch League Grand Final ranked
The Overwatch League is on the precipice of crowning a new champion. Tonight either the Dallas Fuel or Houston Outlaws will bestow themselves a crown for the first time in their franchises’ histories, or the San Francisco Shock will complete another impossible lower-bracket run to become 3x OWL champions.
There’s nothing quite like a finals day in esports. Whether it be Worlds, The International, or Overwatch League, there is something electric in the air during the hours before the final matches of a game’s competitive season. For Overwatch, this final represents a new beginning; a resurgence in the game’s popularity and presence as an esport. Overwatch 2, despite everything, is making its way back into the hearts and minds of the gaming community, with the Overwatch League hopefully following suit.
It all comes down to tonight. After the utterly insane playoff bracket that took place this year, the 2022 Grand Final needs to go above and beyond the quality seen in the past capstone matches of each Overwatch League season. What exactly does it need to accomplish? What does it need to do better than the previous grand finals? To understand that we need to examine and understand the strengths and shortcomings of each of those previous matches, to see how far 2022 needs to go.
We can rank them too, for fun.
[#4] 2021 - SHANGHAI DRAGONS VS. ATLANTA REIGN (4-0)
The Overwatch League is notorious for having pretty lacklustre grand finals, and nothing encapsulates that more than the Shanghai Dragons’ 4-0 sweep against the Atlanta Reign.
Narratively this final is pretty uninteresting. Shanghai were by and large the favourite to win it all since the second half of the regular season, so it was really no surprise to see them completely decimate teams through the upper bracket. What was more interesting and impressive, was the Atlanta Reign’s demon run through the lower bracket, dropping in the first round to absolutely feast upon fan favourites like the Los Angeles Gladiators, San Francisco Shock, and Dallas Fuel throughout the rest of the playoffs.
However, all of those upsets led to nothing but the Reign in a final match against a behemoth they had 0 chance, and seemingly 0 interest, in defeating. It seems no one was beating Shanghai this season, and by map 4 it seemed like the Atlanta Reign themselves knew how impossible of a task lay ahead of them.
For so many big-name teams to fall to Atlanta in the lead-up to the final, only to have the Reign have no chance against the Dragons in the series, was honestly pretty disappointing and boring as a fan. There was no resounding cheer at the final map’s conclusion, it was just too easy a road for Shanghai to really savour the franchise’s historic turnaround in 2021. Oh, well.
[#3] 2018 - LONDON SPITFIRE VS. PHILADELPHIA FUSION (2-0; 3-1,3-0)
In third comes the first, the Inaugural Season Grand Final that saw the London Spitfire arrive in Brooklyn to thank everyone for attending their coronation ceremony, and who then proceeded to violently beat up the Philadelphia Fusion on national television. The Spitfire quickly became the first OWL champions in a dominant 2-0 sweep, in two separate 3-1 and 3-0 series.
What should have been a scrappy, desperate fight between two narratively distinct underdogs, turned into an embarrassing schoolyard beatdown between Overwatch juggernauts, and a team who seemed like they didn’t just play 40 matches of the game in the last couple of months.
While this series does have its moments, especially Day 1’s Volskaya Industries where Park "Profit" Joon-yeong, scored his infamous 5k to secure the win, and Gael "Poko" Gouzerch had an iconic and classic “Poko-bomb” to keep the Fusion in the game.
However, outside of that, this series is messy, sloppy, and head-scratching. Hong "Gesture" Jae-hee and Ji-hyeok "birdring" Kim, permanently boom Lee "Carpe" Jae-hyeok’s career right here by making sure he wasn’t allowed to play the game for two days straight. The Fusion are subbing out their starting flex support to run Choi "HOTBA" Hong-joon on Zenyatta, it’s a historic hot mess.
Overall the Fusion crumbled under the pressure and might of London’s ability to land more shots than they could and ultimately weren’t capable of bringing a satisfying conclusion to the first season of the Overwatch League.
[#2] 2019 - SAN FRANCISCO SHOCK VS. VANCOUVER TITANS (4-0)
The 2019 finals, where the San Francisco Shock 4-0ed the Vancouver Titans, is seen by many fans as an absolute disappointment. After all this build-up for a rivalry that lasted all season, to end on such a quick and uneventful finale was really tough for a lot of fans to handle. It didn’t live up to the hype, it was a bad match to watch, and if you were in the Wells Fargo Center that day, you were at least glad the traffic wasn’t going to be too bad heading home.
However, 2019 avoids the pitfalls of other finals and stands out significantly, purely based on its narrative strengths, and those positives need to be recognized and appreciated, even 3 years later. The biggest being, of course, the Shock’s eternally perfect, lower bracket run. To drop in the first round and run it back 20-0, was absolutely earthshattering and disgustingly historic. It is a playoff run that transcends Overwatch and will stand the test of time as one of the greatest team performances in any esport. The final being the capstone for that run, it makes the shock’s victory here cosmically impressive, beyond just a simple clean sweep.
Secondly, credence has to be given to the Vancouver Titans, because they fought hard, to try and gain any footing in this series. There were several maps, where the Titans were one fight away or one less mistake from claiming a map as their own, but the Shock were just playing on an infinitely better level that day. Throughout the whole season, the Titans relied on their history and chemistry as a team, to outplay their opponents even when the individual matchups weren’t in their favour. However, on that day the Shock did everything better than them, no matter what they tried. Toss in a little chandelier Bastion and a historic Sigma performance from Hyo-bin "ChoiHyoBin" Choi, and you have a very tense and very tight series.
[#1] 2020 - SAN FRANCISCO SHOCK VS. SEOUL DYNASTY (4-2)
The most competitive final to date, the 2020 Season 3 final saw the San Francisco Shock clinch their second OWL championship over the Seoul Dynasty in a 4-2 series. Forgettable only because it was online without a crowd to bring the hype and noise, had this been played in an arena, it would be remembered as an all-time match.
It’s honestly impressive the Dynasty were able to keep tempo against the Shock in this series. Admittedly if you look at this roster, the 2020 Shock might be the greatest lineup ever assembled, so to take maps off of that and still fight strong in a series against it, is immensely commendable. Here, the meta allowed for dominant hitscan performances, and once-in-a-lifetime Roadhog locks to honestly, just allow for the type of aggressive and confident playstyles you want to see in Overwatch.
It wasn’t the most perfect of finals, but it was most certainly a match to remember, and both teams played their hearts out to send off the lockdown season, with a banger, instead of a whimper.
[???] 2022- DALLAS FUEL VS. HOUSTON OUTLAWS/SAN FRANCISCO SHOCK (?-?)
Now, we set our gaze to the future, to tonight. It’s the final match of the 2022 Season and the first final of Overwatch 2. What does this final need to do, to become the best? What does the Overwatch League fanbase, deserve to see, after such a hectic and chaotic playoff?
Firstly, it needs to go the distance. It needs to go to seven maps in this first to four match. We have never seen it in a grand final, and we haven’t seen a seven-map series, at all this season. That needs to change, regardless of who emerges from that lower bracket, they need to be able to take the Dallas Fuel all the way to the last possible map. It’s the only way to ensure fans get the final they deserve.
Secondly, this series will be decided by the Sojourns, and all three remaining have the capabilities, to cement their legacies as the best, should they become victorious. So we need to see absolutely freakish and disgusting play coming out from each team’s Sojourns. That hero is the X-factor, it is the highlight character in this playoffs, and as long as we get a back-and-forth battle between each team, that lasts the entire match, we’ll be treated with something special.
Lastly, both teams need to put 110% and hold nothing back. In the words of a famous Dota 2 coach and two-time TI champion, Sébastien "Ceb" Debs: “No mercy today. They go down… When we’re about to punch them, we punch them really hard. We punch them together, we punch them where it hurts”.
If both teams can follow this philosophy, we might just witness the greatest OWL match of all time.
All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and Joe Brady