All teams can participate in the Overwatch League playoffs, but not all paths are paved equally.
The Overwatch League season playoff structure was announced a week ago and we’ve had time to mull it over and look at the most important aspects determining the stakes for the rest of the season. While the league decided to let every team participate in the playoff bracket due to the struggles COVID-19 had given the competition, regular-season performance will prominently impact final standings due to the power of certain playoff seeds. Playing out the season at full throttle will pay off.
Some of those spots bring about massive advantages, giving teams on the cusp of a breakpoint a big incentive to go all out in their remaining games. The heat has been turned up for the regular season. Does your team need to turn it on before playoffs?
The most important takeaways
In order to still meaningfully reward regular-season standings, yet not unreasonably so, the Overwatch League has implemented several advantages a higher seed may gain over lower ones in the season playoffs. The most significant advantage that a team may gain through regular season standing in the North American region is to avoid the single-elimination portion of it. In North America, all but the top 5 teams will be forced to participate in matches of which the losing team will be eliminated from playoffs immediately. Remember when the “dominant” winner of season 2 needed a second life to get there? Yeah, loser’s brackets are a lifesaver. Due to a different number of teams, the Asian bracket will run differently, directly seeding all teams into a double-elimination bracket though higher seeds will get up to two additional bye-rounds.
Secondly, North American teams that finish between sixth and ninth place will receive an additional bye round and will only meet the winners of the tenth to 13th ranked team bracket. Furthermore, the top 5 seeds in the region will only have to play two matches the first weekend of the playoffs while the lowest-seeded teams between 10-13 may have to play as many as four games in four days - a very exhausting endeavour that leaves little room for adjustments.
Jon Spector, the Vice President of Overwatch Esports, stated in his Twitter Q&A that “throughout the postseason, the higher seeded team will get to choose the first map (from a map pool). Final four will start with the winners' bracket teams taking the higher seed for the first match.” This gives additional benefits to finishing high in the regular season.
As we can see, the weight applied to season standing gives significant advantages to teams like the Shock and the Fusion, who are practically locked in for the first two seeds. The hunt for the additional bracket benefits is on.
Who will be fighting till the end and why they absolutely should
Given the outlined advantages of getting into the top 5 and top 10 in North America, several teams are still fighting for those sweet benefits. For direct promotion into the double-elimination bracket, Fusion, Shock, Mayhem, and Eternal seem locked in. Given the number of games which still have to be played on top of the bonus teams may receive from a high placing at the countdown cup, the battle for the fifth play is still on. Everyone from the Gladiators to possibly even the Fuel still have a realistic chance, with the Reign arguably having the easiest strength of schedule.
The most exciting part about this race to the top 5 is that there’s a lot of cross-play between the teams in question, putting the outcome directly in the hands of each participating team even at this point. If the Dallas Fuel were to start crushing everyone and gain the win bonus from the Countdown Cup, they could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, as Munchhausen as that may seem.
For the 9th spot, everyone from Fuel to even the Titans are still in reach of a spot that could save them the blood, sweat and tears from one more match day. The Outlaws have significantly less agency in this, seeing how they are the team with the most games played in North America, though at least two out of their three games appear winnable.
Stat analyst Eric Doerr ran a Monte Carlo simulation on the respective advantages that teams receive due to their seeding. For this simulation, all teams were considered equally good, though a slight map pick advantage was applied. The results highlight the benefits of higher seeding and related breakpoints, approximately doubling it around many breakpoints, even in the Asian region.
In the Asian region, the Dragons have locked a top 2 position and will be able to reap the benefits of their excellent season in the stacked playoff bracket. For the second seed, the fight is still on with the Charge enjoying a large win advantage, not least due to their victory at the Summer Showdown. The loss against the Hunters has hurt the NYXL significantly and though they have a significant advantage in the map differentially, they would likely still need to beat every team that’s put in front of them in order to make it past the Charge. Once again, the upcoming week’s games between the two contenders will set the tone.
For the fifth place decider, the Dynasty, Spark and even the Spitfire are still in the race and especially Hangzhou has to fear losing the spot to London, given that the British team has four more games to play than they do. Just in the next five games, the Spitfire will play direct contenders thrice, adding additional spice to those matches. The Dynasty has absolutely demonstrated the capacity to still screw this up for themselves. In eight more games, a coin will be tossed to decide if Dr.Seoul or Mr.Dynasty shows up. Chances are, the Dynasty will make it though.
If we thought that we could sleep on the rest of the season, we were thoroughly mistaken. While the announcement that all teams would be invited to the end of the season initially felt like handing out participation medals, on second thought the system revealed itself to be quite punishing for those who have done poorly in the regular season. It’s about to get spicy.
Simulations via Eric Doerr, Images via Blizzard Entertainment