How are some of OWL’s brightest talents fairing in the 2021 preseason?
The Overwatch League preseason festivities are slowly unravelling as the NetEase Esports X Tournament (NeXT) ends its first few days of play. The Dallas Fuel, Guangzhou Charge, Shanghai Dragons, and the Seoul Dynasty have all shown their first few looks as the upcoming 2021 Overwatch League season inches ever closer. However, results have not measured up well with expectations, leaving viewers and fans alike confused.
Is this primer nothing to worry about, or have tangible problems already begun to emerge?
Questioning The Fuel
The Dallas Fuel is easily one of the hottest teams in the community’s eyes - and for good reason. Taking the beloved core of Element Mystic and reuniting them gives you an impressive team on paper. However, the Fuel had quite the cold opener during NeXT and that “on paper roster” has not shown up thus far.
One big question has orbited Lee "Fearless" Eui-Seok’s performance on Wrecking Ball. If you compare him to his peers in this event, with a similar time played, he was easily the worst on the hero. That’s not to say he cannot improve on it or that Dallas is doomed because they cannot play it. Kim "SP9RK1E" Yeong-han caught quite a few early first deaths; the support duo feels disjointed, which impacts Kim "Rapel" Jung-keun’s first death ratings as well. Everything about this team feels incredibly rough around the edges. This draws our minds to the idea that perhaps Dallas simply wasn’t prepared for the NeXT metagame.
Frankly, this is a good theoretical explanation for their surprising underperformance during The Nexus. We are roughly three months away from the Overwatch League kicking off. With that time frame in mind, perhaps certain teams haven’t started back up their practice regiments yet, perhaps they are waiting for travel, or their visas are taking longer than expected.
Whatever the case may be, is it too far fetched for Dallas to be one of those teams?
With that said, that does not absolve the Fuel from criticism. However, if there was a time to be humbled, it would be in the preseason. If, as a result of their poor showing at The Nexus, Dallas ramps up practice going into their season opener and looks better for it, then The Nexus can be viewed as an eye-opener.
New year, same Shanghai Dragons. While many dissenting voices will point towards a narrow loss to a Seoul Dynasty squad that continues to pack a punch, the 2020 leaders from the Eastern region look to start the preseason on the right foot. Much of that success should be directed to one of their newest players.
Veteran main tank Koo "Fate" Pan-seung was a sight for sore eyes. With seamless integration into Shanghai’s starting roster, Fate looked impressive on Wrecking Ball and will be a boon for the team as the metagame changes in the future. He, alongside 2020 MVP Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun and main support Lee "LeeJaeGon" Jae-gon, have been standouts on the roster, to no one's surprise. However, the Dragons have shown some give in some areas.
The Dragons have shown some uncharacteristic disorganization, and the culprits are even more surprising. For example, Lee "LIP" Jae-won’s Sombra wasn’t in good shape. Throughout their matches, Shanghai had a few awkward EMPs that just were either too aggressive or weren’t properly communicated, which caused a severe lack of follow-up, and lost them fights they otherwise would have won. And while Kang "Void" Jun-woo looks impeccable on D.Va, his Zarya was quite rough around the edges. Again, the performances in a vacuum were rather underwhelming, but, in the same vein as the Fuel argument - it is preseason. These things are best to surface now so that come April; Shanghai steps onto the server back in title-contending shape.
Criticism aside, the Shanghai Dragons should still be considered one of Asia’s top teams, that’s without a doubt. With that said, this should be a wake-up of sorts. On the outset, this Eastern division looks to be the stronger half of the Overwatch League. If Shanghai continues down this path and continues to fumble around, they could very well lose control over the region.
Dynasty In Form
Unhappy with their second-place finish in 2020, the Seoul Dynasty look impressive throughout their NeXT matches thus far. With strong wins over both the Guangzhou Charge and the Shanghai Dragons, Seoul throws out an early vote of confidence coming into the 2021 Overwatch League. That said, Seoul is far from perfect, and they still seem to suffer from some consistency issues that plagued them throughout 2020.
There should be a considerable amount of praise given to Hwang "Marve1" Min-seo, but in that same sense, his Wrecking Ball play can be cleaned up a bit. Throughout their matches, he has been caught out early, which often stunts Seoul’s advances. Another member of the Dynasty that echoes that same feeling is Kim "FITS" Dong-eon. In one moment he looks great on Sombra, manually hacking enemy Wrecking Balls, baiting resources out of the enemy supports and the like. However, in the next, he’s quiet, throwing out low-value EMPs, and getting caught out of position. The majority of the time he’s been a great weapon in Seoul’s arsenal, but there are times where FITS can look a bit rocky. Staying with DPS for a moment, there is one big question for the veteran that the Dynasty acquired in the offseason.
So far, not so good, when it comes to Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol. Now, we have only seen him on Assault maps in the preseason, and there are merits to having someone who has been celebrated for his leadership qualities come in on the game type that requires the most coordination. However, he has been relatively quiet on a hero he is known for playing. One narrative to follow is how the Dynasty staff slot this fan favourite into the starting roster.
The biggest issue, especially early on this coming season, are those underlying consistency issues that bogged them down in 2020. One week Seoul looks arguably the best, then they drop a game they shouldn’t. That said, Seoul still has a gust of momentum in its sails, but they also have a ton of room to grow. That’s what makes them so incredibly dangerous. If they can show up to every single gameday come April and play lights out, it’ll be difficult for anyone in the league to slow them down.
A team that many experts wrote off as bland or falling behind in the Eastern rankings, the Guangzhou Charge has exceeded early expectations. Easily one of the biggest surprises from the event thus far has been how strong the Charge look at nearly every position.
Tenured flex support all-star, Park "KariV" Young-seo looks to be back in world-class form with two amazing performances on Zenyatta and Ana. They house an underrated main tank bullpen of Wrecking Ball specialist Kim "Jihun" Ji-hun and the veteran Charge workhorse, Oh "Rio" Seung-pyo. On top of that, there is a great chance Charge has two names on the rookie of the year ballot with Choi "ChoiSehwan" Se-hwan and Zou "MYKaylee" Zijie. You go down the list of this roster, and every single member has had their moment in the sun, and that is not something many teams can say even in the midst of the Overwatch League’s regular season.
If we break out our yoga mats and reach to the fullest extent of the law, one question you could levy toward the Charge is how they look against big game opponents. This is a team that will, in a few short months, be facing off against some of the best Overwatch League teams the world has to offer as they are housed within the Eastern region. And that question will have some light shed on it in just a few short days, as the Guangzhou Charge takes on the Shanghai Dragons to determine the finals for NeXT - The Nexus.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment