Every team has reasons to be excited - but who will come out on top this year?
The Overwatch League season is only a short eternity away from returning to the screen, and fanbases around the league are set to cheer their teams on to success. Everybody is 0-0, and optimism for many franchises are at an all-time high despite the expected increase in the level of competition.
While some teams are at a different place in their window for contention, every team offers some interesting narratives to follow and questions to be answered. Let's focus on one for each team that fans might want to pay attention to as the season nears.
Atlanta Reign - Is This Team For Real?
After so many fans and analysts had this team ranked among the top four in the league, a disappointing year put a big question mark next to this team's name in the standings. Why did they fall so far short of expectations? The quality of the roster was never in doubt, but the in-game results never matched the hype. A significant retooling of the roster sends a message to fans about how this team views itself. A large core of the roster remains in place, showing faith in the overall direction of the roster while bringing in some significant faces.
Kai "Kai" Collins offers a proven OWL talent, and rookie Se-hyun "Pelican" Oh is expected to deliver for the team. Where does the weight of success fall for this team? Is it simply a matter of talented individuals not playing well together, or does the coaching staff need to have a bigger impact? This season will be crucial in determining if this core can compete with the top teams in the league.
Boston Uprising - The Rebuild Is (Almost) Over
After being regarded as the laughing stock of the league last season, the Uprising has put together a team that not only should look respectable this season, but put the building blocks for future success in place. After a stellar debut season, Sang-min "myunbong" Seo looks to be a franchise cornerstone for the foreseeable future. The Uprising brought in veterans like Terence "Soon" Tarlier and Ji-won "Stand1" Seo. Players like Byeong-ju "Valentine" Kim and Hong-gyu "Faith" Kim are looking to build on their success from Contenders.
The Uprising might not be in the discussion for a top spot this season, but they have found talent that could form the backbone of a solid team. With some development from their rookie signings, the future of the Uprising looks brighter than it has in quite some time.
Chengdu Hunters - Fan Favorite Playstyle vs Contention
The Chengdu Hunters have become a beloved Overwatch League institution. Despite their lack of sustained success, their playstyle felt like a must-watch for many fans. However, their reputation as a gimmicky team could be in the past. In their hunt for a trophy, they've recruited several high-profile rookies from the Chinese region to elevate their status from possessing an entertaining playstyle to a winning one. Jiaxin "GA9A" Qiu has received a lot of praise for his ability on Wrecking Ball. If his level of play is higher than Menghan "Ameng" Ding's, the Hunters could have a crucial building block in their tank line.
Ameng's level of play was generally regarded as only a strength when on the Wrecking Ball, so perhaps GA9A's versatility will add an extra depth to their level of play. Along with this, Nian "Kaneki" Liu adds some more firepower in the DPS line, and a revitalised support line all combine to make the Chengdu Hunters look like they will begin to earn their reputation as winning with a fun playstyle, not simply winning because of a unique playstyle.
Dallas Fuel - Boom or Bust?
From the exact moment on October 23 that the Fuel announced the arrival of Han-Been "Hanbin" Choi and Yeong-Han "Sp9rk1e" Kim, the expectations for this year's roster skyrocketed. After these additions, they would bring in the support line of Joon "Fielder" Kwon and Jung-keun "Rapel" Kim. And that wasn't all. A trade for tank player Eui-Seok "Fearless" Lee, and the signatures of Seung-Soo "Jecse" Lee and Gi-Hyo "Xzi" Jung were the final pieces in the roster construction. Wow. That's a busy offseason, and involving an overflow of big-name talent. As the second coming of the successful Runaway roster, Dallas Fuel fans look forward to their best season yet. But is it fair to judge this team only on whether or not they bring home the trophy?
At the time, the Fuel was one of the earliest movers in the offseason, so their hype might have been escalated to a higher level simply because other teams weren't making the same number of moves, or as high-profile moves. But as the offseason went on, other teams did their work, and many people regard this season as the most competitive yet. So it is up to Fuel followers to temper expectations. If this team falls short of a championship, will it be viewed as a complete disappointment? Or will a strong finish be enough to inspire fans that the Fuel has finally become a top team that has always been expected of them?
Florida Mayhem - Have They Kept Up With Other Dark Horses?
The Mayhem were consistently able to show they were a top team in North America last season, but in the end, it was clear they were still a step below the likes of the Philadelphia Fusion and San Francisco Shock. With the Fusion moving to the Asian region, that clears up an extra spot for the Mayhem to move into, but the Shock still look like the favourites, and teams like the Gladiators are significantly improved. So were the Mayhem's moves enough to keep them in top three contention?
For the most part, the Mayhem kept hold of their core that earned them a respectable standing in the league last year, and added several big pieces they hope to take them to the next level. Min-Seok "OGE" Son can see volatile results, but it's a high-ceiling move that could bring a landfall of success if he displays his peak gameplay consistently. Sung-Jun "Slime" Kim used to be viewed as one of the best in his position, indicating another piece of the roster that could take this team from on the outside of the top teams to being right in the mix for a big finish. With so many other teams improving, the Mayhem will hope their new additions take them to a new level.
Guangzhou Charge - A Significant Restructure, Significant Difference?
After consistently being a top team in the Asian region last season, achieving a second-place finish in the standings behind the Dragons, the Charge went in a new direction. An entirely new coaching staff is coming in, and several high profile additions look to build one of Asia's best tank lines. However, there were some major losses to the team. The DPS line of Charlie "Nero" Zwarg and Jung-Woo "Happy" Lee has been replaced despite generally being one of the best and most consistent in the region. Along with this, superstar support Jin-Seo "Shu" Kim has headed for the Gladiators.
Those names alone were a major part of the roster, but several rookies and the veteran support line of Young-Seo "Kariv" Park and Chan-Hee "Mandu" Kim are ample reason for excitement. It will be difficult to judge just how successful this team can be until the game film rolls around. The Asian region looks to be tightly contested, so moving away from key pieces could prove to be a downgrade. Optimism should remain, however, as it isn't difficult to see this team being successful. It's just a matter of how successful when compared to so many elite teams.
Hangzhou Spark - A Franchise Turnaround in One Offseason?
The Hangzhou Spark struggled to a middling finish last season. They had a -4 map differential and failed to win a single map in the May Melee, Summer Showdown, and the Playoffs. However, in the Countdown Cup, they did reach the finals. But it was clear the Spark needed to make moves to be in contention for a respectable finish. In the span of one offseason, they seem to have completely restructured their roster without significantly downgrading in hopes of building for the future.
The two highest-profile signings include former star Min-Soo "Seominsoo" Seo, who could be an impact player if he finds form this season. The next exciting addition to this DPS line is Yangjie “Shy” Zheng, who has received attention as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate. This team has great depth throughout all three roles, but the Spark will still find it a challenge to win in Asia. This team will consistently be in the mix for the playoffs, and could easily push for a top spot if they reach their ceiling. This is lined up to be the most talented Spark roster to date.
Houston Outlaws - A Desperate Fanbase Finds Hope
After several seasons of disappointment, the Outlaws are fielding their most talented roster yet. They were able to re-sign Dante "Danteh" Cruz and brought in Kyle "KSF" Frandanisa. However, many of their other big additions came with one big question mark- can they make a mixed roster succeed? Jeong-Woo “Happy” Lee was a great player for the Charge, and Min-Jun "Piggy" Shin and Myung-Heum "Jjangu" Cho saw success in Contenders.
While this is obviously a significant influx of talent, it will be hard to take down some of the top teams in North America. Add on top an extra obstacle in making a mixed roster work; the Outlaws have their work cut out. If they can succeed, though, it would be an amazing achievement from the team from management's perspective of piecing together a strong roster with players from all over the world and give Outlaws fans a much-needed reward for their loyalty.
London Spitfire - Can Contenders Players Contend in OWL?
The British Hurricane formed the roster of the new London Spitfire, and fans received it with general applause. Although the ceiling of the team for their first season is up for debate, Western fans were generally excited to see a successful Western roster get their chance to sign. Even if this year doesn't bring overwhelming success, they look to be a respectable roster and provide a massive opportunity for development. The players on this roster could easily form the core of a talented Western team in the years to come.
Signing Jeffrey "Blasé" Tsang provided a veteran presence in the clubhouse, and a February signing only increased the hype. One of the best Western Tracer players was brought in as Johannes "Shax" Nielsen adds significant firepower to the DPS line. Sure, the Spitfire might not be favourites for the franchise's second championship this year, but they are going to be incredibly exciting to watch. The development of the stellar Hurricane core will be a storyline to follow all year long.
Los Angeles Gladiators - Finally Ready to Win
Almost every single addition to this roster is a considerable upgrade, and the hype around the team is flying high. All three roles boast a lineup that could be argued to be among the best in North America. The DPS line, specifically, has some big-name players. Take a look at this. Gia Huy "mirror" Trinh, Ji Hyeok "birdring" Kim, and Kevin "Kevster" Persson. If you are a general manager in the Overwatch League, you are drooling over the chance to field that lineup. The tank line looks to be in contention for one of the best in the league.
Indy "Space" Halpern is a skilled off-tank, and the general consensus is that Young-Hun "Muze" Kim is going to be a nice upgrade. We haven't even reached the support line yet, where Grant "Moth" Espe and Jin-Seo "Shu" Kim were both in MVP talks for parts of last season. The Gladiators look ready to take on anyone in the arena.
Los Angeles Valiant - Make or Break Year for the Franchise?
This has been an odd offseason for the Valiant, and even though there hasn't been an official roster announcement yet, looking into the future of the franchise can be an interesting thought exercise. What will it take to repair their image? After a solid year last season when they played well over expectations, they've completely disbanded the roster and moved to the Asian region.
Understandably, the community wasn't very happy with how the situation was handled, so now it comes to how to rebuild fan's loyalty. Is on-field success, if even achievable, going to be enough this season? It could be a while before the Valiant are viewed in the same way as they were last year, but it's too early to tell much.
New York Excelsior - Have the Giants Fallen?
The Excelsior earned their reputation as a consistent heavy hitter throughout the entirety of the Overwatch League's existence. However, after another season featuring a disappointing finish in the playoffs, New York is heading in a different direction. The only remaining player from their early years of dominance is former MVP, Seong-Hyun "Jjonak" Bang. Despite moving on from so many big names, there is a considerable number of high potential players. Gyeong-Mu "Yakpung" Jo has earned respect for his play, and Seung-Woo "Feath5r" Lee.
This roster has potential, but perhaps one of the more significant moves is the new coaching staff. Many people criticised the coaching staff for not making the most of the New York Excelsior's stacked rosters in the past. Will the keystone of Jjonak be enough? The rookies coming in could lead this team to be a contender, and veteran presences like Yakpung add some extra quality. Although the roster still has talent, this might be one of the more difficult seasons in the Excelsior's history.
Paris Eternal - Another Low Rated Roster, Another Surprise Season?
Last season, the Eternal received little praise from analysts and fans heading into the year. However, breakout rookie performances and veteran standouts, led by a popular coaching staff, were regarded as a top team for quite a sizeable portion of the season. Now, those players and coaching staff are all gone. The team decided to bring in a Western roster, and boast some fun talent to watch. That doesn't necessarily mean they will be good, though. It would be difficult to say this roster is going to be dreadful, but they aren't the most loaded team in the region. But they are looking to prove everybody wrong.
Philadelphia Fusion - New Faces, New Home, Maybe A Trophy?
The Fusion moved to the Asian region for this upcoming season, following an appearance in the Grand Finals bracket. Pound for pound; they look to be a contender for the best in the league this year. Their offseason has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. Almost every single transaction involved one of the biggest names in the game.
In a trade with New York, Dong-Gyu "Mano" Kim was brought in to be the new main tank. Niclas "Shockwave" Jensen, a fan favourite from the Titans, adds an extra option at DPS. They resigned most of their core players from last year, including their stellar support line. This team looks to be in the mix for a win every game day, and have a decent shot at a trophy or two this year.
San Francisco Shock - Three-peat?
The Shock are going to win- it has become dogma at this point. It isn't often in sports that a team sets itself up to win its third championship in a row, but San Francisco has gone and done just that. There were several key departures, including the retirement of Seon-Chang "Ans" Lee and Moth leaving for the Gladiators. Those are some awfully big names to replace, but they did so will much fanfare. Brice "FDGod" Monsçavoir arrived from the Eternal, and Nero and Gil-Seong "Glister" Lim revitalise the depleted DPS line. Winning another trophy is guaranteed, but the Shock sure seem to have done a good job in making it a possibility.
Seoul Dynasty - Make Sure The Playoffs Weren't A Fluke
The Dynasty were mediocre all year long until the playoffs. They made the Grand Finals, but they finished the regular season with a negative map differential. So, essentially, they showed they had potential but had a lot of room for improvement if they wanted to become the powerhouse expected of them from their founding as a team.
They were able to retain the majority of the roster from their Grand Finals run and brought in several players who will hopefully add some desperately needed consistency. Tae-Sung "Anamo" Jung and Jong-Ryeol "Saebyeolbe" Park moved from the Excelsior to Seoul, and this roster now has to live up to the expectations of a Grand Finals appearance.
Shanghai Dragons - Retooling the APAC Champs In Hopes Of Winning Again
They were the most dominant team in the region for the entire season, but their roster will look pretty different this year. Almost their entire bench was let go, despite boasting an incredible amount of depth. Fearless was traded to Dallas, and later in the offseason, Stand1 would leave as well.
So in their efforts to maintain their position at the top of APAC, they brought in Jun "Erster" Jeong and traded for Pan-Seung "Fate" Koo. With reigning MVP ByungSun "Fleta" Kim looking to lead his team to victory again, the Dragons still boast a strong lineup. However, after only two losses in the regular season last year, it will be difficult to repeat that dominance.
Toronto Defiant - Fight For Relevance
The Defiant, who haven't seen much success in their history as a franchise, have gone through another rebuild. They are replacing virtually their entire roster, but there are several names to note that could lead them to a respectable finish this season. Jeong-Su "Aztac" Park, Soon-Jae "Ansoonjae" An, and Ho-Sung "Na1st" Lee are rookies to keep an eye on. Several veterans are being brought in who have shown flashes of potential, but have failed to establish themselves as stars. Min-Hyuk "Michelle" Choi and Hee-Su "Heesu" Jeong could end up being great finds if they can play to their peak performance. The Defiant have a chance to enter talks as a truly competitive team this year, which alone would be a nice change of pace for the team.
Vancouver Titans - What Will It Take To Earn Some Respect?
In the franchise's first season, the Titans established themselves as one of the most exceptional teams in the league. Since then, well, it's a bit more checkered. After fielding a new roster midseason, their results weren't much to write home about. This season, they seem likely to be one of the worst teams in the league. So what will it take to earn the respect of fans and analysts? Would a revitalised Jiri "LiNkzr" Masalin be enough? Can breakout years from Nathan "Frd" Goebel and Anthony "Fire" King be expected?
Washington Justice - How Will The Team Work Around Decay?
The team that dominated the bottom of the standings for the regular season turned into a team that dominated the headlines in the postseason as Gui-Un “Decay” Jang's superstar ability led the team to a surprise finish. Re-signing him was a big part of the offseason, and they followed it with several other notable moves.
Every single role saw upgrades. Hee-Chang "Bebe" Yoon and Won-Sik "Closer" Jung bolstered the support line. Tae-Hee "Jerry" Min is a high potential DPS who might feature along with Decay from time to time, but Sung-Won "Assassin" Kim is a quality pickup after a breakout Contenders season. Perhaps the most important part of supporting Decay came in their tank additions. Jun-Ho "Fury" Kim and Sung-Wook "Ria" Park are nice options at off-tank, but the highlight was the signing of Tae-Sung “Mag” Kim, who is regarded as the best rookie tank player coming into the season.
The season begins in just over a month with reasons to follow every team. As much as we can follow these stories now, there are sure to be even more surprises as the season rolls on. Its time to get excited as our favourite players go head to head just a few weeks from now.
Images via Blizzard Activision