Overwatch League’s Wild West And How To Illustrate It
It is the wild west for the Overwatch League’s western division. A new battleground makes way for the opportunity for new faces to battle ahead of the pack, however, it remains to be seen if there is a defacto leader to challenge the defending champions, the Shanghai Dragons.
Since 2019 there has always been a front-running Overwatch team that leads community-wide discussions as the team to beat. After their inaugural championship run, the London Spitfire seemed to be a dominant force, difficult to contend with. Flanking that, was the San Francisco Shock’s era of success that you cannot ignore, which stretched as far as the 2021 pre-season.
Prior to the league finally creating two separate ecosystems, we’ve always had a team to auto-fill at the top of our lists. Now, only one division can claim that as a feat, while the other is left with an open throne. Overwatch’s wild west is in full effect, the struggle for power along with it - but also, how could we leverage that narrative?
While we talked about the inarguable pattern of friendship helping to guide the 2022 offseason, it is also clear that mechanical skill is at a premium. Riding high off their second-place finish, the Atlanta Reign showcase this well. Maintaining their tank core and other key fixtures, Atlanta has courted players like Charlie "nero" Zwarg and sought out after western support duo Christian "Ojee" Han and Benjamin "UltraViolet" David. While they don’t jump off the line the same way their peers do, their track record as a franchise speaks for itself; we consistently undersell the Reign and they consistently over perform.
Standing beside them are the Dallas Fuel, who are no strangers to mechanically skilled individuals. While the core has stayed the same, with the addition of some eye-catching rookies, you can’t but help but wonder what possibilities someone like Kim "Edison" Tae-hoon can achieve with such a talented roster. We saw his Overwatch Contenders rise and his performance on the aforementioned Atlanta Reign, Edison not only fills a gap the Fuel have been waiting for, but he also comes packed with flexibility that other players in his role simply don’t carry. However, they are not the only team to secure some impressive talent.
With an explosive offseason, the Los Angeles Gladiators not only recruited the most dazzling sniper the Overwatch League has ever seen in Lee "ANS" Seonchang. However, they’ve also landed a young and very popular western main tank in Corey "Reiner" Scoda. After an impressive 2021 season, the Gladiators should easily be considered tournament winning material at the very least. That said, they certainly are not the only playoff-bound west coast team.
Arguably winning the offseason, the two-time Overwatch League champions, the San Francisco Shock have landed a potential rookie of the year candidate in Kim "Proper" Dong-hyun. Billed as not only a star DPS prospect but one that could easily unseat a significant number of tenured starters in the league, Proper landing in San Francisco harkens back to their days as a super team. Past that, he’s brought alongside him some of his former teammates to help bolster the Shock’s third attempt at the crown. While there is a lot to be excited about, there are questions that these key teams have to answer to truly stand as counterparts to the defending champions.
Overwatch 2’s novelty is obviously a large factor in this struggle for power, but consider if the Overwatch League remained with our base game. No sequel, no fresh coat of paint, no concerns of an early build, just a continuation of where we left off last season. The Shock still has an extremely strong rebuild, but that continues to inherently come with a spectre of volatility. While the Gladiators looks impressive this past season, questions remain around the cherry to top their roster and their front office woes. While most likely the biggest benefactors to the single tank change, even the Fuel doesn’t look entirely bulletproof with continued hero pool concerns. There are a litany of contenders to lead the west division into this hypothetical future, none of them are bolted to the top.
While this narrative covers nearly half of the league, this isn’t the only large ticket item arriving with Overwatch 2’s initial competitive season. The common thread here being the success of esports storytelling. From OGN’s symbolism laden intros to Riot Game’s multi-media experience, one safety modern esports has is knowing that the more artistic and dramatic essence is something that you can leverage under a healthy blanket of stylish visuals. And this is something the Overwatch League not only has acknowledged but has attempted in a few different ways.
The 2019 playoffs featured animated intros for each team courtesy of Daytime Emmy nominated animation studio, Golden Wolf. More recently, the league was able to cobble together a stinging intro to a battle between the New York Excelsior and the Philidelphia Fusion in the throes of a global pandemic. And while recent developments draw even more concerns on this front, the link still stands: fans can appreciate skill through varying degrees of knowledge and perspective, but drama and storytelling are ubiquitous.
So, how could the Overwatch League show this struggle for power in the west?
From France, to Germany, even as far-reaching as South Korea, the idea of “love locks” is fairly commonplace. This idea of cementing this intangible feeling with a tactile object overlooking a bridge or waterway is a touching tribute to memories. With the key carried by the natural rhythm of the river beneath them, these locks serve to pay homage to loves both lost and found. Using a bit of creative licence - and leaning far more into the “memory” aspect of the locks - the league has a creative way to both showcase some of the franchises home locals and give the fans a treat for the eyes.
Picture this: the hectic streets of New York only see a sense of calm at night, this is where we meet a pedestrian walking across the famed Brooklyn Bridge. Kept warm by a New York Excelsior hoody, they quickly attach a padlock as legendary calls from the Overwatch League commentators echo in the background. Cut to a quiet evening standing on Seoul, South Korea’s Banpo Bridge. A shrouded individual, only distinguished by their Seoul Dynasty beanie, also attaches a padlock to the cold chain link fence as the brief excited excerpts from the Korean commentary team trail off in the distance.
Slowly but surely we skip to a handful of other bridges, other individuals and their own memories added to their respective bridges. As we travel through the Rolodex of locals, we arrive at representatives from the Dallas Fuel, the Los Angeles Gladiators, the Atlanta Reign, and the San Francisco Shock. As the metallic clicks and snaps of their own locks attach to the fence of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, Texas, the camera slowly pans away revealing hundreds of other padlocks, each with a corresponding colour to other western franchises. Panning further, a portion of the fence has been cut away.
Zooming into the empty space, the audience is met by the bright, initial rays of the sunrise. Blinding the viewer, we then transition to the Shanghai Dragons training facility as the hushed taps of dress shoes cut down the hallway.
Former MVP, Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun confidently struts down the hall, twirling a set of keys around his fingers, and cuts across the frame and in front of the 2021 Overwatch League trophy. He pauses, intrigued by something outside one of the facilities’ windows. The camera draws back, past the window, revealing those same figures that were previously attaching padlocks are now waiting outside the fenced walls of the building’s facade. Each one of them is a prominent member of their respective team waiting for their chance to challenge the Shanghai Dragons for their right to be crowned Overwatch League champions.
Imagine that as an opening trailer to the 2022 season. There is a proverbial hole or power vacuum in the western conference of the Overwatch League. The west needs a champion to handle the Shanghai Dragons ahead of their potential era-defining championship defence. And, to top it all off, there are plenty of contenders to repair that fence ahead of Overwatch 2’s fresh-faced sunrise.
The new year brings an uncertain time, not only for the future of competitive Overwatch but for the west as a whole. Will familiar faces return to challenge for the throne once more, or perhaps someone with minimal time in the spotlight will be able to save themselves from the memories shackled to a fence and rather be the ones holding the keys to the kingdom? Answer aside, let’s hope we see it for all that it is.