The mid-tier is more stacked than ever before.
The mid-tier in the North American region appears to be tight but likely clearly distinguished from the bottom teams. In comparison to last year, it’s especially this zone where teams have levelled up significantly, allowing all of them to go far in one or the other tournament depending on if they hit a meta or not. Dice will be rolled and seasons will be made in this tier.
Given that it usually would be way too early to have sensible power rankings, this list pursues a different goal. The power ranking will try to answer the question: “Where would Yiska expect teams to end up over the regular season given the current most up to date information on the competitive format and the team’s rosters?” More than just the final placements of where the teams end up, the list will incorporate educated guesses based on behind the scene information with as much transparency as responsibly possible. A notable omission from the factors of this list is a team’s spending potential, therefore not incorporating any future pickups of signings that are currently not in the works. As such the list won’t incorporate the likelihood of a team extending their roster if the need arose deep into the pre-season based on scrim results and their leftover resources.
However, the list will take unannounced and potentially unreported players into consideration if our sources have indicated to a reasonable degree that a signing might happen, even though doesn’t yet meet the reporting threshold we have set for ourselves.
Baseline: An educated guess on the competitive format
In order to accurately evaluate the expected performance of each team, the framework of competition needs to be defined. Here too, I had to make assumptions based on the best available information, and they should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. For the sake of this list, I set the baseline as follows:
- Overwatch 2 will not be part of Overwatch League season 4
- Hero pools will remain a part of the Overwatch League in a similar way to its last two-week long iteration like in season 3, with frequent patches adding about the same amount of volatility as it did last season
- Two divisions will be formed, one in Asia with likely seven teams, and thirteen in North America (as unlikely as that split might be)
- The two European teams will play from their home markets via online play
- The Philadelphia Fusion and the New York Excelsior will play from South Korea and participate in the Asian regions regular season play
- The season will be split into five tournament stages, three regular monthly tournaments happening inter-regionally, one mid-season event between all regions if possible, and the season playoffs
- Each tournament will have a qualifying stage of four games per team, totalling the amount of regular season for each team to 16. This means that North American teams will play each other once to twice only during the “regular season”, while teams in the Asian region will play each other two to three times during the qualification process
- Other factors like the tournament format of twelve matches per tournament in North America and six in Asian and receiving bonus wins from a tournament victory towards the end of season rankings which qualify for playoffs are being assumed to be unchanged
- The incorporation of the proposed Asian Contenders teams in the Asian region’s tournament that GGRecon had reported to be a consideration for the league will not be taken into account, as it appears unlikely at this point
- There is a possibility for travel depending on the state of the world, though if it happens likely only for tournaments. Audiences are only likely to be possible for Asian games
For thoughts and implications of these guesstimates, check out the first article in the pre-pre-season Power Ranking series.
#10 North America - Atlanta Reign (Expected ranking range: 6th - 11th)
With the signing of Se-hyun "Pelican" Oh, Brad "Sephy" Rajani pulled another top tier DPS player out of his hat against the field like he seemingly does every season. On a slight tangent, Sephy’s ability to identify and attract elite DPS players in every team he has managed should be a more recognised pattern in the community. More than just an additional boon, due to the departure of both Joon "ErsTer" Jeong and Garrett "Saucy" Roland, it was also a necessity to get another flex DPS on the roster and with the Reign seemingly being hit just as hard by the new roster size standards. It was vital for them to get arguably the best available rookie in that role.
Another potential upside comes with the opportunity for Seung-hyun "Lr1s" Kim to acclimatise and play with the Reign in Atlanta for an extended period of time, hopefully giving them more consistent output on the flex DPS role, a quality they had missed in past seasons.
On the other positions, one has to wonder if a lot of the field hasn’t upgraded past the Reign, with most contenders in their tier significantly improving their tank and DPS lines. Just reading the names Hawk, Gator, Masaa, Edison, and SharP is likely to elicit a “pretty good” in the reader’s mind. However, as you construct your list, the pretty good of last season quickly becomes the average or below of season 4 just because of how good each team has seemingly gotten on paper.
Additionally, coaching losses in Chung-in "Mentalist" Kim and especially Dimitri "Silence" Couturet could hurt the strategic output of the Reign considerably, also hinting at a slimming of the staff overall. Last season, the Reign shared their creative plans to prepare for the year (like developing a mobile practice unit for the homestands) and only the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19 kept them from reaping the benefits. Now with a clearer picture of the challenges ahead, this ingenuity could hopefully take effect and translate into season 4, giving the Reign the potential to strike past their pound for pound expectations.
#9 North America - Los Angeles Valiant (Expected ranking range: 5th - 11th)
With time as a flat circle, we’ve once again reached the point of the merry-go-round where I undervalue the capabilities of the Valiant only for them to stomp these expectations into the ground. Once more, I believe to have good reasons for it (insert eye emoji), and I recklessly issue the challenge to Mike "Packing10" Szklanny once more.
Last year's Valiant performance was outstanding, especially given expectations for the team, finishing in the top 5 in North America. Since then, the team also had to cut some fat and also slimmed down to a seven-man roster. Only being able to rely on the eye-test for evaluation, I even give the team that Adam "Adam" Soong will be a performance upgrade, improving the starting offtank position. Brady "Agilities" Girardi, however, is a pick-up one has to be relatively sceptical about with few metas working in his favour throughout season 3 on the Defiant.
With projectile once again being a concern and seeing how much the meta fell into Valiant’s lap on long streaks emphasising the strength of Kai "KSP" Collins and Johannes "Shax" Nielsen, it doesn’t appear to be a universal certainty that it’ll be the same for 2021. One has to wonder how different the season’s results would have been if for instance Echo compositions would have been played for as long as Tracer or Ashe comps.
Further team external complications are looming too. The elephant in the room for the Valiant is also their exploration of options to sell the Overwatch League franchise as reported by Bloomberg in November. With Packing10 currently being the VALORANT General Manager and coach and a ramping up competitive scene in 2021 in Riot’s FPS, more and more attention will have to be split between the two games.
However, one shouldn’t underrate the Valiant’s ability to overcome adversity; hence why the expected range of results had to be adjusted accordingly. Twice now, the team has surprised and punched above its perceived weight. Can they do it again against a field this stacked?
#8 North America - Houston Outlaws (Expected ranking range: 6th - 12th)
Much like their Texan rivals, the curse of past mistakes that weighed heavily on this team finally seems to be lifted with players past their prime leaving after long contract periods and questionably exercised options. In many ways, the fourth season of the Overwatch League is a clean slate for the Outlaws, with almost everything changed from the team it once was in season 1.
The introduction of Jaewon "Junkbuck" Choi brings an exciting variable to the Outlaws that has been reasonably proven before. Coaching Team USA during the 2019 World Cup together with co-head coach Harsha Bandi, the team brought home the trophy against favourites South Korea, notably also with new Outlaws pick up Kyle "KSF" Frandanisa. While this might not make for a great proof of concept just yet, it at least gives some pointers that the working relationship between them was deemed productive.
Another welcome breath of fresh air comes at the hand of the team finally counting on new talent, bringing in the franchise’s first-ever rookie hires in Myung-heum "JJANGGU" Cho, Min-jun "PIGGY" Shin, and Enrique "Joobi" Triana (technically disregarding Wonhyeop "ArHaN" Jeong. I know, sue me). Joobi as the first player hired straight out of the collegiate scene while still under age hints at an extraordinary narrative which will travel with the Outlaws throughout the season. The descriptor of “moth-esque” has been brought up by several coaches I have talked to, hinting towards a smart player with great communication and high in-game intelligence but maybe only average mechanics.
JJANGGU and PIGGY join Houston as the former frontline of the relatively impressive Talon Esports. Especially PIGGY has been hailed behind the scenes as a valuable signing. JJANGGU, on the other hand, has had several critics and might be one of the weak links for the Outlaws, especially in Reinhardt metas. The team has highlighted his mechanical prowess which follows from a previous pro playing career as a DPS player. Whether or not this will be enough to get through a season as the only main tank remains to be seen.
Jung-woo "Happy" Lee is another player I put a lot of stock into, having vastly extended his hero pool from the Widowmaker one-trick he once appeared to be in his time in Contenders, now being able to play the full hitscan range to a respectable level.
One point I have my doubts about are the Outlaws coverage of the projectile DPS role. Sure, KSF will be able to pick up some of the heroes, but with him having more of a hitscan focus, I have to assume that João Pedro "Hydration" Goes Telles will likely have to play a significant amount of the season if projectile was to be played a lot.
You might think that for the aforementioned reasons, the Outlaws are put too far up the rankings, and I take little issue with that opinion. However, the volatility of this roster is expressed in the wide range of placings it could end up in. Being better than the aforementioned teams has a slightly higher probability in my mind.
#7 North America - Boston Uprising (Expected ranking range: 5th - 11th)
In order to be able to talk about the Uprising with their unannounced roster, outlining the expected line-up at least roughly requires speculation far beyond certainty. At this point in time, I will rate the Uprising under the assumption that a couple of players from World Game Star Phoenix will join Seung-hyun "Lori" Kim on the Uprising, elevating the team’s level significantly.
If this assumption was to be true, one of two things could be the case. Either President of Gaming at the Boston Uprising Chris "HuK" Loranger has realised that there is a dip to buy in the market. With a lot of top talent being willing to sign for a small contract given the economic situation in the Overwatch League it would allow him to run a larger roster in North America. This antifragility (a system that gains from chaos) could be the ultimate play that makes the past two years of economic saving worthwhile, being able to justify a larger team to have a redemption season in 2021.
The other option is less exciting but equally possible given the history of the Uprising to operate within the full limits of the contracts that they sign. Perhaps all or some of the currently signed players are on contracts that allow the Uprising to part ways with them within 30 days, allowing them to thoroughly test the squad in the pre-season and put the players in each position against each other, battling it out for a starting position. In this scenario, some of the starters would eventually get the boot in one form or another.
The Uprising are another team with a still-operating academy roster that adds to teams under the economic barriers of season 4, allowing the benefits of readily accessible scrim partnership, the ability to keep two-way players in shape, and the possibility to promote strong players like Arthur "dridro" Szanto and arguably Jesse "Dove" Palomo.
As with many organisations, the team may stand and fall by what a new head coach, in their case Seung-hyun "Lori" Kim, is able to bring to the table. Coming in with a lot of confidence after their victory in Korean Contenders season 2 with WGS, the coach has expressed that he is looking to achieve a lot with the Uprising and he might just be given the tools to do it.
Think you can do an alright job at ranking the teams in the Overwatch League yourself? Take the aforementioned assumptions and rate the rosters yourself using fishghost's Team Ranker. Enter your username and choose GGRecon as a community to submit your list to! Drag and drop the teams as you see fit and submit them to the database. Under options and info, you can also export your ranking and share them with us on the official GGRecon Discord server in the Overwatch channel. Have fun!
Images via Blizzard Entertainment and Eric Doer