Who are the big dogs in North America?
We’ve arrived at the top but if we are being realistic, even within the top three there are two different groups: The Shock and everybody else. While other teams in North America have improved significantly, one can definitely argue that the Shock have improved upon their already dominant team even more. Not all hope is lost, as their competitors have themselves assembled teams that can pick up the fight. Just by the sheer number of great teams appearing to be part of season 4 in North America, the Shock might just be whittled down by the field through an advantage of sheer number of well-assembled rosters, driving the likelihood of upsets up considerably. Of course, usually, it would be way too early to compile such a list at this point. After all, we are more months away from season start. What this list tries to achieve is not to necessarily predict season outcomes at this point, as it’s self-aware of its shortcomings, but to provide a snapshot at the year's end, taking in expert opinion from around the league and putting those insights into article form.
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 matches 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.
#3 North America - Los Angeles Gladiators (Expected ranking range: 1st - 7th)
If other teams have outstanding frontlines, then the Gladiators convince with their support draft, grabbing two of the most consistently top-notch performers in Grant "moth" Espe and Jin-seo "Shu" Kim. It is for this upgrade that I have vastly more confidence in their success in 2021 than their showcase this year would ordinarily warrant. Even the mild concern of moth’s Baptiste requiring substitution for the Shock has been taken care of with the signing of Min-seok "skewed" Kim.
The DPS line of Kevin "kevster" Persson on low ping and a reborn again Ji-hyeok "birdring" Kim opens up scary possibilities of both flexibility and peak performances over a wide range of metas. Gia Huy "MirroR" Trinh remains an explosive ace player that can peak high on several heroes.
While a lot of us were rather excited about the Gladiators being able to sign Young-hun "MuZe" Kim, the behind the scene’s consensus seems to be that it isn’t as stellar of a pickup as it might be perceived. No doubt, MuZe is likely the second-best main tank entering the Overwatch League for season 4 but is considered noticeably worse than MAG. Whether or not the team will pick up another offtank remains to be seen, but in either case, Indy "SPACE" Halpern is a serviceable starter even for a top team. It is indeed the realisation that SPACE might be the worst frequent starter on the Gladiators that illustrates the quality of this roster.
The last remaining question mark leads back to the front office, with some doubts about the staff's ability creeping up. Should the Gladiators have performed better throughout season 3 with the line-up they had? Were their average performances a direct result of their season's circumstances, which will be made whole here? While not anywhere near as severe as Fuel’s case, David "dpei" Pei once more has a lot to prove with the best line-up he has ever been able to coach.
#2 North America - Washington Justice (Expected ranking range: 1st - 6th)
Speaking about tank lines in contention for the top spot. The assembly of star offtank Jun-ho "Fury" Kim and main tank prodigy Tae-sung "Mag" Kim has introduced another party willing to reach for the title next to the Dallas and the Shock frontlines. Adding Seong-Wook "Ria" Park to the mix is an unusual but likely unharmful addition that adds flexibility and stability.
Paired with the hardest hyper carry of recent memory in Gui-un "Decay" Jang, the Justice are another major winner of the wild market, gaining from the tremendous failures of other organisations ever since the collapse of the Titans. What follows is a finger-licking good roster, with admittedly similar question marks to Dallas’ in the backline.
It bears repeating that at times last year, Hui-chang "BeBe" Yoon was still performing incredibly well on the flex support role in scrims, though never really being able to bring it in his matches. Reuniting with Seung-jun "Sup7eme" Han might be the boost he needs to find back to season 2 strength. Won-sik "Closer" Jung was another player that suffered from the situation at the Fuel. Still mechanically gifted, Closer turned some heads in trials around the League. Moreover, one could reasonably expect that the Justice asked Decay’s opinion of his former teammates, possibly giving another vote of confidence to pick him up.
Another actor in this grand play for a top spot is head coach Seung-jun "Sup7eme" Han who will have to prove that he will be able to maintain a harmonious and productive roster while remaining strategically on top.
While they’ve repeatedly reaffirmed their belief in Ho-sung "TTuba" Lee, my evaluation here works under the assumption that the team will pick up another high profile flex DPS player that will further deepen the bench and bring the player total to nine which makes for another significant advantage over their direct competitors. The Justice feel like another team that has done buying the dip right.
#1 North America - San Francisco Shock (Expected ranking range: 1st - 3rd)
In the vast majority of other cases, putting the winner of last season’s playoffs on top of the regular season standings can often feel cowardly safe, and part of me can’t get away from this feeling either. Despite all their dominance last year, the team did not finish on top of the North American standings in the regular season after all and neither did so in season 2. However, the change in format puts more heavy emphasis on tournaments, giving them a leg up and likely pushing them towards the top in a seasonal format like I outlined before.
Moreover, it truly feels like the Shock didn’t just maintain their level as the most dominant team in Overwatch history - they somehow managed to extend the lead on paper. With eleven players currently on the roster, the majority of them somehow realistically in contention for Rolestar next season, the Shock have extended their lead on the field. Assuming that Seonchang "ANS" Lee stays with the team in season 4, there are few roster related weaknesses one could even name. Now add to that that the best coach Overwatch has ever seen is also coaching them. What kind of curveballs could you throw at them to make them swerve? Not too many.
Trying to come up with attack vectors for other teams proves challenging, but one aspect that might be exposed this season is the constant departure of top-notch assistant coaches from the Shock’s staff. Specifically, Jaewon "Junkbuck" Choi’s departure could hurt the team on a significant strategic level. Even then, Dae-hee "Crusty" Park and the NRG higher-ups have also proven to have a good nose for coaching talent, and they’ve replenished their numbers once more.
The Shock didn’t have to do it this way and this hard, but they did. There is no doubt that they are serious about the threepeat. Can anyone in the field trip them up?
This concludes the North American power ranking Christmas Snapshot. Here are all the NA teams for your convenience!
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!
You can find the other previously released articles in this list here:
- OWL Christmas Snapshot Power Rankings: #11-13 North America
- OWL Christmas Snapshot Power Rankings: #7-10 North America
- OWL Christmas Snapshot Power Rankings: #4-6 North America
Images via Blizzard Entertainment and Eric Doer