The Asian region is once again split off. Can the Dragons keep their grip on the region?

13:31, 03 Jan 2021

Much like last year, the Asia region is quite competitive, and meta cycles will mean even the worst-over-first upsets can occur on any given match day. The number of teams in this region and schedule assumptions means teams will get at least two shots at each of their division rivals. Moreover, none of the teams currently look as weak as the Spitfire, and the Hunters did in comparison to the rest of the field in 2020.

When comparing both regions, it’s important to point out that endemic Asian teams have not been under the same roster size restrictions that most of their North American counterparts are operating under, elevating the scene in this sense. Come mid-season tournament in which both regions are projected to meet; we’ll likely have a good idea which region has the strongest teams coming into international play. 

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.

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#7 Asia - Guangzhou Charge (Expected ranking range: 4th - 7th)

Even extended research didn't help me reel in the possible range of placements this team will land on during the fourth season and it appears that there is a wide variability of outcomes for them with seventh only being marginally the most likely outcome to me. The quality of players like Ki-cheol "Cr0ng" Nam and Ou "Eileen" Yiliang is proven but with a slim roster so far, the competition has a considerable advantage on them.

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Their new DPS players are generally considered to be really good rookies by the League with Se-hwan "ChoiSehwan" Choi being one of the much sought after flex DPS and Zou "MYKaylee" Zijie having a scary Widow and Ashe while being serviceable on other picks. 

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The biggest source of uncertainty came at the hand of the backline, with Young-seo "KariV" Park being one of the most polarising players in terms of coach evaluations I’ve encountered. Adjectives from “garbage” to “top tier” were thrown at me from well-respected and proven experts. For Chan-hee "Mandu" Kim, it’s the following season after having warmed the bench at the NYXL. The last solid evidence of top tier play was during GOATs when he formed one of the best support lines in South Korea during the time, making him another hard player to judge. 

Speaking of professionals that have very different things said about them, new head coach Ji-won "Arachne" Lee is another one of the more confusing individuals to ask for feedback off from the field. Overall, this makes the Charge a charmingly wild bag of skittles with plenty of surprises going into season 4. 

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#6 Asia - New York Excelsior (Expected ranking range: 4th - 7th)

It’s an entirely new NYXL, and against the field they will be facing, it is unlikely to be overly pretty. The team hasn’t assembled a bad squad per se; it’s just that the amount of question marks in its temper expectations. The possibility of becoming a mid-tier Asian team is definitely there, though.

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Sung-hyeon "JJoNak" Bang is still very much the same incredible player but simply stands out less against the stacked field of flex supports. On most other positions, the Excelsior appear to have sidegraded at best, with Min-jae "Friday" Jo likely ending up to be a downgrade. The two unannounced flex DPS players are arguably the crown jewels of the roster, with Seung-woo "FEATH5R" Lee having had the attention a large number of teams in the off-season. Seung-hyun "Ivy" Lee appears to have a lot of overlap with FEATH5R, and one has to wonder if concentrating value in this position makes sense, given the historically small amount of times those players would even play alongside each other. Gwang-won "Gwangboong" Kim is one of the players that could elevate this roster past its currently projected ranking, but he would have to hit the ground running immediately, a feat that not every rookie is capable off.

The frontline in Gyeong-mu "Yakpung" and Dong-wook "BiaNcA" Kim Jo is solid but unlikely to be a deciding factor in getting past their direct opposition in Asia. Looking in from the outside, coaching decisions, especially in the selection of starters in any given meta, looked shaky as well and one has to wonder why so many careers of outstanding players have gone to decline or die at the Excelsior in recent years.

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#5 Asia - Chengdu Hunters (Expected ranking range: 3rd - 7th)

Chendgu Hunters are the definition of uncertainty, but with head coach Xingrui "RUI" Wang and Team CC-powered signings, I’m at least sure that they won’t be consistently bad. In fact, I expect a perfectly-Chengdu season, being able to take wins from the top teams in some metas possibly during tournament matches while also gravely disappointing at different times. 

Those who have watched the matches of the Gauntlet will have seen what Cao "Farway1987" Jiale and Qiu "GA9A" Jiaxin are capable of and should therefore be considered a significant upgrade for their team. Having a serviceable main tank will also free up Ding "Ameng" Menghan to further specialise and allow the Hunters to adapt to meta switches with their usual unorthodox approaches with shorter turn around. Their new academy team will further those aspirations as well, giving them more tools to flesh out their style.

Arguably, the Hunters have never been set up in a better position, and it is here where the trap door for this roster might be installed. The team will likely be able to play decent Overwatch when following and copying trends but will be unlikely to produce peak performances that deliver upsets. Can the Hunters stay true to themselves despite being capable of running vanilla Overwatch?

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#4 Asia - Seoul Dynasty (Expected ranking range: 3rd - 7th)

Yes, the Dynasty made Grand Finals, and they also made a tournament final. Yes, the tournament format will favour them by the apparent nature of their team’s character to peak in high-pressure situations. It is still unlikely to make them anything but average in their region, especially in the context of the improvements that some teams have made. They’ve announced no moves that would imply that they are significantly changing their situation to a point where consistently top tier performances could be delivered. Like a heavyweight boxer, the Dynasty appear to be going into season 4 looking for the random knockout punch. 

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Perhaps I am wrong and Jong-ryeol "Saebyeolbe" Park, as well as Taesung "Anamo" Jung, are exactly the grounding element players that are needed to flatten these waves, but from here it looks like trying to smooth their waters with a hot iron. It’s a strange pickup, of which the utility first needs to be demonstrated in order to buy-in. Burn a bush or something.

If the Dynasty want to consistently raise their tide, Dong-eon "FITS" Kim will also need to step up to the task and provide more consistent performances instead of power bombing the competition once every five matches (and fortunately in playoffs). Young-wan "Creative" Kim without a flex support back up is another source of concern.

At the end of writing this paragraph, I’ve convinced myself that I’ve put the Dynasty too high, but against my better judgement, I will believe in the tournament magic that Joon-yeong "Profit" Park and Jae-hee "Gesture" Hong so often deliver.

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#3 Asia - Hangzhou Spark (Expected ranking range: 2nd - 5th)

The Spark have taken their roster construction theme to new heights, almost being able to run two independent rosters of different language communities at a five Chinese to seven South Korean player ratio. More than just that, they’ve also bought quality rookies on top of their Xu "guxue" Qiulin, Kyeong-bo "GodsB" Kim, and Ho-jin "iDK" Park core. 

The depth of the roster is incredible, and in comparison to other teams in their region, the Spark come much more prepared to all kinds of meta problems than a team like the Philadelphia Fusion. If a twelve-man roster wasn’t enough, the team also has Bilibili Gaming as their academy team, giving them even more options.

With much more time to have the roster gel, I expect players like Minho "Architect" Park and Tong "ColdesT" Xiaodong to find back to old form and have another chance of becoming top tier players that they were once destined to be. Se-won "BERNAR" Shin could also start to be a name which we will hold in much higher regard once the season is said and done, having already been one of the standout performers on the Spitfire. Keep in mind that in comparison to last season, head coach Ji-sub "paJion" Hwang got to be there for the creation of this team, likely being able to influence decisions and taking charge of the teams competitive future.

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#2 Asia - Philadelphia Fusion (Expected ranking range: 1st - 5th)

The news of the team relocating there was a bit of a surprise and not just for the audience. Likely being able to utilise the infrastructure that sister organisation T1 has set up in South Korea, the Fusion are likely to have access to top-notch practice facilities, taking care of the fear of having to practice in hotel rooms. However, one crucial aspect in which the Fusion aren’t up to par with other Asian teams is that they appear to be under North American roster size obligations. That in itself should’ve moved them down considerably based on my implied weights I’ve applied to other teams. The one problem I have with doing can be summarised under the following point: I believe Bumhoon "NineK" Kim is the real deal.

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Based on the information communicated to me, NineK was the main reason for the rapid improvement especially in the quality of play of the French players and his statements towards wanting to do it again with his European players on the Fusion suggests that he has no intention of stopping. Most of the people that have an educated opinion on the subject of NineK have but one verdict: He’s likely the closest thing to Crusty you can get in Overwatch League. What this might mean for a young player like Niclas "sHockWave" Jensen, or a veteran player like Dong-gyu "Mano" Kim alike is nothing short of thrilling. 

Looking at the “hardware” that he’s dealing with on the Fusion, he has a core of players who have already demonstrated their ability to be consistently top tier through all kinds of metas. The backline is once again competing with the absolute best in the league; the DPS are either veteran star players or highly hungry up-and-comers. If we have question marks for the Fusion, it’s the tank role that needs to be strengthened. Somehow, the Fusion have not declined despite losing some of the best players of season 3.

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#1 Asia - Shanghai Dragons (Expected ranking range: 1st - 3rd)

You can take away Mighty AOD from Byung-chul "Moon" Moon, but you can’t take it out of his heart. Once what now feels like aeons ago, the head coach started his Overwatch coaching career with this team that wouldn’t have been anything special, going out in the group stages of APEX Season 3, had it not been the group of death and had the team not been made up of names like Min-seong "diem" Bae, Joon "ErsTer" Jeong, and Pan-seung "Fate" Koo. Some of the boys are back together, and we have to wonder about the substance of this reunion.

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Fate has been a consistent performer on the main tank role with likely also team performance induced dips in season 2, otherwise always being there, almost unquestionable in his main tank role. Still crisp on Winston, Fate has an unshakable hero pool that few metas have managed to outwit. For the hitscan role, diem is still one of the scariest players in the league with the ability to take anyone in a duel mid-fight. You’d also expect that a team as stacked and as flexible in the DPS department with League MVP Byung-sun "Fleta" Kim and Rolestar Jae-won "LIP" Lee wouldn’t need much more help. While that might be true, I believe that there are still niches to fill for ErsTer to play projectile DPS in a more gentle way that requires demands fewer resources and attention. Knowing what he was capable of in the second season, the dip in performance in season 3 doesn’t concern me much here. Arriving home, I think there is a decent chance that ErsTer rises to the top once more.

The one position I would’ve expected a more clear upgrade on is flex support, with the departure of Seong-hyeon "Luffy" Yang making room for a high calibre player. Their choice of bringing in a Chinese player in He "Molly" Chengzhi is an intriguing one, and if he is indeed capable of communicating with his Korean teammates without issues in-game, I wonder how much playtime he will be able to get over Min-chul "IZaYaKI" Kim.

If Shanghai Dragons didn’t already appear to have everything, they also have access to the best Contenders team in the world as proven by the Gauntlet results, with admittedly many of their starters leaving towards other teams in the league. However, the leftover parts are by no means slouches and if anything cause head scratches as to why they haven’t found Overwatch League slots yet. 

Given those circumstances, the Dragons once again appear to be the team to beat in Asia, having had a holistic approach to building their franchise and continuing their incredible redemption story.

This concludes our OWL Christmas Snapshot Power Rankings: The Asian Region! Here's a summary for your convenience.

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Participate Yourself

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!

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Images via Blizzard Entertainment and Eric Doer

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