OWL Play-Ins: The circus at the end of the world
Welcome to the greatest esports show on Earth! The circus at the end of the world!
As the menagerie that is the Overwatch League's 2023 regular season comes to a close there is a preliminary race not to the finish but to escape the vortex at the bottom of the standings.
With a four-way tie on the one hand and a one-game gap on the other, six teams attempt to avoid the last spot as a bottom-three team in the standings. These final two weeks are vital. Not just because of the playoff implications but because this may very well be the final chance at legacy.
As we venture under the big top, it's important to remember the rules to qualify. Play-Ins for North America will consist of teams spanning from the fourth seed all the way down to the tenth seed. This means three teams will be automatically ineligible to compete, thus ending their season. Two of the three bottom teams have already been decided as the Los Angeles Valiant and Vegas Eternal attempt to play spoiler for the remaining teams.
Dreams are about to die and in their wake, a winner emerges. That ruthless race starts now.
All roads leave L.A.
Most teams hoping to sneak into the play-ins can qualify off the Los Angeles Gladiators' dismay.
Even if teams outside of the San Francisco Shock lose one of their final two matches, the Gladiators have such an abysmal map differential that the tie will break there.
For example, let's put a team like London Spitfire in the worst situation possible while at least winning one game.
For this hypothetical, London goes 1-1 with a -4 map differential between them resulting in a 7-9 stage record and a total map differential of -9.
To survive, Los Angeles MUST not only win both their games but they cannot lose more than two maps.
A third map loss, in this scenario, would put them in a tie with London with an equal match record and map differential. However, per the Overwatch League tie-breaking rules, the tie would be broken by the Spitfire due to their win over the Gladiators in Week 3 of the Summer Stage.
Funnily enough, both London and New York have head-to-head priority over the Gladiators putting them at a significant advantage to qualify for the 2023 Play-Ins.
Legalities aside, Los Angeles has gone 0-5 in their last five and won five total maps this stage and while they've recently added players like Matteo "cal" Mazzucco and Hwang "Marve1" Min-seo, nothing seems to be working.
While the City of Angels might be totally out of the running for nabbing a final Overwatch League championship, there is one area that has quite a bit of hope under this big top.
Boston's death-defying longshot
While Atlanta Reign may be mathematically locked in for the 2023 playoffs, the remaining seats are still up for grabs with one particularly hungry New England team looking to do the impossible.
Yes, there are still very real ways for Boston Uprising to qualify directly for the playoffs.
If Boston Uprising win both their final games and the Houston Outlaws lose one game, we enter a position where Boston may steal away a direct qualification for playoffs.
Let's say Boston wins their final two games with the most narrow margins, ending the qualifying matches with a 12-4 record and a +18 map differential.
Houston can afford exactly three map losses in this scenario to maintain their third seed and direct playoff berth. This would see the Outlaws end with a 12-4 record but a +19 map differential.
If they total four map losses in their next two games, in this scenario, they would tie both Boston's match record and map record, ultimately giving the seed to the Uprising due to their head-to-head priority thanks to their win during Week 1 of the Summer Stage.
Another way for the Uprising to directly qualify is to pray that the Florida Mayhem drops both their final games in devastating fashion while winning their own emphatically.
To avoid any deep tiebreaker shenanigans, Boston needs to sweep their games and see Florida end the next two weeks going -4 in maps.
This would have Boston with a 12-4 record with a +22 differential while Florida would sit at a 12-4 record with a +21 differential.
If they wanted to remain extra safe, Boston would need at least a 3-1 win over Florida in Week 5 due to their 2-3 loss to the Mayhem Week 2 of the Summer Stage. This would secure their head-to-head map differential if tie-breaker rules were to come into effect.
While the odds are not in Boston's favour, as both teams
One last spotlight
Think what you might about our silly little esport, but we will be saying goodbye to fair few players by the end of the regular season for one reason or another.
Realistically, both Vegas and the Valiant are done and with the future of Overwatch being quite unknown, this may be the last time we see these players for a very long time.
Not just because of the lack of stability that esports brings but due to the lack of competition globally once the season concludes and the eventual vote to maintain takes place.
Fans and pundits alike will say goodbye to the likes of Alex "Seeker" Taylor, Lee "KNIFE" Seon-woo, and other big names as the final bottomfeeder gets knocked out of the play-in race.
And that feeling, as much as it may be hard to admit, will happen for every team but one.
At the end of the day, there is one trophy.
Each team that exits the Overwatch League's 2023 playoffs houses players that may depart the game for good by the end of the year. And while this was always possible, under the collapsing tent house that we reside in, that possibility feels all too real.