OWL Playoff seeding issues once again raise concerns among teams

OWL Playoff seeding issues once again raise concerns among teams
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Written by 

Sascha Heinisch

Published 

25th Sep 2023 11:20

In a season marked by rule controversies and disputes, the Overwatch League finds itself once again having made a polarising decision in the way it allocated seeding for its season playoffs. 

The draft system employed to determine the bracket for the playoffs has ignited a fresh wave of discussions and criticisms behind the scenes, giving unearned advantages argue some Overwatch League insiders.

Specifically the way in which the drafting order determined the seed of each team is under scrutiny. The decision, for example, resulted in the London Spitfire gaining a seeding advantage over first-round opponent Boston Uprising and potentially against the Hangzhou Spark later in the tournament.

The draft and seeding explained

For Season 6, Overwatch League introduced a new draft system for the playoffs, allowing teams not to pick the teams they want to directly face but instead that they would rather avoid during the group stages of the event.

Atlanta Reign as the North American top seed and winner of Mid-Season Madness was therefore given a first-draft pick while Seoul Infernal received a controversial second pick as the APAC region’s top seed.

The novel controversial information that surfaced during a round of interviews GGRecon conducted with the participating Head Coaches around the event outlines how seeding for the sake of the operation of the Playoffs has been determined.

Instead of determining the seed for each team based on metrics such as the regular season performances, the order in which a team was picked during the Playoff draft decided the seeding.

As such, for the sake of the Playoffs, the seeds look as such in descending order: Atlanta Reign, Seoul Infernal, Florida Mayhem, London Spitfire, Houston Outlaws, Boston Uprising, Dallas Fuel, and the Hangzhou Spark.

Seeding advantages are huge

The most important advantage given to a higher seed comes in the form of being allowed to pick the first map in the series out of the Control map archetype pool (Antarctic Peninsula, Busan, Ilios, Lijiang Tower).

“The seeding influences the map selection process in a way that it hasn’t done previously,” explained Florida Mayhem Head Coach Jordan "Gunba" Graham in an interview with GGRecon.

With the introduction of Flashpoint, a second round of the Overwatch map-type Control had been taken out of the rotation. “If you are the team that picks the control map, you don’t get to pick another Control map in that series.”

“Having seeding determined in this way that puts London as the fourth seed is insane,” the Head Coach concluded, adding that the Spitfire received a “huge competitive advantage” by the decision.

Head Coach of the London Spitfire, Christopher “ChrisTFer” Graham agreed that his team was advantaged by the decision. Given that the Play-In teams are tasked with the tall order to practice for three new maps in the Control pool, London’s seed priority over two of the three teams in their group allows them to effectively only practice two of those maps given the Reign’s predictable choice of Illios.

“Any kind of advantage where we don’t have to dig into the other maps as well probably ends up helping us quite significantly,” the last year’s Coach of the year shared with GGRecon.

Gunba pointed out an additional significant advantage comes at the hand of the way teams are allowed to practice in Toronto.

The Player Practice Area is the location at the Playoff venue at which teams are allowed to practice at. According to Gunba, only four teams are able to practice at a time, requiring a rotation in the PPA.

“It’s important because the seeding as per the selection process influences your PPA allocation. Our PPA allocation has all of the good NA teams in it and we can scrim them.”

“That allocation was influenced by this [seeding] decision and that wasn’t fair,” Gunba explained, adding “I think it should’ve been based on the regular season performance.”

GGRecon reached out to the Overwatch League and an OWL spokesperson shared the following: "Our playoff format took inspiration from other successful esport tournaments and all PPAs and PPA blocks are modeled to be as uniform as possible. Seeding was only factored in to determine at what time a team practices during onboarding, but all teams are receiving the same amount of practice time in equivalent facilities."

This seeding controversy is not a standalone issue but is part of a broader narrative of disputes that have plagued the Overwatch League this season. 

Earlier incidents, such as the contentious seeding process for the Midseason Madness, have seen public accusations of rule breaches and unprofessional conduct, particularly directed at the League’s management. 

The conflict arose from a perceived deviation from the signed rules, with Seoul Infernal receiving preference over Hangzhou Spark due to a better qualification record, affecting the latter’s progression in  Midseason Madness.

The League’s attempts to amend the situation by modifying the prize pool were met with disdain, with Hangzhou Spark’s Grey Zhang labelling the move as “disrespectful” and keeping open the possibility of pursuing legal avenues. 

The lack of transparency in the League’s rules and the subsequent adjustments have only intensified the scrutiny and pressure on the competition, especially as it gears up for the playoffs on September 28th in Toronto, Canada.

Sascha Heinisch
About the author
Sascha Heinisch
Sascha "Yiska" Heinisch is a Senior Esports Journalist at GGRecon. He's been creating content in esports for over 10 years, starting with Warcraft 3.
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