Who will be placed 15th to 11th at the end of the season?
Overwatch League teams have been working in the offseason to meet their goals for the new challenges awaiting them in season 3. These challenges are by no means equal, as this season will see a spike in systemic inequalities that will inevitably mess with competitive integrity. As such, this end of season prediction serves as my conclusion on multiple factors that will determine the ranking at the end of the season: Roster strength and resilience, flexibility and adaptability, travel schedule and practice partner quality, as well as an opportunity to course correct. Most of all, with the patch schedule set to 6-8 weeks, if rigid metas were to form, it would introduce a huge element of pure luck. However, it is equally possible that we won’t see solidified metas next season at all and that games change in their nature to become more of a pick-up style, in which strategic, on the fly adaptations become vastly more important than deep understandings of meta compositions like we had over the last two years.
You will find that I weigh the complications introduced this season by the above-mentioned circumstances heavily. It is therefore advised to not see this list as a “power ranking” that orders teams according to their team’s strength on any given day or at the start of the season but as a prediction of how these teams may fair in the environments that they will see themselves confronted with. It basically answers the question “Where do you think X team will stand when the regular season is over?
You can see the spots 20-16 here.
15. London Spitfire (Ranking range: 17-8)
Predicting the Spitfire’s travel strain proves once again difficult as we don’t know the exact location where the team will set up their home base, though it very likely won’t be in Europe. Even if they found an optimal location, which would likely be somewhere on the East coast, the Spitfire still must fly multiple transcontinental flights as everyone else in the Atlantic North Division will have to. With 18 active weeks, they are also among the teams with fewer breaks than others. Especially the breaks missing around their transcontinental flights like their trip to China starting from Boston will cause misery, having to play Dynasty and Chengdu in the same week after a 20 hour flight and a 13 hour time zone difference.
Someway somehow, the Spitfire managed to sign Glister, who for my money was quite clearly the best rookie available on the market. BERNAR and Fuze arrive from Fusion University and while they didn’t manage to qualify for gauntlet in Contenders Korea, they are still widely considered to be reasonably promising talent who could be developed into top tier players. The rest of the team appears to be made up of malleable pieces that a capable coaching staff could derive huge value from. Their youth player approach certainly inspires more confidence in me than Valiant’s.
Organizationally, we have to consider the London Spitfire a completely different team, both in approach, roster and staff. In season 1, they were definitely the highest spending team on the transfer market, signing both Kongdoo Panthera and GC Busan. This season, they are operating more economically, having likely scored a buyout fee for Gesture and Profit in at least the high six figures, possibly low seven figures. Moreover, they traded Fury to the Fusion for Bernar and Fuze, plus likely some additional cash. On top of that, they didn’t recruit any established elite talent, but instead signed one of the most highly regarded coaches in Pavane. With Pavane and Agape reunited on the Spitfire, we have to consider the magnificent track record they had in developing talent for LW Blue and LW Red, the teams that would later on merge into the New York Excelsior. While their season schedule makes it challenging, perhaps owner Jack Etienne wouldn’t be opposed to spending on required players during the season, to potentially course correct. This could especially matter because Pavane likely wasn’t with the Spitfire during the selection process of most of this roster.
However, we shouldn’t think of this team as Pavane’s creation (Agape is head coach after all), but a potential issue could be that NYXL was notorious for being mostly about perfecting a meta rather than picking up new ones. Perhaps molding players the same way you once could isn’t a thing in Overwatch anymore, if metas turn out to be as volatile as we expect them to be.
With all that said, the Spitfire are the number one candidates for a dark horse run.
14. Dallas Fuel (Ranking range: 14-8)
The Fuel’s travel schedule looks challenging despite hosting 5 homestands themselves. Unlike last year, their first quatre of the season is a trial by fire, as they are matched with many upper half teams on top of a flight around the world to compete in China and South Korea. Fortunately, their Asia trip starts and ends with a week break, which should help with the inevitable jetlag. Their trip to Europe to play the Uprising is also embedded in breaks and should allow them to take a breather before going on the homestretch to finish out the season. Being in the pacific conference will once again be a considerable disadvantage.
Dallas is the epitome of being locked out of a great season by past mistakes. Up to five players on this roster are more washed than a germophobe’s hands, though about half of them at least have redeemable qualities where a meta could fall into their favor. After a strong finish in season 1 where they made stage playoffs, the Fuel made the grave mistake to give five of their players contracts with two guaranteed years of employment. This move at best made sense in 2017 when those players were still considered world class. If the Dallas Fuel has one achilles heel, it’s loyalty in a game that doesn’t reward them for having it.
Their new recruitment's are definitely solid and should all become starters against their counterparts. The likely starting squad looks to be Gamsu, NotE, Closer, uNKOE, Doha and Decay for most metas, though projectile reliant ones could bring aKm back in on Pharah. Tank duties for picks like Roadhog and Wreckingball will likely be shared. It’s a reasonably strong core of players to work with, with sadly no wiggle room to improve during the season with 12 players already being on the roster.
The only addition to the coaching staff known at this point is former Element Mystic coach Yong, who we know little about. With both Jayne’s and daemoN’s departure, we could see another one coach or analyst join the ranks at some point. This is the season where Aero needs to prove himself as a head coach and if it wasn’t for Fuel’s aforementioned loyalty, he would be one of my top picks to be the first coach to go next season. The Fuel spend too much on their roster to be mediocre for this long.
13. Toronto Defiant (Ranking range: 16-10)
The Defiant is another team that shares most of its travel schedule with the Uprising and the Eternal. With 18 active weekends and a projected rough travel schedule, there is once again little leeway to course correct during the season and especially on the homestretch with their five-week excursion to China. It’s not fun being in the Atlantic North Division next year unless your superpower is to become better with less practice. Just like London, the Defiant also don’t have a break for every long flight and will experience similar issues.
Their team appears solid and they certainly have some star player potential but in comparison to other teams, it appears average at best. I can see them trying to make moves for a player like Numlocked, who already has an existing P1-visa and should be available for at least the North American and European matches (barring weird Brexit complications). Other than that, their opportunity for improvements seem very limited unless they were to break their Western roster building paradigm. At best the Defiant are a homogeneous Western team that is on the same page and will deliver a solid season performance, at worst they are an English-speaking retirement home with entertainment factor.
The one variable that could fall in their favor is if the meta was to frequently change. In that case, I could see them being significantly better at a pickup style of Overwatch than direct competitors for the play-ins. Play-ins are in reach this season, especially with how mediocre the mid-tier teams will be.
12. Florida Mayhem (Ranking range: 16-8)
The Florida Mayhem have a hilariously tame travel schedule to the point where they could almost get a tour bus and have it make sense. They leave North American once all season for one game against the Toronto Defiant in Paris. While they do have a couple of coast to coast flights but even those are mostly chained together. With a travel schedule this tame and only four matches outside the US, mid-season signings are practically as possible as they were in season 1 & 2.
With that said, failure in Florida is systematic. Through several iterations and approaches to roster building, having also switched around the General Manager, Head coach and analyst positions several times, the Mayhem has remained one of, if not the worst team in Overwatch League history. May I remind that the Shanghai Dragons went 0-40 in season 1?
Most of what we have to go on are their improvements in stage 4 last year. Since then, they have added promising rookies in Yaki and Gangnamjin and have left three more spots for mid-season improvements. Both Fate and Sayaplayer are not out of the question for a comeback. Furthermore, they’ve overhauled their coaching staff and put former Valiant and Dynasty player KuKi at the helm. While he has a season with RunAway under his belt, it will forever be hard to judge a coach by the achievements they’ve had with an organization as well-managed as Runner’s and Flowervin’s.
Looking at Mayhem’s roster, their travel schedule and their conference, it appears reasonable to put the Mayhem this high and yet the prior of two seasons of abject failure cause stomach pains about their position. The next season’s logistical demands require an upper management that thinks outside the box to allow the maximal amount and quality of practice and this is where they need to deliver. The middle of the field looks mediocre this season and Mayhem could take advantage of the failure of others this time around.
11. Houston Outlaws (Ranking range: 14-8)
The Outlaws are another team graced by the travel gods with only one flight across the pond. The most curios case in their schedule is that they have a month-long break in March after their match in Washington on the 7th against the Eternal and will then have a rematch on April 4th in a completely different map pool and likely meta. In the first third of their season, the only teams that the Outlaws are unlikely to beat are the New York Excelsior, which they will play twice. It could therefore come to a similar scenario as it was with Dallas Fuel last year, in which they have a promising season start and only later dropped off the cliff due to the strength of their opponents dramatically increasing. The Houstonians are known to be a streaky team capable of punching above their weight if the ball gets rolling though.
While the Outlaws have finally found a new owner and can make the moves they so desperately needed, their contract structure also put them in a choke hold for season 3. This is especially a shame as their newly appointed head coach Harsha has been considered one of the best scouts in the league behind the scenes, a skill he won’t be given much opportunity to use this season as the team still has 11 players under contract even after Jake’s retirement. However, their coaching staff received a big upgrade in bringing him, Dream and Hooreg on, as the Outlaws had arguably been understaffed in both quality and quantity the the past years. MekO is a massive upgrade over Spree and Coolmatt and makes both of them largely obsolete.
From the outside, the team seems miscalibrated in the number of players it has on the offtank and perhaps DPS role, though initial reports on players switching roles have alleviated some of my concerns in that regard. The glaring issue is their main support in Boink, who at best plays a serviceable Lucio in the context of the Overwatch League. I fully expect the team to fix this problem with another player signing either before the season start or sometime early in the season.
Due to their schedule and conference, the Outlaws land higher than their roster necessarily points to.
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Title image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment