Weird breaks, win rates, and projections - the season schedule explained.
When you should go on a silent retreat - How to fudge the numbers to get the desired results - Why not seeing these teams as often is very good, actually
Having the mentality that you have to beat everyone who is put in front of you while stoically being beaten to a pulp might be a fine and necessary mentality for coaches and players within the league. Chances are that you, my dear reader, are far from being built that way. You’ve been growing Kummerspeck (the German word for fat that crowds your body because of sadness caused by circumstances like being a Valiant fan) and precisely for you it’s worth min-maxing and hedging your bets to be able to experience childish glee once more while you tuck away your team-induced sorrows under your belt line. Don’t fret, we have stocked all the excuse ammunition you may ever need, also incorporating some cheapshot tactics to go at your most passionately hated team of choice.
Schedules might not make seasonal winners but as we found out last season, they can determine the runner-up, allowing for instance a team as thoroughly average in season score across the season like Seoul Dynasty to compete in regional playoffs and make it to the finals twice. The schedule might not be strong enough to hold off the threepeat by itself, but this season as a whole has turned up the difficulty lever again as the San Francisco Shock load into new game+ season 4.
Unfortunately for those looking for full absolution of their team’s sins across the season, the Overwatch League has created a relatively well-balanced schedule all around and have arguably installed the highest level of competitive integrity ever in a season structure. With it come some interesting but also plain weird circumstances that we found in these schedules. Sitting down with spreadsheet wizard Eric Doerr, we crunched some numbers to find your team's unique pathway to the title.
Wait, didn’t we play you already?
Once, twice, the league has rolled the dice. The San Freddycisco Shock will play five unfortunate teams two times, namely the Fuel, Gladiators, Houston, Defiant, and Vancouver. With 16 matches to be played during the qualifying stages and only twelve teams in the Western division, some match-ups had to be repeated and are the biggest source of schedule imbalance and differences in how hard the season will be for your team.
On the Eastern side of things, teams will play each other at least twice with only two teams having to play the Shanghai Dragons for a third time. The unfortunate teams are the Seoul Dynasty and the Hangzhou Spark. Of course, even without having seen the roster that the Valiant will field, it’s likely to be an easier match to play three times than one against the Dragons and this imbalance needs to be recognised. It bears pointing out that because APAC feels a lot closer together and because teams already play each other at least twice anyway, the randomised unlucky streak your team might have pulled should not be overrated in its impact on the season as in the grand scheme of things, they are unlikely to matter for more than a couple of team’s final standings.
Give it to me straight, doc. How bad is it?
The imbalance in schedule is not clean to calculate. After all, every napkin equation needs to necessarily entail a judgement call on how good you think certain teams to be. With still months removed from the season and very little in the way of scrimbux to add to the mix, Eric and I adapted my power rankings from Christmas time to adjust for recent pickups as well as some input from the Nexus Cup, approximating Elo ratings for each respective team. Moreover, a variability factor was set that helps to adjust for some of the meta volatility that hero pools might introduce, with teams like Dallas being much more likely to be meta-induced heavy hitters than most of their opponents as their core from Paris Eternal so impressively proved in the Summer Showdown.
Once the baseline was set, Eric ran the numbers through a Monte Carlo simulation which incorporated each team’s season schedule, measuring values like the likelihood for a team to qualify for each stage, how many maps they are likely to play across the season and how hard their season schedule appears to be in context of my Elo-estimations. If you feel an increase in blood pressure looking at my suggested ratings, Eric was kind enough to provide a version in which you can run your own numbers in a simplified version. Simply make a copy of the spreadsheet and fill in the numbers yourself here.
As tightly packed and competitive as the season feels, the results in the differences of strength of schedule were expectedly slim. When comparing arguably the hardest schedule in the League by the Outlaws who play Reign, Fuel, Florida, Spitfire, and Shock twice, and the Toronto Defiant, who are looking at two matches against the Shock, Justice, Spitfire, Eternal, and Vancouver, the difference is noticeable but yet fairly reasonable. (Disclaimer: Outlaws’ schedule was deemed harder than Titans’ because the Titan’s SoS is inflated by not having to play themselves, likely the worst team in the league)
Much more important were the apparent mismatches of the strength of schedule for each respective tournament qualifier, with the Vancouver Titans drawing the short end of the stick for the June Joust, having to play the Gladiators, Reign, Shock, and Dallas. Here, the contrast against the Gladiators schedule of having to play the Titans, Reign, Uprising, and Eternal is much more apparent, likely giving the team from Los Angeles a much smoother ride into the June Joust playoffs than the Canadian team.
While the expected amount of teams going into the tournament playoffs was higher than we anticipated the basic conclusion of some of you getting to see their team a lot more than other fans once again looms. With the Shock being expected to play an average of 26.9 matches over the regular season, with the playoffs adding to their game count. On the other hand of the spectrum, the Titans and the Valiant are only expected to play their basic qualifying matches, as both are unlikely to ever hit a stage playoff.
Admittedly, the 0.82 tournaments that the Shock are expected to win feels low, arguably not recognising their second gear come tournament time enough. That said, with only one tournament victory to be won each cycle due to international play and the disadvantage that the team will have to play in Hawaii, the numbers feel more reasonable and in the worst case would only frame just how incredible a feat of them winning two or more tournaments would be.
More Breaks than a KitKat
One particular feature we should be excited about for multiple reasons is the number of breaks that each team will get. Not only will it primarily contribute towards the mental well-being of our professionals, the subsequent improvement to the level of play we will get to experience, and possibly even the meta diversity some teams will be able to bring to the table, it also allows us viewers to get away from viewership fatigue that many of us had experienced over the last couple of seasons of Overwatch League.
However, it could even be argued that some teams will experience too many breaks for their own good. A peculiar pattern has emerged in the schedule of some teams, giving them a break week in the last qualification week of a tournament cycle while also having a bye week on the first week of the following tournament. If a team was to miss the tournament playoff in between, you might suddenly be looking at a break of a full month. In particular the Titans could feasibly go onto two silent retreats into the woods this season, between the May Melee (MM) and the June Joust (JJ) as well as between the Summer Showdown (SS) and the Countdown Cup (CC) respectively. The same scheduling pattern has emerged for the following teams.
MM-JJ: Fuel, Gladiators, Titans
JJ-SS: Dragons, Reign, Outlaws
SS-CC: Charge, Mayhem, Titans
According to our projected Elo, the Titans are likely to only play at eight of the 18 to 20 active weekends that Overwatch League season 4 is likely to have when including the season playoffs, looking to become a side-character in the movie of season 4. At 13.4% chance to qualify for Summer Showdown, perhaps they will at least be blessed with a nice summer miracle.
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Image via Blizzard Entertainment & Eric Doer