May Melee delivered a fresh but familiar injection of hope for Overwatch League
A marvellous weekend of Overwatch competition lies behind us. In many ways, it marks an incline in the curve of this esport, with both metrics and moods pointing upwards. Worrying to the point of suffering, we saw great players leave and iconic teams fall apart, with many more professionals on the verge of despair, thinking of an escape plan.
In this crisis, both global and for Overwatch specifically, there was opportunity. The more definitive the signals are that your status quo is no longer workable, the more it allows you to experiment and change. Using the lessons of esports and customising them to our unique tastes, May Melee could be the starting point of a new flavour of Overwatch.
However, as much as the frameworks of an esport matter, it is the teams and their players that are the heart and soul of it, providing the outstanding gameplay that provided the healing. When we get out of the way of competition, magic happens. What are the key takeaways and storylines from May Melee?
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The OWL experience changes
Player personality sightings
Player cameras, interviews for the draw of their opponents in the bracket and social media trash talk added to the experience by bringing out player personality that had previously been inaccessible. After hard carry performances that ended up in vain, we saw players like Decay sink into their chair in frustration. McGravy, Dogman, the Mayhem squad and many more talked a lot of that good stuff we look for. Savouring the moments of victory and enjoying them vicariously through teams such as the Shanghai Dragons after they came back against the Seoul Dynasty is experiencing Overwatch at its best. The lesson is that if you give players more of the canvas and the tools to create, they will inevitably paint a uniquely beautiful picture.
Loser’s pick prevents blowouts?
Since hero pools had been introduced, matches had an about 50% chance of ending up in a 3-0 clean sweep. On top of being outclassed, if teams had not picked up on the correct meta interpretations, there was very little chance of finding back into a series. While it’s hard to say specifically what caused only 5 out of the 18 matches this weekend to be 3-0s, a strong possibility could be that the losing team was allowed to pick the map.
No hero pools but not a stale meta
Statistically speaking, there were compositions that had a significantly higher play share than others, but it didn’t feel stale whatsoever. In both regions, we saw a wide variety of compositional archetypes, with teams of many different mindsets getting far into the bracket. Of course, we have to ask how long this flexibility would last if teams were to start only playing without hero pools restrictions, but the answer might not be unsatisfying for the majority of the viewer base.
Viewership is UP!
May Melee hit with a new format that reminded of the old stage playoffs which always showed an uptick in viewership during season 1 & 2. The impact on viewership by the format changes should also not just affect the immediate viewership but rather the long term, as viewers leave this weekend satisfied and are looking to come back for more in the future.
Token drops also likely contributed a lot if not a lion’s share to the average viewership as people tuned in to farm their Overwatch League skins. Not all of these viewers should be seen as strictly hunter-gatherers of skins but could also be converted to loyal fans in the long-term.
Rookies in the sky
Rookies around the league have become vital parts if not engine’s for their team’s success. The success of the Mayhem without Yaki and Gangnamjin is unthinkable. Alarm is perhaps the most consistently elite player on the Fusion. Ans has become a starter for the Shock ahead of Striker. Punk and Myungbong bring quality to the Uprising that lets them dream, while Valiant’s rookies are even Dreamer.
In a league that has been unrelenting at the event horizon to its superstars of last year such as Bumper, Sinatraa, Haksal, Fury, Erster, Corey and more, there are new stars out there to be put into team constellations. The game may tumble, but the desire for young hungry players to distinguish themselves is as strong as ever. As long as this energy exists out there, they are going to pull us into their orbit and entropic apathy has no chance. As long as there are stars, there will be stargazers.
Asia - Schrödinger’s region
Each match in Asia is in a superposition to be a barn burner or a blowout on either side and we can’t really tell before we have observed it happening. Once again, the Asian region showcased incredibly close matches in unlikely scenarios, which displayed that the worst teams like London and Chengdu are not far away from the top.
One explanation for the volatile nature of this region could be that due to its size and therefore the access to quality practice partners, scrim bubbles could have very different structures in Asia than they do in North America. When a team finds out the dominant meta composition, it might need longer for it to arrive at each Asian team, giving them less practice on it. Wildly unpredictable matches like the Hunters beating the Dragons at the start of hero pools and Seoul being pummeled by Spark and Charge only to come back against the Dragons could be a testament to this. Certainly, we can put it down to some teams being better on specific meta comps, but Seoul managed to at least mask a lot of their weaknesses this weekend, which puts some question marks to the theory that they are only ever good at Orisa double shield compositions.
It finally happened. After three years of winning every single final they’ve ever been part of, showing an outstanding clutch factor when it mattered most, Gesture and Profit faltered at the finish line and lost their first-ever major final. On the flipside, Void finally exited the Kong-line by winning his first major event of his career after an equally long duration. Success is not a given, it is taken.
The bottom is rebelling while royalty tumbles
Teams in the bottom pile like the Dallas Fuel, the London Spitfire and even the Boston Uprising have announced themselves as serious opponents not to be taken lightly, consistently challenging top half teams to play to their best. As the universe demands an equal exchange, teams like the Atlanta Reign and to a degree the Los Angeles Gladiators have to give space to new-found ambition. As the ashes of the Titans are spread across the league and we get a much-earned break, expect teams to come out of the break with a much high level of play, hopefully, uninhibited by hero pools.
Battle of the wounded
The most inspiring stories are those of teams who beat the odds and achieve inconceivable heights in the face of hardship. The match of the Valiant vs the Eternal was a battle of the wounded, the two most handicapped teams in Overwatch League by their circumstances, be it a lack of resources, ineligibility, or injury, running at each other with few regrets. Players whose careers were thought to be over, incredibly skilled rookies and exceptionally well-coached and managed rosters are attributes of both teams and so it was only fair that fate took us on a full five-map ride.
Both of those teams confirmed their qualities at dark horses this season and taught us a lot about the nature of competition by smashing our preconceived notions about them.
Mayhem bounce back
After a rough two years at the bottom of competition, being statistically the worst franchise in Overwatch League history after season 2, the Mayhem have impressively bounced back under the leadership of Kuki and yehhh, and the new additions in Gangnamjin and Yaki bringing star power to the team. It was a favourable meta for the Mayhem for sure, but the fact that this team would be able to compete for the title gives us hope that the perceived two-horse race for the title in North America between the Fusion and Shock has gotten another competitor.
Shock are still the kings
In a position not unlike their opponents in season 2, the Shock find themselves as the team to beat once more, underlying their qualities. There had been question marks if the team could continue their dominant run without their leader Sinatraa and their flexible glue player Architect, but at least for now Crusty and his team have once again assembled a championship-winning roster. Can they continue their run?
The unboomable Shanghai Dragons
Shanghai’s message to their competitors (with the exception of the game against Chengdu) had been that they were never going to make it easy for you. Their tenacity to stay in a series is well-documented by their matches in the regular season against the Dynasty and the NYXL, as well as their match in May Melee against London. Players like Fearless whose mental strength had been forged in the 0-40 season, as well as the aforementioned Void, are seemingly unbreakable and never out of a game. The Shanghai Dragons are a team that are done with losing; that’s a thing of the past. May Melee was the start and the culmination of many exciting storylines with incredible new features which give hope for the future. As viewership rises and more and more players find themselves once again coming back to Overwatch, additional eyes have been cast on the Overwatch League, with potential new expansion slots not out of the question anymore.
Images via Blizzard