Who are Overwatch League's 2023 Rookie of the Year candidates?
The ballots have been cast, and in just a few month's time, we will crown the Alarm Rookie of the Year for the 2023 Overwatch League season.
To contrast past seasons, the graduating class this year has been relatively shallow. However, three individuals stand out as names that could shoulder the mantle with ease. These are the Overwatch League's most likely Rookie of the Year candidates for the 2023 season.
The Vancouver Titans owe much of their 2023 success to rookie DPS Kamden "Sugarfree" Hijada. While most of the season has been a fairly locked DPS hero pool, the Titans did not lack a Tracer.
During the pre-season scrim leaks, Sugarfree looked incredibly promising, and he has only improved since adding Sombra, Echo, and Genji as league-tested picks.
Stepping out on the world's radar during his debut in 2018 alongside Last Night's Leftovers, Sugarfree was an obvious name to stash for any franchise. That feeling only further flourished as he joined the Atlanta Reign academy team.
There was an air of uneasiness as the Titans acquired former San Francisco Shock gamble Chae "HeeSang" Hee-sang. Would the young South Korean ace take the spotlight? Would the team ask the arguably more flexible player in Sugarfree to have a more supporting role, thus limiting his play-making potential?
The concern was warranted, but it has been put to bed. The pair have been incredibly complimentary, and Sugarfree has not missed a step.
Most Surprising of the Season
Let's be clear, no one saw Kim "D0NGHAK" Min-sung coming. Someone who was supposed to be a roleplayer behind long-time Atlanta staple Xander "Hawk" Domecq has become a breakout star this year alongside the Reign's paramount success.
Pundits and those familiar with his debut in Overwatch Contenders even commented that D0NGHAK was a Wrecking Ball specialist, someone who could fill in the gaps, not just take the lion's share of stage time.
That said, D0NGHAK has lept out as an early front-runner for Rookie of the Year with the Atlanta Reign's continued success all season. And it's that track record that could be argued above many long-time veterans of the game.
Speaking of people who have helped right the ship, do not forget about Go "Spectra" Dong-woo. While he is a late addition for the Toronto Defiant, Spectra has been a godsend for Toronto, who have needed a dedicated Tracer ace all season long.
Admittedly, his stage time is limited. Even then, his performance shines through a shallow rookie class that has been uncharacteristically lacklustre.
Even now, within the Overwatch League Play-Ins, Spectra is quickly diversifying his hero pool and becoming a role player on picks like Torbjorn and Sombra. He still has plenty of time on Tracer with the ability to make plays, but as it stands, Spectra seems more in charge of facilitation, which should be commended.
We don't often talk about DPS, who can play both sides of the field. Someone who can clutch in big moments and be the engine of an offence, but also be the supporting actor in metagames or compositions that call for it. Spectra is doing well, but is it enough to secure a quiet lead at the Rookie of the Year race?
And the award goes to…
As the ballots were given out well ahead of the 2023 Play-Ins, it's likely that Spectra's recent performances won't be swaying anything. He was a late add for the Defiant, and although it was a needed one, the lack of playtime hinders any real chance he has over other nominees.
Spectra should have been a starter from the jump. Perhaps with the connection to Wang "NoHill" Fuxing should have been activated sooner, and perhaps the dream of the ATL boys should have been abandoned sooner, it's all a little too late for Spectra.
The two obvious choices are Sugarfree and D0NGHAK. The latter has seen far more success, but the former doesn't have an asterisk next to their accomplishments. This isn't to claim that D0NGHAK isn't good or doesn't deserve success, but the level at which he has performed does feel heavily supported by his supports.
If we go back to the Midseason Madness, D0NGHAK not only challenged but bested one of Overwatch's best Winston players in Lee "Fearless" Eui-Seok. While part of that is based on his individual skill alone, some of that is likely thanks to the resources that the Reign's backline invested in him.
Tanks often look poor when their team is performing poorly. However, inversely, it is difficult to discern how much they are getting away with if their team is overperforming.
Ask yourself this; how would his performance change without defending world champions like Han "ChiYo" Hyeon-seok and Kwon "Fielder" Joon propping him up?
Sugarfree has been tested on more heroes, he plays in arguably the more impressive role, not just as a flex DPS, but as someone on a significantly worse team that has undergone last-minute roster changes.
Past that, there isn't much to critique about his game in general. Is Sugarfree going to argue for the best Sombra spot? No, but who really is going to dethrone someone like Lee "LIP" Jae-won?
To up the ante, does he need to be when his Tracer is as good as it is and he can be more than serviceable on a number of projectile DPS picks? While the other candidates are strong, the choice feels very clear at this point.
Sugarfree is most likely to be your 2023 Alarm Rookie of the Year winner.