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Pre-Preseason Power Rankings

by - 2 weeks ago

The Overwatch League preseason begins on December 6th, which means it’s time for some way-too-early speculation on how these rosters stack up to each other. As each week of Overwatch League transpires, I’ll be releasing updated power rankings based on each team’s performance. Expect a new set of power rankings following the preseason.

1. London Spitfire

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Los Angeles Gladiators

Week 1: Florida Mayhem, Philadelphia Fusion

Whether it’s the poignant, iconic branding, the Cloud 9 color scheme, or the high-octane roster of proven winners, London’s Overwatch team screams success. I’ll admit, I may be grabbing the low-hanging fruit to top off my power rankings, as London’s merger of GC Busan‘s and Cloud 9 KongDoo‘s elite APEX rosters leave the least room for doubt. Nothing is a given, of course. Talent is important, but if Overwatch League bears a likeness to traditional sports–which I contend it does–coaching, chemistry, and endurance will all contribute to team success. Until London proves they don’t have the ingredients for a winning recipe, they’re the front-runner.

2. Seoul Dynasty

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Shanghai Dragons

Week 1: Dallas Fuel, Los Angeles Gladiators

Like London, Seoul flaunts an elite roster of former Korean APEX players, including the whole of Lunatic-Hai’s team. Because Seoul and London are keeping the cores of former APEX teams intact, it’s worth mentioning that the foundation for an Atlantic-Pacific rivalry has already been laid between London and Seoul, as GC Busan upset Lunatic-Hai not once, but twice recently on the APEX circuit. If I was writing this article three months ago, I might have Seoul in the number one spot, but London and Seoul are the closest thing to a perfect comparison. Seoul has to dethrone the kings to move up. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until their week four match on February 1st to see how they perform head-to-head.

3. Dallas Fuel

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Houston Outlaws

Week 1: Seoul Dynasty, Los Angeles Valiant

Dallas gets the unpleasant award for dealing with the first PR drama of Overwatch League. Félix “xQc” Lengyel recently got banned on live-stream for “misusing the reporting system.” While Blizzard maintains that they decided to ban Lengyel based on “careful review of relevant evidence” and Lengyel has publicly apologized, this incident is probably the last thing Dallas wants to deal with prior to the launch of Overwatch League. That said, it’s hard to overlook the Fuel’s potential. They have a ton of talent, and their pre-preseason woes, if handled correctly, should have no bearing on the long-term trajectory of the team.

4. Houston Outlaws

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Dallas Fuel

Week 1: Philadelphia Fusion, New York Excelsior

I might be a little generous giving Houston the nod over New York’s hyper-talented roster, but something about Matthew “Clockwork” Dias’ ceiling intrigues me. On one hand, he’s never been able to assert the same dominance he had in his Team Fortress 2 days. On the other, his blistering hit-scan accuracy and his potential as a projectile specialist are still tantalizing, and now, after spending the last couple years as a relative Overwatch journeyman, he has the opportunity to settle in with Houston and build some special team chemistry. Houston’s preseason showdown with the Dallas Fuel should be a good indicator of where this team should fall.

5. New York Excelsior

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Boston Uprising

Week 1: Boston Uprising, Philadelphia Fusion

In the world of way-too-early rankings, New York has to start at five because they need room to rise. Throughout the World Cup, Yeon-oh “Fl0w3er” Hwang played like the MVP en route to winning gold for his native South Korea. However, as a member of New York Excelsior, Fl0w3r finds himself on a short list of ineligibles for season one due to age restrictions. While it’d be fair for one to make much of New York’s laudable LuxuryWatch Blue pedigree, I’m going to play the pessimist, at least until we can see how far Fl0w3r’s contribution will raise their ceiling.

6. Shanghai Dragons

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Seoul Dynasty

Week 1: Los Angeles Gladiators, San Francisco Shock

In all the speculation I’ve heard leading up to the preseason, no team has been sleighted more than Shanghai. Western analysts are quick to drop the Dragons because of the limited information we have about their roster. Though it’s hard to make something of little, I’m willing to wager that little the information we have is worth enough to give credit where it’s due. The core of this team led China to a top-eight World Cup berth, and though they didn’t make it out of the quarterfinals, Shanghai feels confident enough in their home-grown talent to keep the band together for Overwatch League. I’m willing to give them a middle-of-the-pack nod.

7. Los Angeles Valiant

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: San Francisco Shock

Week 1: San Francisco Shock, Dallas Fuel

As one might expect, the Immortals-owned Valiant retained their previous Immortals roster, adding only four additional players. I was never particularly enthusiastic about the Immortals, and though they’ve shown flashes, one must be pretty sold on prospective contributions from Indy “SPACE” Halpern, Benjamin “uNKOE” Chevasson, Terence “SoOn” Tarlier, and Ted “silkthread” Wang to rank this team higher than seven.

8. Philadelphia Fusion

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Florida Mayhem

Week 1: Houston Outlaws, London Spitfire

Philadelphia has a potent roster that needs to demonstrate that the whole is better than the sum of its parts, and the sum of its parts already seems pretty good. They’re a balanced composition, sporting star power of Georgii “ShaDowBurn” Guscha, Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” Lee, Joona “fragi” Laine, and Isaac “Boombox” Charles. Philly’s success is going to come down to how they communicate in-game. While their roster is great, the players hail from a whopping nine different countries, and though I speculate most of the non-native English speakers have some understanding of the language (assuming English is the language they’ll use), I suspect they’ll have to learn how to communicate quickly and efficiently as a team before they start earning W’s.

9. Los Angeles Gladiators

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: London Spitfire

Week 1: Shanghai Dragons, Seoul Dynasty

The Gladiators fall to nine on the list for many of the same reasons as the Florida Mayhem (spoiler alert) dropped to 10. While their DPS combo of Jun-Sung “Asher” Choi and João Pedro “Hydration” Goes Telles leaves reason for optimism, they’re ultimately thin on roster depth. I might be a sports traditionalist when it comes to the next-man-up philosophy, but one man in reserve seems awful scary should a man go down or a situation arise that demands roster flexibility. Between their preseason skirmish with London and their Week 1 matches against Shanghai and Seoul–all of whom I have ranked higher–LA has to fight an uphill battle, at least based on my initial perception.

10. Florida Mayhem

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Philadelphia Fusion

Week 1: London Spitfire, Boston Uprising

The ’17-’18 Florida Mayhem might be the Los Angeles Clippers of the past decade. Over the last few years, the Clips’ trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan were among the most talented and productive players in the NBA, but the bench was straight trash, ultimately hindering the team’s success. In the Mayhem’s case, there’s no bench at all. Don’t misunderstand me: while a player’s role in Overwatch League is vastly different than in the NBA (one certainly doesn’t need to worry as much about fatigue), Florida’s strategy of signing only a six-man roster for a six-man game is a bold, if not foolish, move. A six-man roster puts more pressure on each player to play proficiently with a greater swath of characters, and almost entirely rules out the possibility of situational triple-support or triple-tank strategies. We haven’t seen how roster depth will effect strategy in Overwatch League, but it’s not hard to envision a hack-a-shaq liability arising, where the team needs to substitute a player to compensate for a perceived weakness. And what about injury? Illness? Who can you sign off the waiver wire on a few day’s notice and play as if they’ve had weeks of practice? Unless Florida signs more bodies before the regular season, I anticipate their play will live up to their namesake: mayhem.

11. San Francisco Shock

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: Los Angeles Valiant

Week 1: Los Angeles Valiant, Shanghai Dragons

It’s hard to win a fight with one hand tied behind your back, and that’s precisely the position the Shock find themselves in to begin their first season. This roster is built around Jay “sinatraa” Won, who, like teammate Matthew “super” DeLisi, is ineligible to compete until he turns 18. If you think it’s easy to win games without the cornerstone(s) of your team, just ask the Colts how balmy life is in Indy without Andrew Luck. I’ll revisit this evaluation once sinatraa and super can participate (or once this team proves they can win in their star’s absence), but until then, I’m not optimistic about San Francisco.

12. Boston Uprising

Last Week: N/A

Preseason Opponent: New York Excelsior

Week 1: New York Excelsior, Florida Mayhem

While it’d be unfair to characterize Boston’s roster as talentless, they have the most to prove in a field of unproven rosters. Tempting as it may be to rationalize a rock-bottom ranking by simply pointing to the community’s general malaise toward this team, I’d rather ask the substantive questions that riddle them: Why these players? Who’s the build-around? With teammates hailing from so many different countries, will communication be an issue? At least with the rest of the league, we have solid rationale to explain away these questions. I don’t mean to dog on Boston, and if there’s reason for optimism, it’s that their owner, Robert Kraft, has a sterling record of winning big. Esports is a different beast, however, and while a team’s winning nature reflects well on its ownership, the owner isn’t the guy battling in the trenches.

 

Stray Observations and Lingering Questions:

1. Preseason power rankings are farcical in form, especially in the case of Overwatch League, since there’s no precedent I can reference to determine who should be ranked where. I’m curious to see which “Junkenstein’s Rosters” (I didn’t coin the term) will prove stronger than the powerhouses I have ranked at number one and two. The NBA is famous for individuals out-performing team expectations, and I’m excited to see if the Overwatch League format will follow suit and prove me wrong.

2. How will the availability of substitutions effect the Overwatch League metagame? I’ve been asking myself this question since I started drafting this article. If deep rosters prove inconsequential, there’s reason to believe teams like the Florida Mayhem and LA Gladiators could outperform my initial expectations. I pose this question because it could be greater than just Overwatch League: it could affect the viewership’s perception of how “sport-like” Overwatch League actually is. If a six player team can function in a sport that requires six players, perhaps the demand of the game is not as great as the NBA, NFL, or MLB.

3. How will the addition of Moira punish or reward rosters? Moira has some of the best burst crowd healing in the game, and we’ve already seen some experimentation with triple tank compositions in competitive scrims. If Moira’s potent combination of burst healing and orb-slinging disruption can carve out space for exotic tank and support teams, her presence may reward Boston’s recent acquisition of support players, SeHyun “Neko” Park and Connor “Avast” Prince. Likewise, it could punish teams that have chosen to carry six and seven man rosters.

4. I made a couple predictions based on perceived language barriers, but I’m genuinely curious to see if they’ll be meaningful barriers to team success. As a rule, I hold communication in high regard. In my plebian Overwatch experience, I’ve learned that excellent in-game communication separates decent players from great players. But to what extent does a language barrier translate to wins and losses at the highest level of the game? I’d love to talk to the coaches and players on multilingual teams to see how they manage those obstacles.

5. Driftwood’s Word of the Week: verisimilitude – “the appearance of being true or real.” The first time I encountered the word was in an nfl.com article that discussed the level of realism in the Madden EA franchise, and it has stuck with me ever since. On the threshold of what might be the greatest esports endeavor to date, “verisimilitude” is at the forefront of my mind. If Overwatch League is to draw a viewership, it has to communicate a measure of realism that the average joe can relate to. Blizzard’s job with Overwatch is certainly different than EA’s job with Madden in that the creators of Madden concern themselves with creating a sensation of vicariousness–they want the player to feel as though they’re in a real-life game of football, making football decisions. Blizzard’s job is arguably harder, because they have to make hyper-realism watchable. Tracer’s movements can be difficult to track on camera, and battlefields dense with explosions and projectiles can be disorienting. Blizzard’s “team uniform” experiment at the World Cup certainly improved the watchability of the game, but I’m convinced there’s still work to do for a lay audience to get excited about watching Overwatch League.


kasey

Kasey is a writer, designer, and gamer. In addition to covering Overwatch League for BlizzPro, he is a poet and visual designer for high school marching bands. You can find his work in the Oakwood Literary Magazine, at blizzpro.com, and on football fields across the Great Plains. He resides in South Dakota with his fiancée, Chelsey.