As the first four days of Overwatch League matches passed fans finally got to see almost all of the lineups in action. In what I hope will be a regular weekly column, I comment on a multitude of topics and issues that made an impression on me.
Libero in a supportive position, rather than just role
It's not a secret that I've taken a liking of NYXL, as well as how the team used to play and take their out of game decisions when they used to be under the banner of LuxuryWatch Blue. Unlike with some other teams, the majority of their decisions simply made sense to me. Even in the case of decisions, I didn't necessarily agree with, the logic behind them was quite obvious. When the squad got 'solved' by the other elite teams and it was obvious that they wouldn't be able to win again, they made a drastic change. The duo of Luna and Gambler was still arguably the second best support unit in Korea and their conservative play had been a pillar in LW Blue's style of play. Additionally, they were respectively the team's captain and shot caller. Yet, the staff seemingly didn't too many second thoughts of letting go, as that was the move to make if any significant change was to be made. While dropping Luna was handled poorly, the choice to do so was an adequate one.
The decision to have Libero stand in as a substitute for JJoNaK as a temporary flex-support is no exception either. After all, how Libero got a lot of recognition is by showcasing an ability to pick up seemingly any hero, which earned him the nickname 'Swiss Army knife' -- and play intelligent Overwatch. He would rarely, if ever, make any decisions that ended up costing his team the victory. The theory behind the move was sound, but his performance was not on par with what Libero shown on dealers and tanks. His mechanics and positioning were solid, but the inexperience came through in the pressure moments and he made several crucial mistakes. It's hard to say whether or not he can be a top support one day, but right now he's a much better fit as an extremely flexible player in the positions of a dealer or an off-tank. And with JJoNaK turning 18 before the season's start, Libero won't need to continue playing the flex-support position.
However, this leaves another question. What will be Libero's role on the team in future? He's one of the best D.Va players in the world, but, as long as the hero stays within the meta, he won't be replacing Mek0. Pine has had lackluster performances on losing maps, but he's also been carrying on NYXL's wins. He's one of the players the squad has been seemingly adamant about playing with, even if he takes on other positions, so it seems unlikely that will change now. The logical result would be Libero sitting on the bench and getting the OWL equivalent of 'garbage time' until the squad needs his flexibility, be it because of metagame or for a strategic and tactical advantage. Hopefully, I have poor read on the team's decision and one of the most versatile players in the world doesn't become a bench-warmer.
Fleta goes nuts to put the 'golden boys' at the top once again
It's been more than a year since their debut as Lunatic-Hai and they've switched an organization, but even though they went through multiple iterations and several controversies, the squad has always remained South Korea's darlings. The golden boys, a much more fitting moniker now that they've won three titles, continues to be the most successful team in Overwatch's brief history as an esport. With the addition of Fleta, they are once again looking as the best team in the world.
We've seen the squad play around a damage dealer with EscA and WhoRU, but that was done in past metagames and neither of the two was the hard-carry Fleta has shown himself to be during his tenure in Flash Lux. While his game still has some kinks left to be ironed out, which is slightly concerning as he's been with them for a while, the OWL debut showed a lot of promise for Seoul Dynasty fans. At times, the new blood got overzealous and chased kill or duels rather than trust his teammates to do their job, but, considering the level of his previous team, it isn't that surprising of a flaw in his game and if any squad can get Fleta to adjust it is this one. Other than that he's already been a superb fit with his ability to play both hitscan and projectile heroes. With the likes of tobi, RHG, Zunba and Miro supporting his talents, Fleta could easily be one of, if not the, most effective damage dealers this season.
Shanghai Dragons players showcase talent in defeat but ...
As it was repeated a number of times on broadcast, the league's only team featuring Chinese players was dealing with jet lag in their first series of the preseason, against Seoul Dynasty. They didn't have time to scrim against the other OWL teams and looked rusty when it comes to teamplay, strategy and tactics. Regardless, their talents showed and they put up as good of a fight as one can while getting swept 0-4 against what is once again looking like the best team in the world right now in the face of Korea's golden boys. With several OWL scrims under their belts, Shanghai Dragons made it even closer against an experimenting Boston Uprising, as they took that game to the fifth map but ultimately fell short as Gamsu and co. came up clutch in a chaotic fifth game.
However, despite the relatively disorganized approach and lack of preparation, NetEase's team showed a lot of potential in the two series. The players' individual talents shined through and most of them had multiple highlight-worthy moments, making an impression on anyone who hasn't seen them before and showcasing that they can hang with the best of them. And while players' skills, combined with the potential room for growth as a team, makes for a tremendous upside if they can figure out the how to do it, it is also slightly concerning. The team has already had time to practice back home; yet, their coordination was arguably the worst in OWL, excluding Philadelphia Fusion who didn't participate in the preseason. Getting to play and scrim against the best teams in the world will certainly speed up their development process, but with the season opening on Jan. 10, it is unlikely they'll make huge strides before at least several weeks worth of season games. Fortunately for them, their schedule for the first two weeks is about as easy as one can hope for and they still have a chance at a decent record by the end of week 5.
TviQ and co. with a disappointing OWL debut
Since the split of the French-Swedish Rogue lineup, Misfits and now Florida Mayhem have often disappointed and failed to deliver on the expectations fans and pundits had for them. First throughout several version of a fully Swedish lineup and now, with Logix and Zuppeh joining the Swedes for the last four months, the team has underwhelmed even if they've been successful relative to their peers. Despite having the talent and experience necessary to contend with the best in the world, they've failed to win a single event since the three-way trade last December, even when at times they've been in a prime position to do so.
With them maintaining the same lineup for about four months now and not having to put in substitutes, unlike Dallas Fuel for example, it was expected of them to hit the ground running and pick up wins right away. However, TviQ and co. fell short of expectations once again as they lost to both Dallas Fuel and San Francisco Shock in a 1-3 series. The latter are not only relatively inexperienced at the highest level, but also are though of as a project for the future rather than a win now team, due to some of their players' young age. Mayhem seemed to lack both the coordination everyone expected and an appetite for victory, on top of not looking well-adapted to the current metagame. Individuals showcased moments of transcendent play, but other than that the team looked, more than anything else, disinterested in the games. It's easy to see how players -- particularly ones as experienced as Mayhem's -- would not get particularly excited for what is essentially a pair of showmatches. As hard as it is to take away anything meaningful from the results, the organization may want to make use of the opportunity to sign new players when the option is available halfway through the season, to motivate the current roster if not to replace them as starters.
It might seem unfair to criticize one of the best Western teams for losing two pointless matches when Shanghai Dragons drew some praise for finishing with a similar score, but the context matters. Unfortunately for TviQ and the rest of Mayhem, when excellence and greatness are a possibility, delivering anything else is bound to generate some negative attention.
The San Francisco Shock surpasses expectations
After the hype built up by community figures and players privy to the roster, prior to the official press release, the high expectations backfired as the organization got some flak from fans. What Shock had come up was a young roster that was built for the future. The lineup offered very little name value and lacked in both experience and proven players.As someone who's watched very little online Overwatch, I was quite skeptical of the team's true potential. However, babybay and co. have been a pleasant surprise as they performed well against Valiant and the struggling Mayhem, even if Spitfire swept them seemingly without much effort. The squad showcased individual talents and apt shot calling at times, but there were also a number of lapses. For every good decision, akin to the astute wrap-around on A, Temple of Anubis to catch TviQ's Widowmaker, there was a blunder, closer in nature to what happened on the first section of Dorado. And while individuals showed promise on the first day, almost everyone looked overwhelmed by London Spitfire. All in all, it is hard to judge where their current level is. Nonetheless, if they can continue building upon what they showed in the preseason, the squad can be one of the better middle of the pack teams by the end of the season.
Stage design and stats
Even though the stage is the first thing that made an impression on me, the topic was left for last as it's not gameplay related and I wasn't present at the studio to give a definitive opinion. At least on stream, however, the design looked marvelous. The futuristic look most definitely fits with Overwatch's theme, but Blizzard didn't go over the top and kept the focus on the gameplay and the players. Unfortunately, the current stage arrangement renders the video walls unusable for gameplay once the matches begin, as they fall within players' sight. This takes away an opportunity to make the live experience even better, but, other than that, everything looked great and there have been very little, if any, complaints about the venue from those who visited the event as fans.
However, one of the areas that left something to be desired is the statistics shown on screen during games.Total heroes damage on its own is not something that can give much meaningful information to the viewers. Damage per minute and time spent on the hero is a much better indicator and allows for a direct comparison to be made between two players. Damage, healing and accuracy in a specific engagement is another stat that could help both viewers and casters identify what went right or wrong for a team in a fight they won or lost. The time someone takes to charge a hero's ultimate juxtaposed against the time of their opponent and the league's average would be another interesting and useful piece of information. It is hard to know what information the crew has access to, but, given Overwatch's focus on teamplay, it would be great to see more team-wide stats too. Several examples of such stats that may or may not be possible to collect are: the percentage of time a team spends contesting the objective; average amount of meters the payload is pushed; fight win rate with a specific composition, available ultimate or a number of ultimates.
With the past week being just the first set of matches OWL has produced, it is easy to understand why the real-time stats viewers got access to are bland. However, given how chaotic Overwatch can be, Blizzard will need to go into more details and provide much more informative experience if they want casual viewers, even those who play the game, to enjoy the game beyond the mere action on their screens.
(Photo credits: Activision Blizzard)
Disclaimer: The following article was written freely based on the author's opinion, and it may not necessarily represent Inven Global's editorial stance.
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! I’ve been following different games within the esports industry ever since finding out about it in 2009. The titles that I follow closely for the time being are Overwatch, CS:GO and Quake, while occasionally dabbling in some other games as well. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports and gaming, you can find me on Twitter at @RadoNonfire.