With the first week of Blizzard's Overwatch League behind us, it's time to resume the regular column that I promised after the preseason. The format will likely change week-to-week to keep things interesting, but the idea behind it, being comments on OWL-related topics, will remain the same. And speaking of interesting, let's open with the team my brain associates the most with the adjective, NYXL.
The boys in white and blue did well last week and that’s an absolute no-brainer. The team lost two maps, but by the end of each series, it was clear to everyone that Excelsior was the only team that could have come out as the winner. The 18-year-old JJoNaK impressed in his debut to say the least, as it was the hardest I've seen a flex-support carry in Overwatch with the exceptions of prime time uNKOE (L.A. Valiant) and RJH (Seoul Dynasty) and even they've been able to do it to such a ridiculous degree only in spurts.
He delivered obscene amounts of damage, at times doing the most out of everyone on the server over the course of a full map. A side benefit of that, on top of having opponents heavily softened up for his teammates, is that he had an ultimate ready seemingly every time he, or the team, needed it. Winston's Lab stats say that it took him 90 seconds to charge up a Transcendence on average, but I am sure players from both Uprising and Outlaws would corroborate that JJoNaK shaved quite a few seconds off of that in the thick of a fight. Additionally, he was also one of the Zenyatta players to die the least often during OWL's first week. His game certainly has some kinks left to be ironed out, but the young Korean showed a lot of promise. If NYXL's flex-support is able to maintain this level game in, game out, he might very well come to challenge the aforementioned Frenchman and the player many considered 2017's overall best for the unofficial title of 'the best support in the world'.
Then, there were Pine's explosive performances on Illios. In two 2-0 sweeps, he showcased a deadly McCree and utterly decimated Boston and Houston with it. As per Winston's Lab, over the course of just over 11 minutes, he got more than double the average of kills for McCree in OWL, which was also half of his team's total, to end the two maps at 25 frags to 5 deaths. And while the stat line itself is impressive, even if skewed by the small sample size and level of opponents, watching him perform was mind-blowing. He put on display a near-flawless decision-making, superb mechanics, and utmost self-confidence to remind everyone why he has been touted as one of the best Korean dealers even when he was rotting away in APEX Challenger or subbing in for LW Blue as a support. It will be interesting to see what is the long-term role NYXL's coaches have for him. I still have some doubts regarding him as a team’s focal point -- due to how many of his teams' losses coincide with mediocre play from him -- but, for now, they all got are shut out.
And while JJoNaK and Pine delivered monstrous individual performances, something that might have snuck under some’s radar is Libero's solid debut as the team's damage dealer. He didn't light the world on fire like the other two, but instead did what he always does -- delivered a stable performance, while filling any role his team needs him to. While a significant portion of his playtime has been spent on Junkrat, he has already recorded more than three minutes of play on six different heroes. This stat line isn't too remarkable as a number of damage dealers have done the same. What is intriguing, however, is that when Libero is in the game, his teammates seemingly get infected by his selfless willingness to switch and sacrifice ultimate charge for a better matchup and thus increased chances at a win. When he is there to lead by example, the team appears to be much more dynamic and the composition seems to be in a constant state of flux. Admittedly though, given the ease with which they swept opposition in Pine's presence, we'll need to see more of the latter to determine if there's something to the theory or if it's just a matter of sample size.
All in all, week 1 was an all-around strong showing for NYXL. If I was to guess, part of the reason Pine wasn't used as much despite his effectiveness is to limit the ability of next week's opponents to scout them. With a much tougher opponent in the face of Valiant -- who appears to have hit the ground running as they beat Fuel 3-0, with one of the maps being a tie -- on Thursday and Seoul Dynasty on the week after, Excelsior will need every advantage they can get.
As for RJH's boys, any doubts that they are the favorites to win the whole thing have gone out of the window for the time being. Fleta has been able to not only integrate himself into the lineup, but also take over the whole show, as he's clearly become the primary factor in Seoul Dynasty’s wins, at least when it comes to individual performers. Him joining the roster has given their game a whole new dimension, as he's added both versatility and a super-star presence from the dealer position the likes of which the core of the team has never worked with before. In the later seasons of APEX the squad improved their ability to adapt to what their opponents are throwing at them with both picks and positioning, and while they were good enough within the context of their personnel, Lunatic-Hai was never the best at it. Fleta completely removed any limitation previous dealers on the team had. He can not only pick all the heroes they need him to, but also be the hard-carry rather than a roleplayer doing his part, thus changing the nature of the composition in more than one way.
Now that he's had some more time and official matches with Dynasty, Fleta has fit in even better. He has abandoned on some of his overly bloodthirsty tendencies and, in turn, the super-star support duo of tobi and RJH have given up some ground as well to make room for him. The three have maintained their aggressive nature, but, even so, they're all a notch more measured with it. As a result, opponents have a harder time punishing it. Another result of Fleta's successful incorporation into the team can be seen in the distribution among kills. Whereas during APEX S3, their damage dealers secured over 12,4%* less kills than the tournament's average, now it's down to a mere 1,6%** over the course of the league's opening week, as per Winston's Lab. Having a better balanced team, in terms of firepower, makes the squad more resistant to metagame shifts, harder to plan for and alleviates pressure from the rest of the squad.
Perhaps as a result of that, or of them attempting to challenge the current meta, we even saw the team dabble with the Ana and Lucio. As per Winston's Lab, they are responsible for the combo's vast majority of playtime and have 21% win rate with it over the course of just under six and a half minutes. While it wasn't much of a success, it is nice to see that they're willing to experiment and test non-meta picks in official matches rather than obsess over winning as hard as possible. It shows that they do have the big picture in mind and are confident that small bumps in the road won't derail their championship hopes, even if the likes of Spitfire, Excelsior, Valiant and Fuel are breathing down their neck.
Out of all of those, Spitfire seems to be the in the best position to challenge them, or at least they did before last week’s switcheroo. I do like that London has assembled a superteam of sorts and, for my money, it does give them a better chance at the OWL S1 trophy, but it seems to have been a bit of a setback in the short term as the teamplay and overall strategy appear to have taken a hit. Having two elite teams most certainly has its set of benefits over the course of a long series. However, should one of them teams worsen, whether due to a metagame shift or any other reason, they could end up missing on valuable individual talents that otherwise would have helped deal with Seoul Dynasty.
With a single lineup to act as the starters and another with a primary purpose to serve as a tool to support them, the decisions of switching players will be much easier to make. Additionally, with Fleta bringing in extra firepower from the dealer position, the matchup KongDoo Panthera and GC Busan had in the past is completely different from what Seoul Dynasty is. And while raw talent on its own won't get them past RJH's boys, it will definitely help and lessen emphasis of being impeccable in other areas of the game.
*20,36% to a tournament average of 23,26%
**25.57% to a league average of 25.99%
Photo credits: Activision Blizzard
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.