Welcome to the first Overwatch League match preview!

In this feature, I’ll go over who I think is going to take each match and why, what the storylines to watch are, and who you, as a neutral fan, should be looking out for. These are incredibly time consuming to make, so depending on the reception, I’ll probably only do them for each week’s key matches going forward.

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Before we get started, some general notes:

This stage’s map pool: Escort: Dorado & Junkertown | Assault: Anubis & Horizon | Control: Ilios & Oasis | Hybrid: Eichenwalde & Numbani | Tiebreaker: Lijiang

Playoffs: When I refer to playoffs, I’m always talking about the end-of-season playoffs, not the end-of-stage ones. Six teams make it into the end-of-season playoffs. Most analysts, including myself, see the top four slots as all but locked up by some ordering of London, Seoul, Dallas, and New York, with a bunch of decently strong teams all gunning for the last two playoff spots.

Format: Outside of the playoffs, every game is a four map set (one of each map type). A score of 3-2 indicates that the first maps went 2-2, and a tie-breaking fifth map had to be played. A score of 2-1 indicates that one of the maps tied (most likely the Assault, although it’s also possible to tie on Hybrid).

San Francisco Shock hosts Los Angles Valiant

Dorado · Anubis · Ilios · Numbani

Prediction: 3-2 to Valiant

What a way to open the League! This looks like it’s going to be a tight match between two solid teams with playoff aspirations. I don’t see either team as having a significant edge, but I’m giving it to Valiant. The team in green is coming into the League with an established core – the former Immortals – and since neither team has had ample practice time, Valiant’s pre-existing synergy is going to be important. Additionally, I think that Shock might have shown a bit too much of their hand in the preseason.

Storylines: 

Redemption for the Preseason?
Valiant beat Shock 3-2 in the preseason, however Shock came into the match having just played another game (filling in for the absent Philadelphia Fusion), and later claimed that exhaustion played a part in their loss. With both teams coming into this rematch fresh, will Shock be able to get their revenge, or was Valiant the better team all along?

Can Valiant shut down Babybay?
While Shock is by no means a one-trick team, the preseason made it clear that they are a team that is currently built around the Babybay, who put on an absolute clinic on Widowmaker during the preseason, and was known before OWL for his strong Soldier:76. If Valiant is able to focus him down and keep him from dictating fights, Shock could be in for a rough night.

Who to watch:

Nikola “Sleepy” Andrews
Aside from Babybay, the most impressive player on San Francisco Shock has been Sleepy. He came into the League as a relative unknown, but his Zenyatta was one of the strongest in the preseason. As Philadelphia Fusion’s Boombox can attest, strong Zenyatta play can quickly catapult a player from unknown to “household name” status, and if Sleepy plays in Stage 1 like he did in the preseason, he’s going to be one of the League’s first breakout stars.

Shanghai Dragons hosts Los Angeles Gladiators

Dorado · Anubis · Ilios · Eichenwalde

Prediction: 4-0 to Gladiators

I want Shanghai to do well. China is a massive market, growing esports power, and has been one of the most active regions for Overwatch since the beginning. However, what we saw from Shanghai in the preseason was less than encouraging. They had little pre-existing synergy and very little practice time, and it showed in their lack coordination. Gladiators is going to come into this much more polished, and it’s going to show. The map type most forgiving to teams that haven’t built coordination is Control, but Ilios and Oasis are both strong Pharah maps, and Gladiators has two noted Pharah experts.

Storylines:

Can Diya carry?
The biggest bright spot for Shanghai during the preseason was Diya’s Widowmaker. Right now, Widow is quite strong on quite a number of maps, including at least parts of all four maps Shanghai chose. With limited time to build strategies, it’s quite possible that Shanghai have set themselves up around empowering Diya, and if he pops off, it could be a more competitive match than I predicted.

How good is Gladiators, really?
Gladiators beat Spitfire but lost to Valiant. Yes, it was the preseason, with rusty players and awkward forced substitutions, but that’s an odd spread. Gladiators is a tough team to place, both on paper and based on their preseason performances. I personally have them as bottom third, but I also think that they’re going to look strongest earlier in the season, so if they want to place well, a strong start is vital.

Who to watch:

Joao Pedro “Hydration” Veloso de Goes Telles
If the preseason is any indication, Hydration’s role in the team might not have been what people were expecting. A projectile DPS player with a strong Pharah and Genji, he actually spent a decent amount of time on tanks – specifically Orisa and Roadhog – swapping in and out for Bischu, who played only D.va. Where Hydration gets his playtime, and who is sitting on the bench while he’s in game, will tell us a lot about how Gladiators is going to play going forward. This team might wind up running solo tank, and possibly even triple tank, more than most others.

Dallas Fuel hosts Seoul Dynasty

Junkertown · Anubis · Ilios · Numbani

Prediction: 3-1 to Seoul

The best game of the week closes out the first day. EnVyUs, who became Dallas Fuel, won OGN APEX season 1. Lunatic Hai, who became Seoul Dynasty, won seasons 2 and 3. These are storied powerhouses that dominated 2017. Between their storied history and their current form, Seoul is the team to beat in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. While they looked mortal during the preseason, Dallas looked vulnerable as well, losing more maps in less matches. In the end, Seoul is just on another level at the moment, and I expect them to come out with a win, albeit a hard-fought one.

Storylines: 

Will we see the streamers play?
Although both are skilled players, there’s still a decent contingent of people that think Dallas signed Seagull and xQc just to grab their massive fanbases. While Dallas seemed to relish the more aggressive tank play xQc brought, Seagull hasn’t clicked as well thus far. In a match against an opponent that will brutally capitalize on every misstep, will Dallas fall back on their old core, or will we see Seagull and xQc get significant play time?

What is Seoul’s ceiling?
Seoul could lose to Dallas. They could just squeak by. Or they could crush the boys in blue and put the rest of the league on notice. They’re going to pull out all the stops against Dallas, who look to be by far their most difficult opponents in the month of January. Without the constraints of the preseason (hiding strategies, forced subs), we will finally be able to see what Seoul is capable of.

Who to watch:

Je-Hong “ryujehong” Ryu
Throughout much of 2017, ryujehong was considered one of the best players in the world. His Ana was so dominant that it pushed the developers to change how ultimates work. Now, with Ana out of the meta, he might not even be the best player on his team. While he is a force to be reckoned with on any hero he plays, the fact is that everything else is a significant step step down from what he can do on Ana. His team has, in the past, tried to force Ana when she wasn’t in-meta, to varying degrees of success. It will be important to see which hero he spends most of his time on, and how Seoul plays around that.

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