Overwatch league playoffs to begin
On Thursday, what could be the last-ever Overwatch League playoffs will begin in Toronto, where eight teams will compete to hoist the potential final trophy. And luckily, for myself, I get to experience that journey live for the second year in a row.
I had the opportunity to attend the in-person playoff days for the Overwatch League last year in Anaheim, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. As anyone who is a fan of any sport will tell you, watching a game live just can’t be topped. The atmosphere and adrenaline running through the arena during the games last year left me determined to return this year. Was my wallet all that excited about it? No, not really. But it’ll be more than worth it. Furthering the BYU representation, sophomore Weston Howell lucked into the chance to attend the event live. “It was spur of the moment, though I am very excited to watch the finals and to enjoy my favorite game with people who view it the same way I do,” said Howell.
The playoffs for this 2023 season are shaping up to be one of the more interesting runs in the history of the League. For starters, the format is unlike anything that’s been seen in the League before, making use of the Global Starcraft II League (GSL) format rather than a more traditional single or double-elimination bracket as had been used in prior years. The eight participating teams were drafted into the brackets by the top-seeded team in each of the two regions. The format and drafting have since been put under heavy criticism by just about everyone in the Overwatch League community, but League officials never put out any statements to address it.
Format woes aside, the brackets leave us with some very interesting matchups. In the NA bracket, round one will see the Atlanta Reign play the Hangzhou Spark and the London Spitfire play the Boston Uprising. The APAC bracket’s first round will have the Dallas Fuel face the Seoul Infernal and the Florida Mayhem face the Houston Outlaws. The most intriguing of the first-round matchups without a doubt is the one between the Mayhem and the Outlaws as they finished second and third place respectively in the North American regular season. The meta, however, also makes the entire playoffs a big guessing game.
Trademarked playoff meta change
In typical Overwatch League fashion, a large balance patch for Overwatch dropped just shortly before playoffs and changed the state of play from what it had been. The playoffs will be played on the Sept. 7 Overwatch patch which most notably saw large buffs to Zarya with her health and protective bubbles. As such, it’s anticipated that Zarya-centric rush compositions will be the dominant style played with a combination of Sojourn, Genji, or Reaper and Lucio, Baptiste, or Moira to accompany her. If this does happen to be what is seen on stage, then it helps in determining which teams might be the most successful throughout the four day playoff run.
Teams to look out for
With Zarya comps potentially being the predominant team configurations, it’s believed that teams like the Dallas Fuel and Boston Uprising will be forces to be reckoned with due to their experienced Zarya players in Hanbin and Kalios. On the flip side, the Hangzhou Spark lacks an experienced off-tank player with which to play Zarya with, leaving them to either attempt to mirror the Zarya and struggle or invent a potential counter to the rush comps based around heroes that their tank player, Guxue, can comfortably play.
The Florida Mayhem are also in an interesting spot as though their sole tank, Someone, is primarily known for his main tank play, he is heralded as an MVP-caliber hyper-flex tank player and the team is confident in his ability to play Zarya for them during the playoffs. To help bolster him, the team recently signed legendary Genji player WhoRU thanks to a loophole in the League’s rules regarding signing new players at this stage in the season and they hope he will help bring added firepower to the team in this upcoming Genji-involved meta.
The Houston Outlaws also made use of this rule loophole to expand their roster by signing former Hangzhou Spark off-tank Bernar, who was known best for his Zarya play. The Outlaws previously had only Fearless as their sole tank player, who primarily played main tanks such as Winston and Reinhardt. The one team that will be out to throw a wrench into every other team’s plans is the London Spitfire, who are notorious for exclusively playing Reinhardt-Symmetra compositions, something no other team plays, making it difficult for others to prep against them. Though their performance in matches is hard to predict, they are guaranteed to make things fun to watch in their quest to potentially bookend the League’s tenure with championships.
When all is said and done, I believe the Dallas Fuel are the most likely team to come out on top and win it all for the second year in a row off the back of Hanbin’s stellar Zarya play and Sp9rk1e’s exceptional Genji play. However, my personal bias would love for the Houston Outlaws to come out on top, but they will be fighting an uphill battle with having Bernar being fairly fresh on the team. Weston Howell didn’t agree with my personal sentiments on the matter, believing the Boston Uprising will come out victorious at the end of it all. “I expect Zarya to have high playtime, so I think the Uprising have a good chance,” said Howell in defense of his prediction.
Regardless of the outcome, the chance to watch it all go down in person in Toronto will be an experience I won’t soon forget. The feelings I left with after last year’s playoffs have me excited for something that will dwarf that two-day event from a year ago. For the teams, nothing quite beats playing in front of fans after playing the entire regular season remotely from their separate facilities. When there’s a crowd, the whole game changes…
The action kicks off Thursday, Sept. 28 on YouTube.