G’day, my name is Mitch and with some of my friends looking into the Overwatch League (OWL) for the first time, I thought I’d put together a little guide to how the league as a whole works, a little about what the “meta” is and what that really means and a little about some of the main narratives and storylines heading into the 2021 season.
I’ll prefix this by saying I am in no way a Pro, in either my rank or my writing, I’m just Some Dude that loves to watch OWL and wants to introduce as many people as possible to my favourite eSport. If you believe I have something wrong please do let me know, I am an adult so can admit when I make mistakes and can edit the post if necessary.
I hope this helps new viewers gain a better understanding of what they are watching and allows people to enjoy watching OWL as much as I do!
So how does this league actually work?
Okay let’s start with the leagues structure and schedule then. The OWL 2021 season is split into two regions, North America (NA) and Asia-Pacific (APAC) with the 20 OWL teams being separated into these two regions as follows
Los Angeles Gladiators
San Francisco Shock
Los Angeles Valiant
New York Excelsior (Referred to as NYXL
The Season will run through 4 tournament cycles comprising of 4 qualifying matches, followed by the top 6 teams in NA and top 4 in APAC competing in a regional knockout stage, then the final remaining 2 teams in each region will battle in an inter-regional double elimination bracket. The tricky part to all this is figuring out which matches count towards the overall league standings and which ones are only relevant for tournament cycles.
The league standings will determine who plays in the post season playoffs, a win gets you 1 League Point and a loss gets you nothing, since the playoff set up has not been detailed by OWL as of writing, I won’t go into details about how the standings and playoffs work for now.
The important part for now is understanding which matches count towards these standings and which ones don’t, also what the incentive for winning these tournaments are. The 4 qualifying matches WILL count towards these standings and the regional knockout matches will NOT count.
The matches themselves in the inter-regional double elimination bracket also do NOT count towards the overall standings, however the final placing for the top 4 teams in this bracket is crucial. Aside from bragging rights, there is a monetary prize pool for each tournament as well as the teams receiving League points for their league record based on final placement. These points are distributed as follows: 1st = 3 points 2nd = 2 points 3rd = 1 point 4th = 0 points
Okay, Overwatch is patched all the time, how does that affect the league?
There will be times when the live game patch is different (always newer) than the patch being used in OWL. This is due to the patch being locked to tournament cycles, so whatever the patch is when the teams start playing their 4 regular season matches, that patch will remain in effect until after the end of that particular tournament. The new patch will then be implemented in the bye week following the end of the tournament.
This allows the league teams to really come to understand the meta for each tournament and bring their absolute best for these matches.
There it is, wtf is “meta” and why should I care?
Fleta is Meta.
You’re not funny “dude”…
Sorry it must be done, it’s the law! Okay so exactly what “meta” really means would be a longer discussion for another time. I’m going to assume that if you are far enough into your Overwatch hobby that you are taking the time to read this and watch pro play that you understand the concept of roles within roles, things like Hitscan DPS, Off Tanks, flex supports etc.
The “meta” is what happens when players having played a particular patch long enough to have found the most powerful combination of heroes and playstyles in order to maximise their win percentage. At the Pro level when a team involves some of the best players and most importantly best coaches in the world this effect is heightened immensely. It is not an exaggeration to say that a good or bad read on the meta can be the difference in between a tournament victory or being bundled out in straight sets.
In OWL the meta is even more important due to Hero Pools which we will go over a little later on.
Over the years of Pro play some specific metas have been prevalent so I will detail those ones here, beyond these any new patch has the chance to completely define the meta for a tournament stage. We’ll start with Rush and Brawl as it seems these will be the Meta for the first tournament, at least at the time of writing.
Rush as the name implies, is mostly about rushing down the enemy using fast moving heroes and specifically Lucio speed boost to get your DPS and high damaging tanks into the best position to frag and win fights. Fights in Rush meta tend to move very quickly, with the speed of movement resulting in some early picks (kills) that tend to make or break team fights early.
Brawl and Rush can be very similar and sometimes interchangeable. The main difference is there is significantly less reliance on speed and more on individual hero/player “power level”. This is Overwatch at its most basic level, fights in Brawl can be won, lost then won again off the back of single player carries, clutch picks and creative plays.
Dive is what happens when the most powerful heroes are also the ones with the highest mobility, Co-ordination, timing and raw mechanical skill are at their highest during a dive meta. The basic idea is for your tanks and DPS to “Dive” onto an out of position enemy and eliminate them ASAP, this requires immense co-ordination because if someone jumps too early? Well now THEY’RE the one out of position, too late and you miss your chance. Poor supports generally get bullied in a Dive meta.
This meta is another hybrid of sorts using Winston and Zarya’s “bubble” abilities in tandem to allow the Winston player the survivability to get the space clearing work done that allows the DPS the space they need to find fight winning picks.
This by no means covers all the metas in Overwatch and is a very barebones introduction to the topic but it should at the very least give you an idea of what you will be looking at when watching an OWL match.
Wait what are “Hero Pools”?
In order to showcase more hero and meta diversity, the Overwatch League implemented hero pools which to put it simply means that for 2 of 4 tournament cycles, 1 Tank, 1 Support and 2 DPS heroes will be unavailable for teams to play. These heroes will be chosen at random with higher pick-rate heroes having a bigger chance to be removed. There will also be no hero pools for the playoffs.
Alright then, who are the top teams I should be watching?
Well, in a league that has 20 teams there are going to be a few title contenders and a few also rans. There are a couple of the mid-card teams (and even the bottom team, we’ll get to you Valiant) that have some interesting stories to tell…
San Francisco Shock:
We’ll start at the top of the mountain. The SF Shock are the reigning and undisputed champions of the Overwatch League, they have more tournament and season titles than any other team and have won the overall season championship twice on the trot, now going for the 3-peat. The most incredible thing about the Shock is their adaptability, through all their victories they have dominated countless metas, made numerous roster changes and even coaching changes. These guys are your “Final Boss” of OWL.
Rags to Riches doesn’t do this team justice. From a statistically absurd 0-40 season in 2018 to a tournament victory in 2019 and posting the best win-loss record of the 2020 season. If not for a jarring meta shift in last year’s playoffs there is a real chance we could be referring to the Dragons as the reigning champs right now. But the fact of the matter is we aren’t and that stings for these Dragons, 2021 will be about redemption and with the raw talent on this team both on the server and in the coach’s box, Shanghai are every chance to dethrone the Shock.
Oh Dallas, the cycle of misery for a Dallas Fuel fan is inescapable it seems. One of the foundation teams of OWL, the story of Dallas is one of promised success and failed potential. The phrase “Dallas vs the Fuel” once was a simple slip of the tongue has become almost ubiquitous with this team. Now, I don’t enjoy bashing on the Fuel but knowing the history is important for understanding where this team could go from here, following sweeping roster changes that brought in the former Paris Eternal roster, the same roster that had claimed one of the mid-season tournaments in 2020 along with some of the best role players in the league. There are still glaring holes in Dallas’ roster, but the signs are good, and the future is bright.
The Justice had been a lower mid-card team for their entire existence right up until the playoffs last year when they signed Decay (some might say controversially) – one of the most talented players to ever log into the server – and made a run through a double elimination bracket sending many higher ranked teams home unceremoniously. Following this, Decay has re-signed with Washington which the team has used as a catalyst to sign some of the most talented players the league already had and some new rookies that have been dominating tier 2. Washington are a team that appears to be adopting the philosophy of “the best defence is a good offence”, their DPS and Tank lines are terrifying on paper but the back line supports are noticeably not of the same calibre. Regardless of how they actually perform, the sheer amount of raw mechanical talent on this roster will be fantastic to watch.
Los Angeles Valiant:
They broke it… No seriously, the organisation behind the Valiant sold the rights of the team to another company based in China with the idea being to have the team compete in APAC, but when getting their entirely western team relocated, they realised that visas would be an issue and so they simply dropped their entire roster (some of these players have found new teams, some have been forced to retire) and pick up a full Chinese roster locally. The new owners have signed whoever was willing to play which has resulted in a team that is staring down the barrel of a “no win” season, it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that the focus of the new org is simply to get through the 2021 season and prepare themselves for what I can only assume will be a full rebranding of the team.
There is more to this story but I’m running out of words, so I’d suggest that if you want to know the full story there are numerous articles from eSports journalists that are a simple google away.
There is a whole lot more going on with the league than just what I’ve covered here, including who are the best and most entertaining players, who are the best specialists for your favourite heroes. But I’m already over 2000 words, so we’ll save that for another time!
I hope that through reading this it can provide you with a little more understanding of OWL and allow you to enjoy what I believe is the most fun and entertaining eSport in the world.