The offseason is a pesky thing in sports. It’s often a time where players and coaches can rest and reevaluate. It’s also a time where fans and members of the press are deprived of the sport they love, a time where they dissect every move their team makes.
Overwatch League’s only offseason was no different. Trade rumors, contender pickup speculation, team drama, and power rankings flooded social media over the past few months. Teams had to grapple with how to deal with external perceptions of their talent, chemistry, emotions, and every aspect of playing high level Overwatch.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to live under a microscope. From what most teams told Heroes Never Die, they’ve either put blinders on and ignored it or embraced it as part of their identity. There is no middle ground.
This is the first time many of these teams, including both the twelve original and eight expansion, have had such a spotlight on them. Many NFL and NBA regulars, coaches and players alike, do everything they can to avoid the fuss online so they can stay focused. While some Overwatch competitors do the same, esports has been driven by personalities for the longest time and some teams’ reactions to power rankings prove that.
While power rankings across websites and forums have a variety of teams listed fairly low, the Washington Justice and Toronto Defiant are never far from the bottom.
“We fully embrace it, we love that we’re ranked so low. We have nothing to lose so we’re going to go in strong and have a good time,” Toronto Defiant head coach Beom-joon “Bishop” Lee tells Polygon. “We don’t have a chip on our shoulder, we don’t want to prove anyone wrong. We just want to play our game.”
But while one team uses their low ranking as fuel, the other finds them completely irrelevant and ignores them. “A lot of these power ranking articles have fundamental misunderstandings of simple things, like what position players on our team play,” said Washington Justice assistant general manager Kate Mitchell. “Before season one all the rankings were completely inverted by the end of the season. You could worry about it, but that’d be wasting your time.”
“We had blinders on about it,” she added. “But we definitely don’t after today since that’s the first thing we get asked every time.”
Most teams that Polygon spoke to agreed that power rankings have been flawed in how they evaluate teams. They often over -- and under -- value things that aren’t quantifiable like storylines, emotions, or team cohesion. While those are important elements, they aren’t easy to quantify on a list.
“People do have a better idea where to rank the season one teams, but the expansion teams are a huge question mark,” Lee said. “But community rankings were completely off and I expect them to be mostly the same this year.”
Teams on the top end of lists also ignore the rankings, in order to stay on target. “We’re not letting other people’s opinions distract us,” said Hangzhou Spark general manager doublesai. “We’re getting rid of all distractions and just focusing on doing our best.”
The Hangzhou Spark and Vancouver Titans are heading into the season opener with high expectations — they’re both seen as powerhouse rosters with enough talent to take out any other team in the league. While the keep-the-trash-talk-to-a-minimum mentality could be stronger with Chinese and Korean rosters, it doesn’t change the fact that these teams know about the rankings, but still consciously choose to disregard them.
No matter how teams feel about power rankings and other offseason musings, they’re here to stay. The Overwatch League puts competitive play into an easily digestible format, making NFL-like rankings simple content that’s fun to produce, read, and discuss. Whether these rankings affect how teams play during the season is yet to be seen.
Everyone was green to the concept of Overwatch league when it started last year so the rankings and storylines were all over the place. This time around fans and analysts have a lot of content and VODs on hand to help them rank all of the twenty teams.
“When I was coaching London everyone ranked us really high. The team was extremely strong and I was very confident, but then every now and when you see a team that you don’t know much about-- it’s kind of scary no matter what you read. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Lee said. “If you ask Overwatch League players if they’re good at the game, everybody will raise their hand, but what really differentiates teams is how much they care.”