The inaugural season of Overwatch League was a bumpy road. Coaches, players, and managers had to figure out how to excel in a franchised, fresh league. In that short time they dealt with player burnout, compacted schedules, team management issues, and more ... all while evolving alongside a volatile Overwatch meta. With season two underway, that first year of experience is worth its weight in gold.
That’s why the league’s eight new expansion teams were at such a disadvantage coming into the opening week. Even if they had players and staff who participated in season one, those organizations only came together in the offseason. They had to cover vast amounts of ground in order to catch up to the original twelve.
“The original teams have an advantage in every aspect because of their playtime on stage and how they’ve already built out their infrastructure. New teams have to prepare their gaming house, team strategies, and everything else,” Terence “SoOn” Tarlier, who moved on from the Los Angeles Valiant to join the newly formed Paris Eternal, tells Polygon. “New teams need to put more energy into everything instead of just focusing on stage one.”
Despite the disadvantage, new teams won seven out of the nine matches they played during opening week. These fresh faces from contenders and elsewhere came to play and did not disappoint. The Hangzhou Spark dismantled the Shanghai Dragons, setting the tone for new teams in opening week, while other expansion squads like the Atlanta Reign and Toronto Defiant came out victorious against the Houston Outlaws and Florida Mayhem.
These early season wins may be encouraging to these new organizations, but anything could have happened during the seasons first week. The teams have been practicing off stage, but practice scrimmages weren’t indicative of the final product teams would display on stage. There’s still a long marathon ahead for teams to show their hand and play their most efficient strategies.
“We have nothing to lose and that type of mentality is scary to other teams,” said Toronto Defiant head coach Beom-joon “Bishop” Lee. “We’re an expansion team and we haven’t shown anything before this week.”
That element of surprise during early season matches between teams can be huge-- but it’s important not to get caught up in the hype, or lack of hype, around whoever you’re facing. The key, as the winless Washington Justice put it, is to look at every team as equals. “There’s an expectation that a new expansion team would do worse, that a mixed team would do worse versus a team that’s been around for a year,” said Justice support player Riley “Fahzix” Taylor. “I think it’s bad if you look at other teams as better than you, we’re playing London for our next match and they’re considered one of the best. It’s healthier to look at them as just another team.”
Win or lose, one week in Overwatch League doesn’t mean much. The season is long with multiple breaks, meta changes, new heroes, and so much more throughout the year. The real test for the new teams will be to see how they can adapt over time. “It’s about keeping the mentality-- this is an all year thing and teams got tired from playing an all year sport,” Justice assistant general manager Kate Mitchell said. “It’s about taking every match with a healthy mindset. We want to start strong and finish strong.”
The key to having a successful season, according to every team that Polygon spoke to during opening week, is to stay consistent despite how little time they’ve had to play together-- especially when compared to the original teams. “The difference is huge, not only the experience with the league but being together, building that bond, creating that feeling of mutual respect. You can’t coach that,” Lee said. “You look at teams like NYXL, even Vancouver who are also an expansion team, those guys have been around as a team forever. They look at each other as family and they have a huge jump start.”
“Does that mean that every other team that’s been formed after the first season has no chance? No,” Lee added. “If you look at season one a lot of the Western rosters struggled early on against Korean teams, but that changed as the season progressed.”
Everyone from the LA Valiant to the Florida Mayhem have expressed how vital team synergy is-- it’s arguably more vital than individual talent, usage of the current meta, or any other advantage a team can muster. It’s clear that a teams ability to work together cohesisvely will make or break their chances at Overwatch League success this year.
Right now, the game in a stale 3-3 meta with a ton of matches still ahead of its twenty teams. The real test will be how these squads come together as a unit to deal with how the game evolves throughout the season. “A lot of it does have to do with game planning,” Lee said. “Once players get used to playing as a team they can adapt to situations that weren’t coached.”