The Overwatch League moves to Texas this week, and our writers have five questions they'd like to see answered at the Houston homestand. Speaking of Houston ...
What the heck is going on with the Outlaws?
Emily Rand: When Houston first announced its lineup this past offseason, I was excited about it. Nearly all of the pickups were upgrades or at least side-grades with varying hero pools -- a necessity in 2-2-2, particularly with the official announcement of Hero Pools from the league itself.
Now, following the great Boston Uprising-Houston Outlaws battle of 2020, also known as the Min "Jerry" Tae-hee vs. Lee "Jecse" Seung-soo wars, I have no idea what to say about Houston. On paper, this team should be mediocre at least. In execution, the team lacks coordination, and some of their most reliable talent historically, like main tank Austin "Muma" Wilmot, has not been playing particularly well. This looks like a situation where something is happening internally that we cannot possibly know, but that doesn't make it any less sad to watch. I hope the Outlaws figure things out, especially prior to their own homestand this weekend where they'll face two tough opponents, the Toronto Defiant and London Spitfire.
ESPN Daily Newsletter: Sign up now!
Tyler Erzberger: They're bad. Is that too blunt? I like the organization and the players on the roster as individuals, but their talent isn't strong enough to outweigh the obvious communication and chemistry issues within this new makeshift roster. While Houston was never known for its pure mechanical prowess, it did have chemistry in previous campaigns, and even though his leadership qualities and intangibles were sometimes mocked, the Outlaws are sorely missing Jake "Jake" Lyon in the roster.
It always takes time for mixed-language rosters to reach their full potential and it won't be any different for the Outlaws, but I don't know how far they can go even when (or if) they start playing at the same rhythm. The loss to the Boston Uprising will go down as one of the biggest train wrecks in the league's short history. If they don't pull out of it this weekend at their opening homestand -- in front of their rabid fan base -- they might not be winning anytime soon.
Arda Ocal: We can talk about how the Outlaws are lowest in the league in team fight win rates (36.8% vs. Philly at 60.5%, which leads the league), or that they've only won two maps this season (despite being in the match with the most maps in Overwatch League history against Boston) ... but when I think of this question, I don't think of performance in the game.
I think of the Outlaws having a jersey retirement for Jake.
That's right, No. 76 is "going up in the rafters" on Sunday.
Now, I say this with complete respect to Jake. He was a great player, the Outlaws' marquee player even ... but a jersey retirement? That's an honor usually bestowed on a player who accomplished great things on that team -- a championship, MVP awards, leading the team to great success. The Outlaws only played in two stage playoff games in the first two seasons, winning only one map.
Sure, you could argue that Jake was Houston's best player in a bad era and he was the heart and soul of the team, and that warrants credit, and I'd agree ... but give him a "Houston Outlaws Heart and Soul" trophy. Maybe even kick off an "Outlaws Ring of Honor" where you commemorate players like Jake. A jersey retirement is a bit much. In fact, it's too early in the league's existence to even think about retiring jerseys. I wouldn't even retire Jay "sinatraa" Won's jersey right now. It has been two seasons; let it breathe a little before we raise numbers to the ceiling.
Jacob Wolf: The Outlaws just look awful. Plain and simple. No sugarcoating here. To Emily's point, they seemed like they could be exciting, but a lot of the teams in the Overwatch League leveled up in the offseason. The Outlaws just flat out didn't. I'm not necessarily sure who's to blame for that, but heading into their homestand, I can't help but think they're going to lose both their matches to London Spitfire and the Toronto Defiant. So be it, though.
The Jake jersey retirement is a nice touch, but it feels like they're jumping the shark. I agree with Arda. Jake is a notable figure in the esports community and one who deserves respect, but his time on the Outlaws didn't win them a championship. He didn't win a regular-season MVP. Jersey retirements should be for players who carry teams to gold -- like sinatraa and the San Francisco Shock when he ultimately retires -- or ones who at least come close, like Jae-hyeok "Carpe" Lee and the Philadelphia Fusion.
A tribute video would have sufficed. A jersey retirement seems a bit much.
The Reign are typically a highly rated team, but haven't played a game yet. What do you expect from them this weekend?
Ocal: I feel like Babybay and Dogman will thrive this season. I like how they think about the game and I feel like this meta, especially with Babybay's DPS play, will be pretty solid. Like Tyler said, they have some nice pieces around them that have the potential to shine bright, so this is definitely an exciting team to watch in Season 3. But this season also lends itself to surprises, so who knows? People didn't expect Philly to crush NYXL. Unpredictable is better entertainment!
Rand: Expectations for the Reign are high, but I certainly don't see them coming in and stomping their opponents. Even if they do win both matches against the Toronto Defiant and Paris Eternal, I think they'll be fairly close. Toronto are flexible with the DPS players they have, and will likely pull out some more creative duos using Lane "Surefour" Roberts, Brady "Agilities" Girardi and Andreas "Logix" Berghmans. Meanwhile, Atlanta will hopefully give space to Kim "Edison" Tae-hoon, Andrej "babybay" Francisty and Jeong "Erster" Joon, the latter of whom became one of the league's top rising stars during Stage 4 last year.
Environmental kills on Lúcio have been a massive factor in wins thus far, and Petja "Masaa" Kantanen can hang with the best of them, so I'm looking forward to seeing him back onstage. I'm tentatively saying it will be a 1-1 weekend with a close loss to Toronto and a close win over Paris, but it will all depend on how much Atlanta have prepared going into this weekend.
Erzberger: I expect a 2-0 weekend. This will be a great litmus test for a team expected to make the playoffs and have a shot at making a league final. Their two opponents this weekend, Toronto and Paris, have been solid during their first few matches of the 2020 campaign. Paris has been stronger than I expected out of the gate and Toronto has played well. While neither team is undefeated, I fully expect both to be in the middle of the pack jostling for positioning throughout the year.
For Atlanta, a team with firepower across the board, I want to see a show. This will be the debut of potential Rookie of the Year candidate Edison and with McCree becoming a staple, I expect to see some pop offs from the South Korean wunderkind. I also want to see Xander "Hawk" Domecq have a big weekend. He was one of the better players in the Contenders scene in 2019 and if he can transition that to the majors, the Reign will be right up there contending for a top seed.
Wolf: I expect them to beat Toronto and Paris, but not by a landslide. The Reign should be a good team and, like in 2019, be competitive with the best of them. But I don't think they're in the same tier as the Philadelphia Fusion, New York Excelsior, Vancouver Titans or San Francisco Shock. I'm not necessarily sure at this point how to compare them to the likes of the Seoul Dynasty either. But I do expect them to be scrappers this season, get some good W's and compete come playoff time. That said, the jury is still out.
Are the Fusion the best team in the league?
Erzberger: I can say they're one of the more talented teams in the league, but I can't say they are the best. Honestly, it'll be hard for me to call anyone the best in the Overwatch League, even the reigning champion San Francisco Shock, without seeing the Asian teams start their season. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus outbreak and the canceling of numerous homestands, we still don't know when we'll see possible title contenders like Shanghai or Seoul take to the stage.
At this point, Philadelphia fans should be excited. Their team is fun to watch, Lee "Carpe" Jae-hyeok is back to his ace form and they're one of the deepest teams in the league when it comes to who they can throw out onto the field at any time. Best, though? They'll need to win the midseason tournament before I can even humor that idea.
Rand: I see the current Fusion as the platonic ideal of what this roster has wanted to be for years: remarkably strong DPS players who are set up and framed by the efforts of their tank and support lines. In past years, we've seen the Fusion do well when their DPS line is given ample room and time to pop off, especially the prodigious hitscan player Carpe.
What's different about this year is that the Fusion now have stronger setups from their tanks and supports. Anyone who watched Kim "Alarm" Kyeong-bo on Fusion University knew that he was going to be a star as soon as he started in the league. He and Daniel "FunnyAstro" Hathaway have both been playing well from the start. This, in turn, seems to have given the Fusion tank line a revitalized look. Flex tank Gael "Poko" Gouzerch, in particular, is potentially playing the best Overwatch of his career. The Fusion are the strongest-looking team we've seen in the league. As for whether they're the best, I have to echo Tyler and say that it's difficult to tell right now, given how few rosters we've seen thus far due to how the coronavirus has affected league scheduling.
Ocal: Until proven otherwise. The entire Fusion squad is at a 60.5% win rate on team fights, with Alarm, FunnyAstro, Poko, SADO, Carpe and Ivy Nos. 3 through 8 on the player team fight win rate rankings also at 60.5% (behind only Eternal's Damien "HyP" Souville at 63.9% and BQB of the Mayhem at 62.8%). That's impressive. Philly has a 52.2% first elimination rate in team fights, and when they kill first, the Fusion win 93.5% of fights (they have had 205 team fights so far this season).
One interesting thing from the OWL stats lab (which is awesome, by the way; can every esport have one of these please?) is that Carpe considerably leads his team in clutch final blows. Only a couple of players (such as Uprising's Jerry, NYXL's Saebyeolbe, Mayhem's BQB and Titans' Min-soo "SeoMinSoo" Seo) have more favorable clutch blows, but with considerably less team fights engaged. Basically, Carpe is crushing it.
Wolf: Have they played the San Francisco Shock yet? I didn't think so. I think the Shock are the test they need to pass before they enter that conversation. A win over the Excelsior is nice, don't get me wrong, but there are still some other fantastic Overwatch League teams we've not seen play yet this season -- hello, Shock, Titans and Hangzhou Spark. Those are the opportunities I want to see the Fusion take on before I start making calls like this.
How do you think the players will react to the -- still experimental, likely not going to go live -- 1-3-2 mode?
Wolf: Still not a fan of game rules being implemented because the game itself is poorly balanced. I'd argue right now that Overwatch, the game, is in one of the best spots it has been in a while, from a balance perspective. I still don't like hero pools and I won't like the 1-3-2 mode either, if it does go into effect. Let them play the game unaltered, please.
Rand: It's a lot to throw in on top of hero pools, especially when we haven't even see hero pools in effect yet. Yes, it's not likely going live, but the amount of game changes in such a short amount of time concerns me as an outsider who prefers watching a stable meta (although, admittedly, I'm not the target audience for these types of things). Speaking hypothetically, if this did happen, I'd love to see players like Choi "HOTBA" Hong-joon be able to flex their DPS muscles again. Like any major change, certain players would like it and others, particularly the flex tanks, would rightfully be upset.
Erzberger: In a theoretical world where this came to be, Shanghai would probably throw a party. Any team with a premier flex tank would probably boycott the league and sit out. The Dragons, though, who have a loaded DPS depth chart and a questionable tank line, would be partying all night long.
Ocal: 3 DPS, 1 Tank, 2 Support ... I mean, look, watching giant tanks absorb damage isn't the most fun thing in the world from a viewership standpoint, and having three different primary damage dealers is much more interesting, but I can see this being a concern to many teams around the league, even if they don't publicly complain about it. Will it stick? 2-2-2 is still less than a year in. Hero pools, 1-3-2 -- who knows what else down the pipe -- seem like a lot to digest. But I commend the effort. It shows they care and want to try and get it right, even if it takes a few iterations.
Speaking of the experimental mode, should any of the tank reworks (i.e. Roadhog being able to heal his team, Zarya getting multiple barriers) make it to live if they decide to stay with 2-2-2?
Rand: It looks cool, but no. Pro players are good enough that changes like these in their hands would instantly take over the game.
Ocal: Roadhog becomes instantly scarier if that happens. Sure, you had the hook to bring your enemies closer to kill them, but now not only does your hook have a faster cooldown, but you can also heal your team? That's OP territory. I can't wait to see this in the hands of the professional player. Zarya, same thing. Bubbles for your allies within 8 meters of your target? Sounds pretty wild to me.
Wolf: That would be busted. Don't want either to make it live because, as Emily points out, in the right hands, this really makes games unfair.
NYXL vs. Mayhem
Arda: 3-2 NYXL
Emily: 3-2 NYXL
Jacob: 3-2 NYXL
Tyler: 3-1 NYXL
Defiant vs. Reign
Arda: 3-0 Defiant
Emily: 3-2 Reign
Jacob: 3-2 Reign
Tyler: 3-1 Reign
Spitfire vs. Outlaws
Arda: 3-0 Spitfire
Emily: 3-1 Spitfire
Jacob: 3-0 Spitfire
Tyler: 3-0 Spitfire
Uprising vs. Fusion
Arda: 3-0 Fusion
Emily: 3-0 Fusion
Jacob: 3-0 Fusion
Tyler: 3-1 Fusion
Eternal vs. Reign
Arda: 3-2 Reign
Emily: 3-2 Reign
Jacob: 3-1 Reign
Tyler: 3-0 Reign
Spitfire vs. Mayhem
Arda: 3-1 Mayhem
Emily: 3-2 Mayhem
Jacob: 3-1 Mayhem
Tyler: 3-2 Spitfire
Defiant vs. Outlaws
Arda: 3-0 Defiant
Emily: 3-1 Defiant
Jacob: 3-0 Defiant
Tyler: 3-2 Defiant