The first official season of Blizzard’s eSports juggernaut Overwatch League is closing in on its championship battle. It’s been a whirlwind six months full of incredible matches, unbelievable wins, shocking losses, and standout performances, and with the Grand Finals mere weeks away, the best may yet be to come. DIRECTV will be broadcasting every match of the playoffs and finals on DisneyXD and ESPN, but before those final matches get underway, we’re taking a look back at the inaugural season of Overwatch League to understand how we got here.
This guide has everything you need to know about Overwatch League, from its formation to the top players and performances of Overwatch League’s first season. With this information, you won’t be lost when the big matches air on DIRECTV starting on July 11, and ending the weekend of July 27 with the Grand Finals at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.
What is Overwatch League?
For the uninitiated, Overwatch League (OWL) is an eSports platform developed by Blizzard Entertainment in support of its massively successful team-based multiplayer shooter, Overwatch. Throughout the season, teams of six have battled it out in several different match types (Escort, Assault, Control, and Hybrid) across 18 different maps in a series of “best of” battles to determine a winner. The season was split into four stages, with each of the 12 teams in Overwatch League playing 40 matches against their divisional and league opponents across the past six months.
All the teams are battling for a part of the $3.5 million prize pool, with the first place team taking home $1 million of that pot.
How Was The Overwatch League Formed?
When it was founded, the Overwatch League required a $20 million investment for a franchise team in any given city. For example, Comcast Spectacor invested in a franchise in Philadelphia, and New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft invested in a Boston team. Though teams will call those aforementioned cities (and others like Los Angeles and New York) home, every single game of the first season was played at The Arena, Blizzard’s very own multi-purpose eSports stadium in Burbank, CA. Subsequent seasons will see teams travel to different cities, but for premiere season, there were not any “true” home or away games.
The 12 teams were split into the Atlantic and Pacific divisions, with each hosting six different teams from around the country. All the players drafted by the teams were guaranteed one-year contracts for $50,000, with second-year options built in, as well as insurance, living accommodations, and more.
Who Are the Teams in Overwatch League?
Like we said, the 12 teams were split into two divisions, and every team was able to draft players for their rosters (of 6-12 players) starting in the fall of 2017. Any eligible player could be drafted by any team at any point, with said eligibility being defined by Blizzard’s terms. Subsequent seasons will see modifications to the way players are drafted and signed, but the open enlistment proved to be rather entertaining and gave each team access to essentially the same pool of talent without having to worry about a lot of restrictions.
Atlantic Division (* denotes a playoff team; ** denotes first round bye):
Founded by the Kraft Group, the Uprising were the first team in the Overwatch League. This season, Boston finished in third place overall with a 26-14 record. That Boston was able to overcome some serious personnel issues (“star” player Jonathan Sanchez was terminated late in the season after allegations of sexual impropriety) to finish in third is a testament to the core of the team. Notably, the play of Nam-joo "Striker" Kwon and Stanislav "Mistakes" Danilov kept Boston afloat, even through a disastrous fourth stage. Those two will have to come up big in the quarter-final match against the Philadelphia Fusion if Boston hopes to keep its Grand Finals hopes alive.
The Boston Uprising; Activison/Blizzard
Owned by Misfits, an eSports organization with ties to the Miami Heat, the Florida Mayhem finished in 11th place with a 7-33 record. Though they didn’t make the playoffs, Mayhem fans should be encouraged by the elite play of Andreas "Logix" Berghmans, who showed tremendous skill with both Widowmaker and Tracer through OWL’s first full season.
Narrowly missing the playoffs in seventh place, the 22-18 Outlaws were founded by OpTic Gaming, best known for its domination in Call of Duty eSports. Being just on the cusp of a playoff berth bodes well for the Outlaws going into next season, particularly if Austin "Muma" Wilmot is able to continue his tremendous Tank play.
New York Excelsior**
At 34-6, it’s hard not to call the New York Excelsior’s domination of OWL’s first season impressive. The top team of the entire season, the Excelsior were built by Sterling.VC, the same ownership group that has a stake in the New York Mets. A team filled with elite Overwatch players, it’s hard to single out just one star from this team. That said, South Korea’s Seong-Hyun "Jjonak" Ban has been a stand out player all season, with his Zenyatta disrupting opponents in ways few others have mastered. Even with a few stumbles during stage four, NYXL is the odds-on favorite for the first Overwatch League title.
The Philadelphia Fusion barely made the playoffs with a 24-16 record earning them the sixth and final spot. However, that doesn’t mean the Boston Uprising should be looking past them to the semi-finals. Like so many Philadelphia sports teams, the Fusion have tons of grit, having played the most 5-map matches of any team in OWL. With Jae-Hyok "Carpe" Lee’s outrageous Widowmaker pushing the action, there’s no telling how far this underdog team can go. They just have to get past Boston first.
The only European team in the league’s first season, the Spitfire were created by eSports empire Cloud9, and fought every step of the way for a 24-16 record, and the fifth playoff seed. Like many of the other playoff teams, there are very few weak spots in the Spitfire’s roster. Ji-Hyeok "birdring" Kim’s unbelievable flexibility certainly made him one of the most fun to watch all season long however, and his skills are exactly what the Spitfire are going to rely on when battling the Los Angeles Gladiators in the quarter-finals.
Pacific Division (* denotes a playoff team; ** denotes first round bye):
Team Envy, another eSports juggernaut, turned its attention to the bright lights of Dallas for its Overwatch team. The Fuel had a losing record of 12-28 on the season, but were still a thorn in more than a few teams’ sides throughout the season. If Jonathan "HarryHook" Tejedor Rua can keep up his strong Support role action next season, things could very well turn around for the Fuel.
Los Angeles Gladiators*
One of two Los Angeles-based teams in the Overwatch League, the Gladiators were vying for dominance of the west coast all season long with the LA Valiant. Just a few games separated the two, with the Gladiators finishing just two games behind the cross-city rivals at 25-15. Those two games were enough to drop the Gladiators to the fourth seed however, meaning they’d need to defeat the Spitfire if they hoped to live deeper into the playoffs. After being “traded” to the Gladiators by the Spitfire, Chan-Hyung "Fissure" Baek’s Tank play pushed the Gladiators to the playoffs. Getting more revenge on his former team sounds like it should be fun to watch.
Los Angeles Valiant**
The second-best team in the inaugural Overwatch League season, the Los Angeles Valiant blew through almost every opponent to a 27-13 record. The Valiant won stage four of the season, and beat the Excelsior to do it, which could be a preview of what’s to come in the OWL playoffs. Getting the bye to earn more practice and prep time for its players, and recent, breakout addition Indy Halpern, can only further that cause. With the continued excellent Support play of Young-Seo "Kariv" Park, the Valiant could well steal the first OWL championship from the Excelsior.
Los Angeles Valiant;Activison/Blizzard
San Francisco Shock
The San Francisco Shock ended the season with a 17-23 record, which is far from what founders NRG Esports had in mind at the start of OWL, but it’s not all bad news. They may have missed the playoffs, but fans should be encouraged by Nikola "sleepy" Andrews’s strong Zenyatta play heading into next year.
Korean Silicon-Valley, or KSV Esports, put the Dynasty together, but the first season’s 22-18 record was anything but dynastic. Still, a winning record is nothing to be ashamed of even if they were just a few wins outside the playoff bubble. Je-Hong "ryujehong" Ryu’s ability to flip between a few roles should provide a solid building block for a playoff run next year.
Oh, Shanghai. At 0-40, the Dragons dismal season hardly went as planned, but Blizzard’s Chinese distributor (and owner of the Dragons) NetEase can hardly be disappointed with the press surrounding a winless team. There weren’t many standout performances on the Dragons, and we have to wonder if any of this team’s current players will be back again next year.
Wait, What’s All This About Tanks and Support?
Ah, Overwatch is a class-based shooter, which means different characters can fill different roles for each team. There are a number of characters that fit a given role, but the general breakdown is as follows:
Tank: These heroes soak up damage, and because of that often lead the charge into battle. They can also help fortify position, or break up opposing groupings with massive power moves. Popular Tanks are Reinhardt, Winston, and D.Va.
Support: These heroes can deal some damage, but primarily exist to provide healing and other buffs to their teammates. These characters are often the most underappreciated, but also the most crucial to lasting lengthy battles. Popular Supports are Mercy, Zenyatta, and Brigitte.
Damage: These characters are the most varied on the roster, and are capable of putting the hurt on opposing teams in a number of different ways. Some of these characters can snipe from great distances, and others are close-range battering rams of pain. Popular Damage characters are Widwomaker, Genji, and Tracer.
How do the Overwatch League Playoffs Work?
With six of the teams primed for playoff action, four will face off in the quarter-finals starting on July 11. The top two teams (the New York Excelsior and the Los Angeles Valiant) were granted byes until the semi-finals, which bodes well for player rest and gameplanning, but they’ll also have to shake off some rust the other teams won’t have.
Teams will be reseeded after the quarter-finals, with the Excelsior playing the team that had the worse win-loss record on the season, and the Valiant playing the remaining team with the better win-loss record. The July 18 match-ups should prove interesting, as the bright lights and pressure of elimination bare down on players on every team.
Finally, the Grand Finals will see the two teams that were able to outlast everyone else duke it out for the $1 million prize, with the remaining $2.5 million split among the other teams.
All you have to do to enjoy them is tune in to the live coverage of the final three rounds, and cheer on your favorite team in the hopes they can bring home the Overwatch League championship.
Check out the full schedule below (all times Eastern), and get hype for some serious Overwatch action!