After a year of promotional videos, press events and promises, the Overwatch League is ready to kick off with preseason action this week before the regular season begins in early January. This will be the first time fans get to see the Overwatch League franchises in action in their new uniforms. Although just the preseason, this week will set the tone of which teams could be considered favorites entering the inaugural season.
Here's a rundown of how I see the teams going into the preseason round of play.
1. Seoul Dynasty
The Dynasty have a core built from the two-time OGN APEX winners Lunatic-Hai, and the team added weapons on the offensive side of the lineup, which should be the fix the club needs following Lunatic-Hai's dismissal by the hands of GC Busan in the most recent APEX season. Watch out for Byung-sun "Fleta" Kim to quickly become one of the more recognizable DPS players in the league. Backed with the strongest tank/support quartet in the league, South Korea's home team has all the makings of a powerhouse coming into the first season of Overwatch League. The move that, in my opinion, puts the Dynasty over the top is scooping up GC Busan's coach, Ho-cheol "Hocury" Lee, the mastermind behind taking down LH in the previous APEX campaign.
2. London Spitfire
Speaking of APEX champion GC Busan, London Spitfire is where all the players wound up. The Spitfire is a combination of two of South Korea's best clubs, GC Busan and Kongdoo Panthera, leaving us with a 12-man roster that has so many delicious six-man teams that I'm pretty sure this team is fan fiction gone rogue. How is it fair that a single team has not only Joon-yeong "Profit" Park but Ji-hyuk "Birdring" Kim as well? This team is stacked from top to bottom with talent at all three positions.
The only question will be how the Spitfire will get the best out of all their talent. When you have a 12-man team that each has an argument to be a full-time starter, it's going to be up to the coaching staff and management to make sure everyone is happy with the role on the team. If the team can find the right balance, not even the Dynasty have the firepower to stand up to the Spitfire, though this could be a situation where there are just too many five-star cooks in the kitchen, as ludicrous as it sounds.
3. New York Excelsior
Oh, look, another all-South Korean team. It's almost like South Korea is far and away the best country at Overwatch or something. The Excelsior will be missing their superstar, Yeon-oh "Fl0w3R" Hwang, for the first season of the league because the DPS player is too young to compete per Overwatch League rules, and though that's a huge hit to the team's title hopes, don't sleep on the New Yorkers. Jong-yeol "Saebyeolbe" Park will be the de facto ace in the absence of Flow3r, and the addition of Hye-sung "Libero" Kim will give the Excelsior a plethora of strategies and compositions with his reputation as one of the most flexible players in all of the professional scene. The key player for Excelsior won't be at the DPS position, though. Rookie support Sung-hyeon "JJoNak" Bang has been one of the South Korea's top online players for some time now, and the success of his transition from his room to the big stage could be the difference between the Excelsior playing in the Overwatch League final or struggling to get into the playoffs.
4. Dallas Fuel
The final of the consensus "Elite Four" heading into the inaugural season is Team United Nations, more commonly known as the Dallas Fuel. The Fuel have eight countries represented on the roster, and the core of the group is from Team EnvyUs, the most successful western team in the pre-Overwatch League era. In a game in which South Korea is king, the Fuel are the only team with a legitimate chance to break up the South Korean trio and vie for the league title. When newcomers look at the Fuel roster, their eyes will instantly be drawn to the star-studded international DPS lineup of South Korean ace Hyeon "EFFECT" Hwang, Finnish sharpshooter Timo "Taimou" Kettunen and the most well-known player in all of Overwatch, America's Brandon "Seagull" Larned. Overall, the roster is rock-solid, and the coaching should make this team a top contender. In all honesty, when it comes to the top four teams, you can rearrange them in any order you like.
5. Los Angeles Valiant
The Valiant want to create a culture that breeds not only excellence but also doing it with class. In the first season of the Overwatch League, the team is built with the core of the Immortals roster, with additions from the now-defunct Rogue team that was considered one of the better western teams before it failed to make it into the OWL as a unit. As with most of the teams in this section of the ranking, it's hard to place the Valiant with certainty without more statistics and film. At least for now, the battle of Los Angeles in the power rankings goes to the Valiant. We'll see if that changes following the preseason round of competition.
6. Florida Mayhem
Coming in at what would be the cutoff for non-playoff teams in the regular season, we have the Florida Mayhem, made up of the Misfits team that got second place in the most recent European Contenders season behind the Finnish club Team Gigantti. On the plus side for the Mayhem, finding synergy shouldn't be an issue. All of these players know how to play together, and individually, the team should be capable of taking games off even the top four in the league. The only possible downside of said synergy comes when you look at the roster; with only six players, this Mayhem starting lineup needs to work. There are no trump cards up the Mayhem's sleeve, and if the team falls behind early in the season, it'll need to wait until the free-agent signing period to shore up its weaknesses. This team is a safe bet to start well but possibly slip as the season goes along.
7. Houston Outlaws
For me, the Outlaws might be the team with the highest variance of anyone in the first season of the Overwatch League. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Outlaws in the semifinals and fighting to upset one of the favored teams to make the final, and it equally wouldn't shock me to see the team at the bottom of the table, fighting to stay out of last place. Jiri "LiNkzr" Masalin of Team Gigantti fame will be slotted as the team's ace in the DPS position, and from there, the team has a lot of pieces that make you believe that if things click, there could be something special this season in Houston. It'll be up to head coach Tae-yeong "TaiRong" Kim, of the South Korean team that won the first Overwatch World Cup last year, to make sure these pieces of the puzzle come together in time for a strong first impression.
8. Los Angeles Gladiators
On paper, the Gladiators are a team with an interesting mix of North American, South Korean, European and even South American talent. Behind the Fuel, this is the most international team on the board, but the Gladiators lack the months of experience the Fuel have. The team will have a backline of supports from Team Gigantti that won EU Contenders a month ago, and it'll be intriguing to see if Lane "Surefour" Roberts can step up as an ace on this team. Like the Outlaws, this is a team that could turn some heads with a playoff appearance or fall to the bottom of the standings and be forced to make changes midseason.
9. Shanghai Dragons
This is the definition of a wild-card team. Where the other clubs have players who have played in APEX, Contenders and other international tournaments, Shanghai is made up of players who primarily played in the Chinese domestic league, leaving us with more questions than answers. If the Dragons had signed a majority of the Miraculous Younger roster, the top team in the Chinese region that showed some fight against a few of the better pre-OWL South Korean clubs, there could be something to take away. Instead, no Miraculous Younger players are on the roster, and we're left wondering how good this team could be. A majority of China's performances are against South Korean teams, and even if, let's say, a player of the Dragons got rolled over by a RunAway or GC Busan, is there much to learn from that when a majority of western teams would have been dealt the same result? Preseason is just preseason, but the upcoming set of games should answer some of the questions we have for the Dragons.
10. San Francisco Shock
It's never a good thing when your slated ace player can't play for part of the season because he's too young, and that's exactly what is happening with the San Francisco Shock. The Shock went out and got their man in Jay "Sinatraa" Won in the offseason, with a reported $150,000 contract ... and now they'll have to wait until his next birthday to see him play in the orange and grey. Oh, but that's not all: Matthew "super" DeLisi, the team's flex DPS/Tank player, is also underage, turning 18 in late March. With the team hamstrung for the time being, I'm interested to see how well the Shock can do without two of their core members for part of the season and see if they can keep themselves around a playoff position until the pair becomes eligible.
11. Boston Uprising
Out of all the franchises, none has gotten more criticism leading up to the preseason than the Uprising. One of the first franchises announced, the team's roster has left many scratching their heads, and with a poor introduction video, it has been misstep after misstep for the Uprising. The good news is that no one will care about the PowerPoint presentation-level introduction video or how many accolades the players have as long as the team performs when the roster plays together. Se-hyeon "Neko" Park, formerly of the NC Foxes, at support, is an overlooked, solid pickup for the team that has nothing to lose.
N/A. Philadelphia Fusion
The team announced Monday that it will not be participating in preseason because of "player logistics issues".