The Overwatch League regular season returns this weekend after a two-week hiatus following the May Melee tournament, with another four-week tournament in the Summer Showdown. With the schedule starting back up and a boost in viewership during the May Melee along with some formatting and rule changes during that tourney, we have a lot of questions going into the next segment of the season.
Here's a look at some of what we expect and hope to see during play this weekend as well as predictions for all the matchups.
Are hero pools on their way out of Overwatch League?
Arda Ocal: I sure hope so. OWL tried, but it became way too big of a lift for players and coaches. This new tournament format is great; it adds drama and intrigue, not to mention an incentive to break metas more quickly (if we somehow happen to get into another GOATS-style situation). So my answer is I sure hope so. But stranger things have happened.
Emily Rand: By now, everyone knows my opinion on hero pools, so it should come as no surprise that I'm ecstatic to hear that they've been tabled indefinitely in ladder play. Combined with the new league play into tournament format, I still think we'll see a large variety of playstyles and compositions from different teams, so I'm all for it.
Jacob Wolf: I hope that's what the May Melee decision is leading to. Like I've said before, I felt the meta was stabilizing with in-game balance changes prior to hero pools, so I was disappointed to see them added early in the season. It felt Blizzard was just policing something it had subconsciously already found a fix for. So yes, please go away, hero pools.
Tyler Erzberger: I have no clue at this point, to be perfectly honest. While Jon Spector, the vice president of Overwatch esports, told me at the beginning of the season that hero pools would be removed if they didn't work out, the league has been so shifty with its plans at almost every turn this season that I can't really predict what it's going to do next. It seems as though the league settled on this monthly tournament idea with an overarching regular season, but it remains to be seen if hero pools won't be switched up once more before the third Overwatch League campaign comes to a close.
Are the Mayhem legitimate championship contenders?
Ocal: They proved it in May Melee. One more tournament performance like that and you can't ignore their impressive 2020 campaign. Gone are the days of the Mayhem and Shanghai Dragons being the laughingstock of the league.
I also like the content and social plays Florida has put together. Signing caster Josh "Sideshow" Wilkinson to a 14-day contract while the league was on hiatus was brilliant. Get one of the most entertaining figures on the scene to do some content with and for you. I love it.
Rand: You know what, yeah. I think they could be. I was skeptical prior to the May Melee tournament given Florida's strength of schedule. We had seen this with teams before, especially this year, where the schedule has been anything but straightforward or uniform in strength due to disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic. The Mayhem had a 3-0 series record going into the tournament with only one map loss, but they had faced some of the worst or most disorganized teams in the league in the Boston Uprising, Vancouver Titans post-2019 roster dump and Washington Justice.
Florida proved me wrong by showing up in full force for May Melee, beating both the Atlanta Reign and Philadelphia Fusion to face the San Francisco Shock in the final. Although the Mayhem lost, it was a respectable showing where they took both Junkertown and Blizzard World to force a 4-2 decision. We already knew that Kim "Yaki" Joon-ki was a beast and possible MVP candidate, but he and the rest of the Mayhem made a definitive statement to any remaining doubters in May Melee. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they can do in June.
Wolf: Yes. I still wouldn't make them the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing, but the Mayhem have certainly cleared the bar of my performance expectations. As Emily mentioned, beating the Reign and the Fusion is no small feat, and I think with a bit more time, they could face off against the Shock and win that series.
Side note: Earlier this season, I made a commitment (#RacetheMayhem), alongside a few other high-profile Overwatch community members and journalists, to lose 2.2 pounds for every Mayhem win this season. Prior to that, I had lost about 60 pounds and since, I've lost about another six -- the Mayhem, though, have won nine series. I'm about 12 pounds behind right now, and quarantine be damned, I will figure out how to exercise efficiently to catch up.
Erzberger: I'll be a pessimist and go against my colleagues by saying the Mayhem are not true contenders for the crown just yet. I do like their team and think that Kim "KuKi" Dae-kuk has done a bang-up job as Florida's head honcho, but declaring this team as legitimate world championship contenders seems a bit premature. If we were eyeing only the North American division, then yeah, of course, they're a top-three team alongside San Francisco and Philadelphia. But when we factor in the Asian division with heavy hitters such as the Shanghai Dragons (my No. 1 team in all of Overwatch League), a rejuvenated Seoul Dynasty, a strong Guangzhou Charge and a Hangzhou Spark with Park "Architect" Min-ho added to the lineup, the top of the table gets a lot more cluttered.
Could the Florida Mayhem make a run in the league playoffs? Sure, but I want to see them do well in the Summer Showdown before I start buying some Mayhem stock.
How does Haksal fit into NYXL's DPS lineup?
Ocal: I love this pickup. If you can't beat him, buy him. I think Kim "Haksal" Hyo-jong's services will really benefit NYXL. That's a very deep DPS depth chart with Haksal, Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol, Kim "Libero" Hae-seong, Jeong "Nenne" Yeon-kwan and Lee "WhoRU" Seung-jun. I think the OG players on NYXL -- the ones already mentioned plus Bang "JJoNak" Sung-hyeon and Kim "Mano" Dong-gyu -- will be very happy to have Haksal on the roster. I see this being a big net positive.
Rand: Haksal is obviously a great individual pickup. As for where he fits on the NYXL, I'm honestly unsure. NYXL are already flush with talented DPS players, so it will be more dependent on team synergy than anything else, something I think NYXL do value fairly highly as an organization.
Wolf: What a pickup. Haksal can only make NYXL better, in my opinion. We already saw what he was capable of on a Titans team that seemed to have a lot of unrest, so putting him on a NYXL roster that by most accounts is fairly stable can only lead to him improving. NYXL are still probably the best all-South Korean roster in Overwatch League, and adding one of the best South Korean stars to that lineup will be something to see.
Erzberger: Although I don't think on paper the Excelsior necessarily needed another DPS, I do think Haksal brings that one-man carry aura that the NYXL have desperately needed. Haksal is a true damage ace in the league, and as an added bonus, he's close friends with the team's talisman, JJoNak. This move gives New York some bite back after it lost a lot of its luster in 2020.
Which bottom-tier team will have improved the most: Titans, Justice or Uprising?
Ocal: Tough to say. All of them have specific roster concerns and have seen player departures, some more than others. The Titans are literally starting from scratch. The Justice lost two of their star players in Corey "Corey" Nigra and Ethan "Stratus" Yankel. The Uprising just can't catch a break. I would say perhaps the Titans because it's a totally clean slate, but it's too early to tell.
Rand: I think the Titans have the most room to improve, but improvement might not be able to be measured by actual results. Most of what we've seen from both the Justice and the Uprising is now known to both us as viewers and other teams, while the Titans are fresh and still have a hint of potential. The ability to go up against better players and teams than they could in Contenders should at least elevate their play individually, if not as a team unit.
Wolf: Justice, if we're taking last season into account. Losing Corey and Stratus is big, but I think the Justice will be OK. Not a good team by any means, but I believe they have somewhere to go. I have no faith in the Uprising and the Titans at this point.
Erzberger: It's going to be the Justice. Everyone ragged on the Mayhem for going to a full South Korean lineup, and now, after building out the infrastructure and getting to where they envisioned, everyone is praising Florida for how good it is. If I'm betting on one of the bottom-tier teams to rise up over the next year, it has to be the Justice, who've already shown they'll be aggressive in the transfer market and already have a major piece to build around in the form of Choi "JJANU" Hyeon-Woo.
Who's your early pick to win the Summer Showdown in both regions?
Ocal: Give me Shanghai in a repeat and Florida avenging their final loss to the Shock. I like those storylines. I hope Connor "Avast" Prince picks a Chad of the Tournament, too.
Rand: This year I'm all-in on the Dragons. I'm also looking at a possible redemption run from the Philadelphia Fusion, who I think are still a strong team despite not making it to May Melee finals.
Wolf: Dragons, Dragons, Dragons. It's surprising how high we all are on the Dragons right now, but it's well deserved. As for the other region, give me Florida. Think I'll have lots of weight to lose now.
Erzberger: I've been on the Dragons train since the start of the season, so Shanghai is my easy choice in the Asian region. For North America, I'm going to shoot my shot and go with the Dallas Fuel. I think their starting DPS tandem is one of the best in the league, and though it is a long shot, I want to believe that the Fuel can finally get some hardware in the Overwatch League.
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Spitfire vs. Dragons
Arda: Dragons 3-0
Emily: Dragons 3-1
Jacob: Dragons 3-1
Tyler: Dragons 3-0
NYXL vs. Dynasty
Arda: NYXL 3-1
Emily: Dynasty 3-2
Jacob: NYXL 3-1
Tyler: Dynasty 3-1
Eternal vs. Uprising
Arda: Eternal 3-1
Emily: Eternal 3-0
Jacob: Eternal 3-0
Tyler: Eternal 3-0
Mayhem vs. Fuel
Arda: Mayhem 3-1
Emily: Mayhem 3-2
Jacob: Mayhem 3-1
Tyler: Fuel 3-2
Reign vs. Gladiators
Arda: Reign 3-2
Emily: Gladiators 3-2
Jacob: Reign 3-1
Tyler: Gladiators 3-1
Fusion vs. Outlaws
Arda: Fusion 3-0
Emily: Fusion 3-1
Jacob: Fusion 3-0
Tyler: Fusion 3-2
Titans vs. Defiant
Arda: Defiant 88-0
Emily: Defiant 3-1
Jacob: Defiant 3-0
Tyler: Defiant 3-1
Valiant vs. Justice
Arda: Valiant 3-1
Emily: Valiant 3-1
Jacob: Valiant 3-2
Tyler: Valiant 3-1