After a long, chaotic season which included the first-ever Overwatch homestands, the move to online play, hero pools, retirements, a new hero, and more, the 2020 Overwatch League playoffs are finally here. With the first matches kicking off today, we've got picks and predictions for you.
First off, who got your vote for MVP this season?
Tyler Erzberger: Although the season's unfortunate online format has made it difficult picking a single MVP, I was split between North America's Kim "Alarm" Kyung-bo for his ridiculous impact as a rookie for Philadelphia Fusion at the flex support position and Asia's Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun reaching his full potential that has been touted since he was carrying Flash Lux in OGN's APEX back in 2017. If I'm forced to pick a lone MVP representative, I'll go with Fleta, as I feel like he's the centerpiece of the world's strongest team.
Emily Rand: I'm fairly certain I've found some way to drag Nam "Cr0ng" Ki-cheol into nearly every APAC discussion that we've had in these roundtables. Even with the Shanghai Dragons being the obvious favorite in the Asia Bracket -- and Fleta certainly a worthy MVP candidate -- I have to give it to Cr0ng. Cr0ng has been a standout star all year for the Guangzhou Charge and a large reason as to why they've frequently been cited as a dark horse pick to beat the Shanghai Dragons in the various tournaments we've seen in the back half of the season (which they did in fact do during the Summer Showdown finals). Cr0ng's Sigma was his initial standout pick for me but he's proven to be flexible (like the title of his role) on multiple heroes for his position. Currently Cr0ng leads his team in multiple categories statistically, including hero damage and eliminations while being second on his team in final blows. He's a massive part of the Charge's success and if the Charge make a deep playoff run (as they're expected to) you can bet that Cr0ng will play a large role.
Arda Ocal: It's hard to vote against Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun since he literally has a stats category on the Overwatch League website (the "Fleta Deadlift: in which a player gets more than half of his team's final blows) literally named after him. I'll give some love to Lee "Carpe" Jae-hyok, who often while playing Overwatch is just outworldly. Carpe leads the league in Final Blow: Death Ratio (2.3), third in final blows (1,059) and sixth in hero damage (942,383). He is extremely exciting to watch, which to me is definitely a category worth prioritizing, especially for a winning team.
Jacob Wolf: I'm backing Emily's Cr0ng pick here because of what the title of "Most Valuable Player" means to me. MVP should be the person who does the most for their team and provides the most "value." I believe Fleta is the best player in the Overwatch League right now but I believe the Dragons distribute the load a bit more evenly than the Charge do. Cr0ng, to Emily's point, has been the main reason that the Charge have found success and for that, I'd certainly give him the nod. If I'm predicting MVP though and the way other people calculate that, I believe Fleta is favored to win.
What about Rookie of the Year?
Erzberger: Well, this is easy. I had Alarm in my top two of MVP choices and though I went with Fleta for my MVP choice, the Rookie of the Year award is all Alarm's from my point of view. He had high expectations coming over from Philadelphia's minor league roster and has more than delivered in his first year in the majors. I never thought I'd see a flex support better than New York's Bang "JJoNak" Sung-hyeon, but watching Alarm is a delight and he has carved out a quick legacy in his own right during his rookie season in the Overwatch League.
Rand: Since I voted Cr0ng for MVP, it's also only fair to pick him here as Rookie of the Year. There were a ton of standout rookie talents in the league this year, including Cr0ng and the aforementioned Alarm (another contender for league MVP in addition to Rookie of the Year). Shout-outs to the Paris Eternal's Choi "Hanbin" Han-bin and the Shanghai Dragons' Lee "LeeJaeGon" Jae-gon, and of course, the Philadelphia Fusion's Alarm.
Ocal: My vote was for Cr0ng of the Guangzhou Charge, who is often the shining star on a pretty good team already. The off-tank has really been able to take charge of maps and play to often lead his team to victory, he has been called "the biggest rookie surprise of the season" who has ascended to a new level of Sigma play. He's already also nominated for MVP, and if he doesn't get that, Rookie of the Year seems like a pretty strong choice.
Wolf: Cr0ng also. What a killer season. It's rare in any organized esport that a rookie is also a MVP candidate but I certainly believe Cr0ng is deserving of both. Like I said earlier, I'd favor Fleta to win the MVP -- even though he wouldn't be my vote -- but I think there's no way that Cr0ng doesn't win Rookie of the Year.
Which team has the potential to make a dark horse run at the title this season?
Erzberger: Give me the Los Angeles Gladiators. I know that they'll most likely be an early casualty in the playoffs, but the team's potential has stuck with me the entire year. I can't give up on them even though the best I can see them doing is winning a few rounds before being cannon fodder for San Francisco and Philadelphia. Kim "Birdring" Ji-hyeok has had games where he resembles the form that took London Spitfire to the championship in 2018.
Ocal: I don't think Florida would be considered a dark horse run, but all eyes will be on San Fran and Philly going into playoffs, so I'll say the Mayhem here, if only to pay my respects to Chuck E. Cheese and the Chad of the Match. Florida could shockingly win the tournament and become the Chads of the League.
Rand: Anyone who knows me knows who I'm going to pick here, despite the fact that every time I start believing in them, they lose. Given the variety of meta rumblings we've heard coming out of APAC scrims and their late-season resurgence, I'm continuing to back the Chengdu Hunters as a dark horse pick. They had a large role in meta adaptations through the Countdown Cup and regardless of how wacky the meta becomes, we can always rely on the Hunters to stick to what works for their players, often regardless of results. Whatever the Hunters end up doing in the playoffs, it's going to be great to watch.
For the North America side, I'm unsure as to how much of a "dark horse" pick the Paris Eternal are, but despite the fact that I fully expect Philadelphia and San Francisco to qualify for the final four from NA, I'm keeping an eye on the Eternal given their talent and strong performance in Summer Showdown and the Countdown Cup (despite not making finals in the latter).
Wolf: I like the Gladiators here, too. The Shock are the dominant force in the West and certainly a favorite to win another title this year in the West, but I think the second spot is a lot more fluid. The Gladiators can outkick their coverage and I hope to see them make a deeper playoff run than predicted.
Who do you see coming out of the North America region?
Erzberger: Until they're eliminated, it will always be San Francisco. They've lost players, swapped around players, and still, even after losing their leader and MVP in Jay "sinatraa" Won, they keep on picking up gold medals.
Ocal: If the season one finalists face the season two champions in the NA region final, that's a cool story. But yeah, the Shock are hard to bet against. I'm going San Fran is a close one but they have what it takes, even despite losing their MVP to VALORANT.
Rand: From North America I'm taking the San Francisco Shock and the Philadelphia Fusion. Again, I think Paris could sneak in here and it would be all that much of a surprise given how well we've seen them play a few times this year, but that's not enough to bet against the two best teams in NA for the entirety of the year.
Wolf: The Shock and the Fusion. The Shock, even with the roster changes and the loss of sinatraa, have continued to be a stable team and remained in championship form. Meanwhile the Fusion are exciting, very capable of competing at the highest level of Overwatch and a solid all-around team.
What about the Asia region?
Erzberger: Since preseason, I've said Shanghai is the most talented team in the league, and that included the Shock in that equation. The Dragons will win the Asia championship. I guarantee it.
Ocal: Shanghai all the way. Ever since that ridiculous May Melee epic reverse sweep in the grand final against Seoul, I've been on the Dragons bandwagon. The team hasn't given me a reason to doubt them -- they are only one of two teams with only two losses this season -- so I also guarantee that the Dragons will win. Tyler and I are never, ever, ever, ever wrong when it comes to any esport.
Rand: Shanghai across the board. My second team coming out of Asia is actually going to be the Guangzhou Charge. I wouldn't be surprised to see the New York Excelsior come out here, but I'm still backing my boy Cr0ng and the Charge for now.
Wolf: Shanghai! I've really enjoyed watching this team all year. Their spicy offseason this past fall has certainly led them to improve and I've been impressed by their play. Second is a bit harder to call, but the gut tells me the Charge.
Who's your pick to win the championship, assuming it happens?
Erzberger: Top four teams will be Shanghai, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia. Give me a Shock vs. Dragons final with Shanghai taking the crown.
Ocal: Shock repeat as champions if we get that far just to play contrarian, but the Shanghai narrative would be incredible -- from 0-42 to World Champions would be one heck of a documentary.
Rand: This is less analysis and more of what I want to happen: Shanghai taking it all. This team has been remarkable to watch all year as they've adjusted and adapted throughout violent meta shifts on the obvious strength of their DPS talent, but also added flexibility from unsung heroes like Kang "Void" Jun-woo and rookie standout LeeJaeGon. The story of main tank Lee "Fearless" Eui-seok, one of the few remaining players from that initial winless Season 1 team, reaching his full potential upon returning to the Shanghai starting lineup this year is only one of the amazing narratives around this team and their players. Coach Moon "Moon" Byeong-cheol has done a remarkable job with this Shanghai team and I want to see them take the title.
Wolf: With coronavirus numbers getting worse in South Korea, I have some real doubts it'll happen at all. But as of right now, I know Activision Blizzard wants it too -- or it'll make a lot of this season meaningless. I'll pick the Shock for a back-to-back, even though I'd bet that the Dragons will give them a really hard run for their money.