Much of the Overwatch League spotlight goes to veteran players, long admired for their consistent gameplay and epic pop-off moments. Every year, however, a handful of rookie players—some from unexpected origins—take over the narrative with clutch plays and a surprising amount of finesse.
As many veteran players opted for a quiet retirement or a new challenge elsewhere, new faces lit up the kill feed throughout 2021. Here are six players who proved the next generation has what it takes to demand respect from the old guard as well as the Overwatch League’s most hardcore fans.
Oh “Pelican” Se-hyun
Winning the 2021 Rookie of the Year award obviously means he belongs at the top of this list, but Pelican was one of the year’s most exceptional players regardless of his experience level. Hailing from O2 Blast out of Overwatch Contenders Korea, he was one of the most hype signings that lived up to—and beyond—that reputation.
Not only did Pelican manage to be a standout player on the Atlanta Reign’s roster for the entire season, but he also fought through a serious illness to help his team out during their playoff run. After suffering from a collapsed lung, Pelican committed to a cross-country road trip to make it to the West Coast, enabling him to play at a decent ping with his teammates located in Hawaii.
With Pelican’s help, the Atlanta Reign made it to the 2021 Grand Finals but eventually fell to the Shanghai Dragons. Next season, Pelican will be taking his skills to Houston.
Emir “Kaan” Okumus
This European Contenders mainstay wasn’t exactly a household name to many Overwatch League viewers when the season kicked off, but numerous clutch plays for the Paris Eternal elevated him to the forefront of fans’ minds. Paris’ mostly-rookie team had a spike in performance once Kaan got his bearings and started Zenyatta orb-sniping DPS out of thin air and hitting sleep darts that defied physics. He’ll be repeating these shenanigans on Paris in 2022.
Luka “Aspire” Rolovic
When multiple members of the Toronto Defiant were sidelined with COVID-19, the team signed Aspire on an emergency 30-day contract to continue its season. Few people expected the Defiant’s last-minute replacement to do more than fill a spot on the roster, but from the first minute Aspire got on the server he made a mark on his opponents with astounding hitscan plays.
Though Toronto eventually signed him to a full-time contract, he was dropped at the end of 2021 as the team pursued a revamped roster. He’ll be playing for the other half of the Great North on the Vancouver Titans next season.
Kim “skewed” Min-seok
Coming from little-known OZ Gaming from Contenders Korea, skewed was a signing that confused most Los Angeles Gladiators fans at the start of the season. With flex support superstar Kim “Shu” Jin-seo on the roster, many fans and analysts assumed he’d never see play time. When skewed picked up a mean Brigitte, however, he unseated two-time champion main support Grant “moth” Espe on the team’s starting roster. Skewed was one of the few holdovers the Gladiators will be taking into 2022 as they pursue glory once again.
Zheng “shy” Yangjie
Shy has been considered one of the wunderkinds of Chinese Overwatch for years, showing off his DPS skills in the Overwatch World Cup and on teams like LGD and Bilibili Gaming. His young age kept him out of the league for the first three seasons, but once he turned 18 the Hangzhou Spark didn’t hesitate to promote him to its main roster. He was one of the most epic sharpshooters in the East Region throughout all of 2021 and will likely repeat the performance next year.
Shin “PIGGY” Min-jun
To overhaul its often-unlucky team, the Houston Outlaws invested in the Talon Esports tank duo of PIGGY and Cho “JJANGGU” Myung-heum before the 2021 season began. While JJANGGU was also a standout rookie last season, PIGGY turned heads with his consistent and deadly Sigma play. His cheerful personality also made him a favorite among Outlaws fans, who were overjoyed to see the team would be building around PIGGY and DPS Dante “Danteh” Cruz in 2022.