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How the Overwatch League 2021 postseason and playoffs will work

Let us give you the simplified lowdown on team standings, playoff structure, and more.

After a long and often chaotic season, the Overwatch League postseason officially begins on Sept. 4. In-person events may have been canceled due to visa issues and COVID-19, but the show still has to go on for teams vying for the $1.5 million Grand Finals prize.  

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With 14 teams still in contention for the 2021 championship, the playoff situation is predictably complicated. Many teams have already achieved a bye into the “official” playoffs, which is an extensive double-elimination bracket that will produce two Grand Finals competitors. Additional teams are fighting it out in single-elimination play-in rounds, which take place on Sept. 4 and 5, for the remaining spots in the playoff bracket. 

If this all sounds incredibly confusing, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a simplified breakdown of where teams stand heading into the postseason and a clear overview of how the play-ins and playoffs will work. 

Screengrab via Overwatch League | Remix by Liz Richardson

Team status 

Eliminated teams 

Across the entire Overwatch League, six teams have already had their season cut short. 

In the West Region, the Florida Mayhem, London Spitfire, and Vancouver Titans have been knocked out. The New York Excelsior, Guangzhou Charge, and Los Angeles Valiant from the East Region also won’t make an appearance in the postseason. 

Top-seeded teams 

Five talented teams racked up enough league points to go straight to the playoff bracket. Thanks to multiple tournament cycle appearances and victories, the Dallas Fuel and Shanghai Dragons sailed straight to the final bracket. The Los Angeles Gladiators, winners of the recent Countdown Cup, will join them. Multiple tournament cycle appearances also sent the Atlanta Reign and Chengdu Hunters to the double-elimination bracket. 

The first three seeds—Shanghai, Dallas, and Chengdu in that order—will select their opponents for the early rounds of the bracket. They’ll be able to choose from the Atlanta Reign or any of the victors from the play-in rounds. Meanwhile, the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Gladiators will be left with any team that’s not chosen by the higher seeds. 

Play-in teams 

The teams remaining in playoff contention limbo, six in the West Region and three in the East Region, will have to battle it out in high-stakes play-in brackets. They’re after the three remaining spots in the eight-team playoff bracket. 

In the West Region, the San Francisco Shock and Houston Outlaws are sitting pretty with a bye in the play-in rounds. They’ll have to face off against the winners of the first wave of matches. 

On Sept. 4 at 2pm CT, the Washington Justice will take on the Paris Eternal. The Justice selected the Eternal to be their opponent. Immediately after, the Toronto Defiant will battle the Boston Uprising. San Francisco will choose their opponent from those winners and Houston will be left with the other option. Both subsequent matches will take place on Sept. 5. 

It’s much more simple in the East Region, where the Philadelphia Fusion and Hangzhou Spark will fight for the chance to take on the Seoul Dynasty. Whoever makes it out of those games, which begin at 4am CT on Sept. 5, will join the final playoff bracket. 

Playoff structure 

Eight teams will throw down in the official Overwatch League playoff bracket with two teams emerging as Grand Finals competitors. The bracket will be double-elimination, so teams will have a chance to climb back to glory if they drop a match. 

The playoff bracket will be played on Patch 1.63, according to an update from the league. But the only actual hero changes came in the previous patch, which will be included in the playoffs. Buffs to Genji and nerfs to Wrecking Ball are the most notable. No Hero Pools will be active in the playoff bracket, meaning all heroes are available to play. 

Map selection will follow tournament cycle rules. The higher-seeded team will choose the initial Control map and every subsequent map in a series will be chosen by the losing team. Most matches will be classic Overwatch League first-to-three series, but select final matches—especially the Grand Finals—will be first-to-four.  

Due to the league’s decision to cancel in-person events and move to a Hawaii-based model, used in this year’s tournament cycles, the specific dates for the playoff bracket and Grand Finals have yet to be announced. 

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Liz Richardson
Liz is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago. Her favorite thing is the Overwatch League; her second favorite thing is pretending iced coffee is a meal. She specializes in educational content, patch notes that (actually) make sense, and aggressively supporting Tier 2 Overwatch. When she's not writing, Liz is expressing hot takes on Twitter and making bad life choices at Target.