The Overwatch League offseason is a lawless place. But as the start of the season nears, the community begins to respect only one currency: scrimbucks.
Before any Overwatch League season kicks off, the most popular pastime for talent, analysts, and anyone with a Reddit account becomes the art of “power rankings.” Community members rank teams from one to 20, indicating which rosters they think will rule the leaderboards.
While everyone’s power rankings are different, some teams tend to repeatedly be held to a high (or incredibly low) standard across the board. The San Francisco Shock, coming off their second Overwatch League championship, are a predictable choice for first place. Other teams full of rookies or underwhelming players, though, are nearly always ranked at the bottom.
Though community members pretend to know everything, only one group of people can truly tell us the value of the power rankings: Overwatch League players themselves.
During a press conference celebrating the league’s April 16 kickoff, Dot Esports checked in with some of the Overwatch League’s top players to see which teams are truly underrated this season and what effect these power rankings have on rosters.
Invest in the Houston Outlaws
Due to a difficult 2020 season, many analysts and fans placed the Houston Outlaws in the lower quadrant of their power rankings. This includes Plat Chat, a podcast hosted by Overwatch League talent, as well as numerous other casters and community members.
Over the past few weeks, however, players and analysts in the know have bought into the Outlaws’ “scrimbucks,” or positive results from scrimmages. While this is a dangerous investment, league players overwhelmingly echoed the idea that Houston is underrated heading into 2021.
“From what I’ve seen, people are underestimating Houston a bit, which I think is funny,” said Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin, DPS for the Vancouver Titans. “I saw a lot of criticism that they should be lower on the list, but I think they were doing pretty well in scrims.”
During the offseason, Houston’s management put their faith in former player Matt “Coolmatt” Iorio to lead the team. He picked up impressive Overwatch Contenders talent and revamped the roster under the guidance of co-head coaches Harsha Bandi and Choi “Junkbuck” Jae-won, formerly of the San Francisco Shock.
Those results are apparently speaking for themselves. “Just playing against them in scrims and stuff, they seem to be doing better than expected,” said Kai Collins, DPS for the Atlanta Reign. “They should definitely be rated higher than they are right now.”
Florida Mayhem main tank Son “OGE” Min-seok agreed, saying that the Outlaws are “doing really well” based on his scrim experience.
That may seem like good news for the Outlaws roster, but they’d apparently prefer to remain under the radar. When player coach and part-time rostered DPS Jake Lyon was asked about this rise in expectations, he pushed them aside.
“Keep sleepin’, that’s what I say,” Lyon said, laughing. “Keep sleeping. I like being underrated.”
Boston stocks are up
The Boston Uprising were also another popular answer among players for the most underrated team. After two abysmal seasons, the Uprising improved its management and brought in a roster full of young, hungry players like DPS Kim “Valentine” Byeong-ju.
“People have the expectation that they go to, I guess, a ‘lower’ budget and pick up players that still need to prove themselves,” said Andreas “Logix” Berghmans, DPS for the Toronto Defiant. “This season they have some pretty good pieces that will give them better expectations than [in] previous years.”
Matthew “super” DeLisi, main tank for the San Francisco Shock, agreed when asked which team had the most offseason improvement. “I would say Boston had the biggest ‘glow up’ for me. They got a bunch of new players, they have a new coach,” he said. ”They’re looking a lot better this year than they have in the past two years.”
Los Angeles Gladiators and Philadelphia Fusion remain safe bets
The value of “scrimbucks” for teams like the Houston Outlaws and Boston Uprising may be variable, but some teams have remained at the top of community rankings for months.
After acquiring several high-profile players and winning two offseason tournaments, the Los Angeles Gladiators have been ranked second in dozens of Western power rankings, right under the Shock.
“The Gladiators are probably the strongest team right now,” said Valentine, naming his former WGS Phoenix main tank teammate Kim “MuZe” Young-hun as a reason for the team’s “aggressive” playstyle and future success.
“[They] were strong to begin with last year, but moving into this year, from what I’ve seen they’re even stronger,” said Washington Justice off-tank Kim “Fury” Jun-ho.
If the Gladiators are garnering value in the Western region, the Eastern teams are putting stock into the Philadelphia Fusion. Despite the team’s extensive visa issues, Overwatch League players believe the Fusion can remain strong.
“I’m not sure if I want to call them ‘underrated’ but I believe the Philadelphia Fusion will be strong,” said Bang “JJoNak” Sung-hyeon, veteran flex support of the New York Excelsior. “[Kim “Mano” Dong-gyu] is there now and I think Philadelphia Fusion could be a very strong team.”
Bank on confidence
With the near-constant focus on power rankings in the Overwatch League community leading up to the season’s first games, we wondered if low rankings ever negatively affected the mentality of players. The answer was a resounding no.
“It’s always motivation, you know?” LiNkzr said. “It adds an extra piece of the competition.”
His team, the Vancouver Titans, has consistently been ranked in the lower third of most community lists, but he’s turned it into a boon. “For me, it’s only positive,” LiNkzr said. “The want to prove people wrong is tremendous. You can use the outside view as positive fuel.”
London Spitfire main support Kristian “Kellex” Kellar, whose mostly rookie team has also been ranked low, sees the negativity as a kind of plot device. “It’s great to be an underdog because people expect less of you,” he said. “In that way, you feel less pressure, I guess? You can still cheese people and have a great underdog story.”
At the end of the day, what matters is the “confidence” players have in their team, says Lyon. “At least we’ll be the best we’ve ever been,” he said. “Is that gonna be good enough to win the league? No one knows. That’s where you put the work in every day, put in your best work, put in your best effort. I do feel like we’ll be the best the Outlaws have ever been and for me that’s exciting.”