What we learned from the Overwatch League SteelSeries Invitational

The Gladiators still reign, but with chaotic metas and impressive European teams, the West region is looking wild.

Photo by Robert Paul via Blizzard Entertainment

To fill the void of competition until the Overwatch League begins on April 16, teams and sponsors have hosted invitational tournaments. On Feb. 28, gaming peripheral designer SteelSeries held its own invitational, bringing together two North American standouts and both of the Overwatch League’s European teams.

This was the first time fans got to see the rebuilt London Spitfire and Paris Eternal rosters in action. Both teams drew heavily from European Overwatch Contenders talent and those young, hungry players showed off during the SteelSeries Invitational. 

While the Boston Uprising were also in their best form, the Los Angeles Gladiators ended up racking up their second offseason tournament win in a matter of months. 

The SteelSeries Invitational was a quick tournament with only three games and is well worth a review. If you’re low on time, we’ve gathered some thoughts about what these performances mean for the 2021 Overwatch League season.

The Los Angeles Gladiators aren’t immortal, but they’re still pretty damn good

Many fans and analysts predicted that the Gladiators would roll through the SteelSeries Invitational, racking up 3-0 wins all the way to the $7,000 grand prize. While the Gladiators eventually took the title in a dominant fashion, the team had to claw their way to the grand finals through the London Spitfire.

At multiple times during the qualifier match, which ended in a 3-2 Los Angeles win, the Gladiators’ normally-crisp squad looked split and confused. Most teams would have mentally checked out at this point, but seasoned players like off-tank Indy “SPACE” Halpern and main support Grant “Moth” Espe used their experience to rally their team back into shape. 

London’s impressive synergy was an issue for the Gladiators, as was new addition Johannes “Shax” Nielsen on McCree. As the series progressed, Los Angeles adapted from a composition that relied on Kim “Birdring” Ji-hyuk’s subpar Sombra to one that allowed the adept DPS to face battles head-on.

The Los Angeles roster was impressive for both their performance in the 3-0 final against the Boston Uprising and how they rallied to avoid a possible defeat against the Spitfire. The Gladiators are now tied with the Shanghai Dragons in offseason “tournament” wins at two per team. 

The Boston Uprising (finally) have hope  

The Uprising have long been the punchline of the Overwatch League, rarely rising above the lower quarter of the leaderboard over the past two years. This tournament was the team’s chance to show that new additions and a revamped coaching staff could lead to a brighter future. 

With a 3-2 win against the Paris Eternal, Boston fans may finally be allowed to have a little hope heading into the 2021 Overwatch League season. New additions, like rookie DPS Kim “Valentine” Byeong-ju and main support Kim “Faith” Hong-gyu, shined during the series. Valentine’s Echo and Genji finesse should worry the team’s future competitors. 

More importantly, Boston’s additions seem to have enabled the team’s existing players. Off-tank Leyton “Punk” Gilchrist and spectacular flex support Seo “Myunbong” Sangmin were finally given the space and support to show their true talents. 

Even though Boston was slapped down by a renewed Gladiator squad in the tournament’s grand finals, they were truly impressive for the first time in years. 

Paris “EU Ranked” Eternal 

Over the offseason, the Paris Eternal completely rebuilt its roster with European talent, from rookies to Overwatch League veterans. The team’s impressive display against the Boston Uprising showed how these players might be using the power of “EU Ranked” for good. 

The European side of high-level competitive mode is known for using off-meta characters and aggressive, wild plays. Throughout the series, the Eternal used more Symmetra than anyone expected and often ran full-speed at the Uprising using a rush composition. Main tank Daniël “Daan” Vincentius Paulus Scheltema locked Reinhardt and gave Boston the “LHCloudy special,” hiding for sneaky Earthshatters and charging at unsuspecting supports. 

It didn’t work for the Eternal this time, but this invitational may have given us a sneak peek into the inspiration behind Paris’ future strategies. 

No meta, no problems  

High-speed compositions based around Wrecking Ball, Tracer, and Echo may be in vogue right now, but the teams at the SteelSeries Invitational didn’t exactly adhere to one specific “meta.” In fact, some teams seemed to excel in chaos. 

The Gladiators and Spitfire basically played Mystery Heroes for several maps during their match, leading to a 3-2 win for Los Angeles based on last-minute clutch plays. “Rush” compositions with Reinhardt and Lúcio are growing in popularity but were mostly used by teams to slam heads with their opponents instead of relying on actual strategy. 

Some heroes reliably show up, like Echo and Tracer, but teams seem to mostly just be throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Additionally, teams may be hiding true strategies ahead of the actual league opener on April 16. Either way, the lack of one ruling meta is honestly exciting and could lead to a lot of innovation throughout the season.   

The West may be more competitive than ever 

In both 2019 and 2020, the San Francisco Shock reigned over the Western side of the Overwatch League, followed closely by two to three top-performing teams. As a result, some of the games with these teams were absolute snoozefest stomps, easily predictable and easily forgotten. 

Based on what we’ve seen during the SteelSeries Invitational and other offseason events, 2021 could be the year that the West once again gets wild. 

The Los Angeles Gladiators may have secured the final prize, but they were taken to map five by a surprisingly cohesive London Spitfire. Both qualification matches in this invitational were genuinely close and either team could have taken those games. With the possibility of an unpredictable meta and more evenly balanced teams, matches could once again be competitive and thrilling in the West region. 

The fourth season of the Overwatch League begins on April 16 with a match between the Dallas Fuel and the Houston Outlaws.