What we learned from the Overwatch League’s first weekend of 2020

Five takeaways from the third season's opening games.

Photo by Ben Pursell via Blizzard Entertainment
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It’s a whole new frontier for the Overwatch League, which began its third season on Feb. 8. This year, the league has changed to a global homestand model with games in every city. Dallas and New York hosted the first eight matches this past weekend.

As if that wasn’t enough change, this was the league’s first time airing on YouTube Gaming instead of Twitch. It was a long weekend, but there are some things we learned from the season’s first set of games.  

Meta is a suggestion, not a guideline

Last season, Overwatch League games sometimes showed a remarkable lack of diversity as far as hero choice was concerned. Half the season was dominated by the triple support, triple tank meta and the rest of it leaned into a double shield role lock setup. The 2020 season has already shown wild picks that may be influenced by the upcoming introduction of Hero Pools

Certain heroes saw a lot of playing time during the first eight games of the season, but variations were plentiful as teams tried new strategies. Reinhardt, D.Va, and Orisa were dominant on the tank line, while other teams worked in Winston or Sigma. Mei, Reaper, and Hanzo were still the most popular DPS choices, but hitscan specialists on teams like the Paris Eternal, London Spitfire, and Los Angeles Valiant opted for McCree. Symmetra was played outside of her normal teleporter-only parameters, Tracer saw some playing time, and even Soldier: 76 appeared for a few minutes. 

A solid meta will likely develop over the course of a few weeks, but the first weekend was a fun, chaotic mishmash of teams prioritizing player strengths. 

Rookie teams (and players) have a lot to prove 

Teams like the Los Angeles Valiant and London Spitfire came into the season with new lineups full of rookie players. The Los Angeles Gladiators and Paris Eternal brought new players in with their experienced veterans. Many analysts and fans underestimated these teams and players based on their level of experience, but these rookies proved that they were ready to take on the Overwatch League stage. 

The Valiant’s new roster faced boos and jeers when they faced the Dallas Fuel in Texas. They faced infinitely more boos after they defeated the Fuel 3-1 in a dominant game where off-tank Caleb “McGravy” McGarvey and DPS Kai “ksp” Collins showed they didn’t come to Dallas to be underestimated.

London’s mostly-inexperienced roster gave the home team, New York Excelsior, a closer game than the 1-3 scoreline describes. DPS Lim “Glister” Gil-seong went head-to-head with NYXL marksman Jeong “Nenne” Yeon-kwan and didn’t lose his cool. Outstanding plays from new players proved that experience doesn’t mean everything. 

Supports may be the new superstars 

The Overwatch League tends to put the spotlight on DPS players and their team-destroying multi-kills. Move over, damage dealers—supports took the spotlight this weekend. In both of the Vancouver Titans’ matches, Lee “Twilight” Joo-seok’s Ana anti-heal grenades guaranteed success for his overly-aggressive team. The cohesion of the Los Angeles Gladiators support line, Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni and Jonas “Shaz” Suovaara, carried their team through predictable blips in running a new tank and DPS roster.

No player exemplified the support hero mentality more than Brice “FDGoD” Monscavoir, main support for the Paris Eternal. The Eternal lost their first match of the weekend against the Toronto Defiant but came back the next day to defeat the London Spitfire. In both matches, FDGoD was nearly unstoppable on any hero. As Lúcio, he “booped” supports off Nepal’s ledges, displaced Reinhardt shatters, and defended his teammates. He showed how terrifying supports can be.

NYXL still knows how to put on a show 

If Overwatch fans go to the Big Apple, they expect a show. When the 2018 grand finals hit New York City, the NYXL hosted numerous events around the games that were spot-on in terms of branding and enjoyment. This homestand at the Hammerstein Ballroom was no different. As a bonus, former Overwatch League host Chris Puckett was hosting paper plane tournaments during intermission.

While the Dallas homestand brought the roaring legions of fans, the New York Excelsior’s home game had a level of panache that only the NYXL could bring. Neon lights, top-tier production value, and ample hype for players set it apart. Despite production issues on the YouTube side of things, the NYXL homestand should be a master course for other teams looking to throw the best parties possible for their players.

Homestand advantage might be a lie 

During the 2019 season, teams that held homestands seemed “buffed” by their adoring fans. The Atlanta Reign experienced an uptick in wins after their home games and the Dallas Fuel went on a win streak after their first homestand in 2019. Despite the fact that the Los Angles Valiant lost both of their home games last year, last season’s experience led to the assumption that home games gave some kind of advantage to the hosting teams.

While hosting is obviously a morale booster, the advantage may only be psychological. The Fuel lost both of their home games this time around, so teams better be on point for their home crowd. 

Next weekend’s Overwatch League games take place in Philadelphia. The games scheduled in Shanghai have been postponed due to the coronavirus threat.