State of the Overwatch League – 5 Questions with Robbie Landis
As we move through the Overwatch League off-season, roster madness is in full effect. Not only are players moving around, but the Houston Outlaws have found a new buyer in Beasley Media Group. We’ve turned to our own Robbie Landis to help us get up to speed on the most important things in the OWL. Although a life long gamer, the competitive side of gaming didn’t capture Robbie’s attention until Overwatch. He’s been an avid viewer since day 1, and has been a self-declared ‘lifer’ ever since they announced the franchise model. He’s talked to some of the biggest stars in the League, attended both finals, and now he’s giving us some time to answer five of the most pressing questions in competitive Overwatch.
Question 1: The Outlaws have found a new buyer in Beasley Media Group . What does this move mean for the Outlaws as well as for OWL at large?
First thing, full disclosure Beasley Media Group also owns our show Checkpoint XP, but I’ve been a die hard Outlaws fan since the inception of the league. The reason it’s so important to finally get these teams into their home towns is because it’ll finally be a promise fulfilled. The Overwatch League has knocked it out of the park with the tribalism associated with franchised teams, but they haven’t truly been home teams yet. With the exception of the maybe the Los Angeles teams. Two years in and only small fraction of fans have had the chance to see their teams in person, that’s insane. Any fan living in Houston, or Austin or wherever should be able to hop into their car and drive to an arena to see their team play on stage. We’re only a few months away from that for the Overwatch League. What I hope this means for the League at large is also starting to convince anyone else who still has reservations about the league that this is happening. That esports and the Overwatch League is here to stay and it’s legitimacy in all aspects is no different from the NFL or any other traditional sports orginization.
Question 2: Speaking of the Outlaws, Rawkus and Harsha Bandi were both involved with Team USA who won the Overwatch World Cup. What does their win mean for North American Overwatch?
I think the most exciting thing about their win and this isn’t specific to just Team USA, is that on their road to the gold medal they defeated South Korea not once, but twice and in a very convincing fashion. Team France was the first to hand South Korea their first ever loss in the World Cup. South Korea ended up taking Bronze Model and suffered three losses on their road to the finals. Team USA has always been a top contender, but South Korea was also the top dog. In most other esports there’s always talk of the ‘skill gap’ that exists between regions. South Korea was the birthplace of esports, their scene, their infrastructure, the way they grow and train talent is 15 years ahead of us. To see Team USA be so dominant in the World Cup means that at least in Overwatch, that skill gap can be conquered.
Question 3: We’re seeing more roster movement than ever before this off-season. Is this the new norm? Or do you expect it to slow down next year?
The roster madness we’ve been seeing this year seems crazy in comparison because we have so many contracts from the inaugural season ending. We also have 8 more teams than we did last year. I’m not sure I can confidently say that it’s going to slow down next year, especially if we have contracts from the expansion teams expiring. If they were 2 year deals like the inaugural contracts were. I think the Overwatch League is going to take a few more seasons to stabilize entirely. If 2020 homestand model works well for the entire season, I imagine the League will want to look for some way to have true home and away matches on a regular basis. There are also rumors of the league wanting to add more expansion teams further down the road. Personally, I’d love to get to a point where we have a draft at the start of every season as well. So, I’m not sure if we’ll a see slow down in off-season team transactions but I can tell you this, I sure as hell hope we don’t.
Question 4: Next season marks the debut of home and away. Is it an overall positive or negative move for the League and is it going to work?
It has to be a positive move. In today’s esports scenes you have to find ways to stand about the rest and differentiate yourself. Some scenes can survive on the merit of the game itself, such as Super Smash Brothers Melee, but there’s usually a ceiling there. Some scenes even as they improve their look and feel still don’t really take off the way you’d expect them too, such as the PUBG League. The Overwatch League is one of the big dogs right now and they took a big risk on the franchised geo-location model. They can’t half-ass it at this point, they have to invest and go all the way. In my opinion, homestand games are only half the battle. If they can figure out how to properly monetize it and fill arenas, the next step is true home and away format games where I as a Houston-born gamer can go and watch them play every other match or so. Will it work? They’ve yet to fail.
Question 5: If you had to do your power rankings for next season, who would be your top 5 teams to watch out for?
It’s difficult right now to specifically assign top five power rankings since a lot of team rosters are still in flux. London Spitfire for example have released more players than they’ve signed, so it’s hard to know what they’re going to look like right now. However, I can give you five teams to watch that I expect to do very well in the 2020 season. In no particular order they are…
The San Francisco Shock and the Vancouver Titans are obviously going to be on this list. They’re making very few changes to their current rosters because what they have works. The most notable change comes via the Titans who released Jang-hyeon “TiZi” Hwang and picked up Chan-hyung “Fissure” Baek who came out of retirement. I’m not the biggest fan of Fissure in a team setting, he’s obviously a very, very talented player but the teams he’s played for haven’t been able to rise much further than above average with him starting. Regardless, both of these teams will continue to be strong and dominate in the 2020 season.
The Toronto Defiant went through some big chances near the end of the last season and restructured almost entirely from the ground up and are looking to be a power house of a team come next season. They pulled Andreas “Nevix” Karlsson from the San Francisco Shock and Julian “BEAST” Lauandos from the Fusion University which should prove to be a formidable tank line. With Kristian “Kellex” Keller and Young-seo “KariV” Park in the support positions, it creates some very attractive book ends with them and the tank line. However, the real meat and potatoes of this team is going to be the DPS filling. Andreas “Logix” Berghmans, Liam “Mangachu” Campbell, Brady “Agilities” Girardi and Lane “Surefour” Roberts. Those are some of the top talent in the entire league and they’ve formed the equivalent of the Justice League on this team. I’m extremely excited to see how the Defiant do in the 2020 season.
Even with my bias aside, the Houston Outlaws are poised to make quite the comeback in 2020. The biggest addition and change that the Outlaw’s organization is the addition Harsha Bandi. Former assistant coach to the Vancouver Titans and one of the two assistant coaches for 2019 gold medal winning Team USA. They’ve also picked up João Pedro “Hydration” Goes Telles and Jeffrey “blasé” Tsang. Talking to general manager Matt “Flame” Rodrigeuz he mentioned that going into the 2020 season the key traits to look for in players is going to be versatility and between Hydration and blasé they cover a deeper roster of DPS heroes with Hydration also doubling as a talented tank player and blasé knowing his way around some support players. I can say this for sure about the Houston Outlaws, they shouldn’t be any worse.
Finally, I’d keep my eyes on the Hangzhou Spark. They haven’t made a lot of changes during the off-season and they did finish 5th seed overall in the 2019 season. If they stay focused on building the team they have and solving any issues from 2019 they should be able to remain top contenders for the upcoming season.
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