Part 1 - Pacific Division
An Op-Ed by Chris “Kophee” Mehlhoff
Kophee is an Overwatch player who most recently played on team EnVision
Read Time: 8 minutes
With the launch of the Overwatch League and its subsequent 12 teams; many viewers must decide which team(s) they're going to support for the rest of the league. Unlike traditional sports where you are born into supporting a team (this is the case for myself and the San Francisco 49ers), or cheer for a team because of your residence, esports offers its viewers a buffet of teams to choose from. Obviously, everyone's initial choice for a team should be based on the city they're in. If you're fortunate enough to be living within one of the 11 cities that are currently represented, and enjoy supporting local teams, then your decision (outside of Los Angeles) should be straight forward. If you were previously a fan of an endemic esports franchise that bought into the Overwatch League (such as Immortals becoming the Los Angeles Valiant), then you can ride the coattails of that organization as well - problem solved. However, what about the people who aren't happy with the brand that represents their area, or are looking for something different?
I'll use myself as an example, I want to support a team that will confidently finish top six in addition to having enough upset potential to place top three. I'm currently residing within the Bay Area, and while I'm familiar with a few players from the San Francisco Shock, I don't think they'll have the upset potential until sinatraa and super become available. There are a few other reasons for why I’m not fan of the San Francisco Shock, but a lot of those carry over from the organizations previous history. I digress, let's break down the remaining options.
I broke down each team into the three most important categories of what I’m looking for in a Overwatch team, they are rated based on: brand, players, and storyline.
Brand scores were determined by logo, colors, social media marketing, marketing strategy, etc - you get the idea. Scored on a 1-10 scale.
Player scores were determined by raw skill, synergy, hero pool, and tournament experience. Scored on a 1-10 scale.
Storyline scores were determined by what each team brings to the Overwatch League in terms of engaging their fans and other viewers. Scored on a 1-5 scale.
Los Angeles Gladiators
Los Angeles Valiant
San Francisco Shock
So, in no particular order (besides alphabetical), here's a subjective breakdown of each team that should give you some additional insight into each lineup.
Dallas Fuel (formerly EnVyUs)
If you were already involved in competitive Overwatch, then you know who every player on this team is. They're as close to a household name as an Overwatch brand can get. Their roster is bolstered by raw talent and incredible teamwork; when people hear Fuel, they think tenured champions with a lot of personality.
The colors and logo are decent, they played it safe in that regard. Most of the punch in the brand lies within its players, a strategy that was implemented during EnVyUs days; and one that's been carried over into Fuel's image with the additions of Custa, xQc, and Seagull. The goal of this approach is to sell you on the brand by connecting viewers to the players (mostly done through stream interaction and social media presence). The benefit here is that viewers feel attached to the games and relish the victories a lot more. However, the downside occurs when players are swapped or benched, you're going to lose people who are fans of individual players. For example, imagine how much damage would be done to the brand if Fuel decided to drop Taimou or HarryHook - spoiler, a lot.
While the players are individually talented, I believe there are several Koreans who are inarguably equal or better than many Fuel players. However, the strength of Fuel was never within its individual talent, but rather its synergy and ability to develop the metagame, as opposed to following it.
Fuel is one of the most celebrated and accomplished teams in Overwatch with still more to prove against the Korean powerhouses like Dynasty, Spitfire, and Excelsior. The main rivalry here is supposedly against the Houston Outlaws (as both teams share Texas); and Outlaws (aka OpTic Gaming) has had a long-standing rivalry against EnVyUs from other esports titles. However, I wouldn't be surprised if you asked any of the tenured players from Fuel who their real rivals were, and they responded with Seoul Dynasty (Lunatic Hai). They've had many clashes with Lunatic Hai in the past, and every series has pushed each team to their absolute limit. Either way, both are enjoyable for different reasons. One for state pride, and the other for proving skill. Another storyline that's been cropping up is one of redemption. After Fuel lost their matches against Seoul Dynasty and Los Angeles Valiant last week, one now must entertain the possibility that these once proven top dogs may not be as ready for the Overwatch League as many had anticipated.
During the EnVyUs days, I loved supporting this team because they were the only non-Koreans to give the Korean teams a run for their money in the OGN Overwatch APEX. Since then though, Fuel has maintained its popularity (if we're looking at social media and stream exposure alone); and while this was the intended result when they built their roster, I'm someone who likes to go against the grain for the sake of it. I'm a big fan these players individually, but like London Spitfire and Seoul Dynasty, I don't like supporting teams that are easy favorites to win it all, despite their results from the first week.
Los Angeles Gladiators
One of the new teams on the block, the Los Angeles Gladiators was put together by the infamous tank duo from Kungarna, Bischu and iReMiix. The full lineup includes Asher, Bischu, Shaz, BigG00se, iReMiix, Surefour, and Hydration. The roster is an international melting pot of experience and history. Surefour (the most notable member) was a big part of Overwatch’s early development as an esport. Other noteworthy prospects are Asher from CONBOX, Hydration (the star DPS player from Counter-Logic Gaming), and Shaz from Team Gigantti.
The logo and colors for this team are incredible, the Gladiators are not lacking in this department. However, a few points were taken off because their social media efforts have fallen flat in terms of synthesizing the team with Los Angeles; Gladiators feels like an endemic esports organization, rather than an Overwatch League team representing Los Angeles.
The players on this team are good. I would argue the star players are middle of the pack in terms of raw skill, but this deficiency is made up by their tank lineup which consists of iReMiix and Bischu. I would argue that these two are top five in terms of tank synergy throughout the entire Overwatch League. However, another dip occurs when you look at the support. Shaz is solid enough, but I'm not entirely sold on BigG00se yet, time will tell. If the entire team can find the same synergy that Bischu and iReMiix famously have, then I don't see mechanics holding the Gladiators back from placing top six.
Quite boring for now, but their main rivals are the Los Angeles Valiant. However, the league needs more time to develop the Gladiator’s storyline because of how fresh the team is. Like a few other teams within the Overwatch League, the Los Angeles Gladiators were pieced together player by player, a strategy that is notorious for backfiring in Overwatch. So while their play won't be spectacular yet, and they won’t have amazing stories to tell, they can still be an entertaining pick if you're looking for an underdog; especially if you're looking to support a Los Angeles team.
Los Angeles Valiant (formerly Immortals)
On the other side of the Los Angeles coin we have the Valiant. The core of this team used to consist of players from Immortals (as they were a part of the franchise when they bought in), but Valiant has since recruited several talents from other teams along with a handful of free agents. Their biggest pickups, uNKOE and SoOn were brought in from the accomplished French team “Rogue”, while silkthread and numlocked were recruited as free agents.
I'm not a huge fan of the color scheme or logo, but I can appreciate the minimalist approach they took and the decisions that went into creating the Valiant brand (as it is a subsidiary of Immortals). When this brand first launched I was incredibly disappointed with the approach they were taking. Their Twitter feed during its inception was awful, perhaps they were overly excited to share their enthusiasm with the rest of us, but they posted a lot of meme lord garbage that came off as adolescent. I was caught off-guard because that wasn't something I was expecting from Noah Winston (the owner of Valiant and Immortals), especially during the earliest and most crucial stages of developing the brand identity. Since then, they've steered to a more professional appearance and are quite involved with their fans, but they still have more work to do before they can erase my first impression of them. Plus, with so many new players on the starting roster, it feels as if they’ve lost their identity as a North American lineup; which was previously propped up by Agilities, GrimReality, and Verbo.
As I mentioned earlier, the starting roster is heavily modified compared to the days of Immortals. The current lineup consists of SoOn, silkthread, envy, Fate, KariV, and uNKOE. These six players put on an incredible performance during the first week of the Overwatch League, defeating both Dallas Fuel 4-1 and San Francisco Shock 4-0. The players are absolutely nuts, and unlike Fuel who earned a similar player score, Valiant (for now) possesses less team synergy than Dallas Fuel, but with an added caveat, because the individual players have thus far demonstrated a higher "pop off" potential.
Compared to the Gladiators, Valiant has a lot more going for it in terms of storyline. Before the Overwatch League started this team was in a huge slump (which appears to have been fixed with the addition of new players), but now people aren’t sure if this team’s performance was a honeymoon week or it’s become their new skill floor. This Valiant trend of adding players and surprising competition can be backed with empirical data. As they’ve done it once before with similar results on Immortals, only to slump later. Time will tell if this team will run into inconsistency issues or if they can claw their way to the top of the division as the dark horse roster.
San Francisco Shock (formerly NRG)
I love the color scheme and the name of this brand; however, I do think the logo could have been better. This team is big on interacting with their fans, as you'll see when you visit their Twitter page. Overall, I think Shock has done a better job than most with their marketing strategies, as they seem to be treating the Shock brand more traditionally and carefully than their NRG brand.
San Francisco Shock has some talented players like BABYBAY, Danteh, Nevix and sleepy; along with sinatraa and super who are currently on the bench because of age restrictions. The current setback this team faces is caused by their lacking hero flexibility. As of right now, they don’t have a dedicated projectile player, but hopefully we’ll see a midseason signing that will remedy this. They also suffer from team synergy issues across the board, but I think this is a symptom of their hitscan stacking more than anything.
If you didn’t follow this team back when they were NRG, then prepare for a quick history lesson. In early 2017, NRG recruited several fan favorite players to create the most marketable all-star Overwatch team ever. However, in the competitive scene, most people knew that they were a "stream team" with more social media presence than actual skill. This was reflected in their subsequent performances as they spent multiple months focusing on tryouts before being humiliated in their tournament debut. This trend of losses continued until the tournament scene in Overwatch eventually died off. Since then, NRG has acquired several new players with an emphasis on mechanics, and are looking to unsully their previous reputation. After the first week of Overwatch League, they're not off to a great start, but big things await this team once super and sinatraa become available to play. At this point in time, their story is one of redemption, but not until they can reach their skill ceiling with their intended roster.
Seoul Dynasty (formerly Lunatic Hai)
Lunatic Hai is without a doubt the most accomplished team in Overwatch. With their core roster winning seasons 2 and 3 of the Overwatch APEX (the most competitive tournament before the Overwatch League). Since becoming Seoul Dynasty, they've added XepheR, Munchkin, Fleta, Bunny, Wekeed, and KuKi; making Dynasty a go-to pick if you're looking for one of the strongest mechanical rosters with an even sturdier history as a top team.
The brand utilizes an awesome logo with a lot of double meanings and great colors, along with a cool name which accurately depicts the team’s history and ambitions. Admittedly, I can't read a lot of their Twitter page because some of it's in Korean, but the content is more professional-looking than some of the other teams I've listed in this division; Seoul realizes the gravitas in representing their city, along with their country - which is refreshing to say the least.
Between this roster and the London Spitfire, this is as close to a 10 out of 10 you can get. The core of this roster has been together for a long time, and has accomplished more than any other Overwatch team so far, weak links simply don’t exist in this lineup; in fact, Fleta earned the MVP title during the opening week of Overwatch League season 1.
If you think having the best roster makes for a boring storyline, you would be wrong. Nobody would argue that this team isn't one of two main competitors to win the entire Overwatch League; with their stacked roster and incomparable experience, expectations are incredibly high for this team. It feels like they’ve been around for so long, that Overwatch League is just another tournament for them, and they've only shown up to defend their title as the best team in the world. I wonder if Dynasty will be able to meet expectations, or if the pressure of constant success will cause tension between the core roster and recent pickups. After all, Dynasties only last so long.
The only team from China, and the only team with public corruption controversy and players who have already racked up multiple fines and penalties. I won't get into the details, but everyone familiar with the competitive Overwatch landscape knows how good this team could have been if they had recruited the correct players. They aren't exactly a model team; but there's still some heart here.
Awesome name, great color scheme, nice logo. Outside of that, their main appeal is to the Chinese demographic. I'll be transparent, I don't follow them much in their daily on-goings, but they seem to be doing a decent job of marketing their team.
Yikes. The players are without a doubt Shanghai’s biggest hurdle. Diya and uNdeAD are the only standout performers, while the rest of the team is a tossup between inconsistency and mediocrity. These players aren't bad compared to your average joe, but next to players from Dynasty they look like chumps. I don’t fault the players for their lackluster performance, because they simply weren’t ready to be competing at this level yet; if developed properly in an academy team, I think some of them should eventually be in the Overwatch League. If anything, the presence of these players speaks volumes about the team’s management, or lack thereof.
Even bigger yikes. If you wanted to support the underdog of the Pacific Division, this is your best bet. They were predicted to finish last in the entire Overwatch League, and are already fulfilling that prophecy. There’s a good storyline here in terms of setup, but this by no means a moneyball team so don’t get your hopes up.
I glossed over one storyline regarding North American and European players versus Korean players. For those that don’t know, Korea has been the main breeding ground of Overwatch talent throughout 2017. The skill gap between Koreans and everyone else is undeniable, if you’re wondering why there seems to be at least one or two Koreans on every roster, now you know. Personally, I don’t mind if there are Koreans on my team of choice because I like to support lineups with consistently skilled players and likable personalities. I think esports wins over traditional sports in this regard because the rosters can be as international or national as you want. But, if you prefer to support a North American or European lineup (which is a completely reasonable trait to seek in a team) then it might be tough, because at this point most teams have some diversity. However, if you’re all about North American and European players, and you want to see teams without Koreans attempt the Overwatch League, then your options will be: the San Francisco Shock, the Houston Outlaws, or the Florida Mayhem. If you don’t mind having most players from North American or Europe, then you can also choose from the Dallas Fuel, the Los Angeles Valiant, the Boston Uprising, the Los Angeles Gladiators, or the Philadelphia Fusion.
In part two, we’ll go over the Atlantic Division, which includes: the Houston Outlaws, the Florida Mayhem, the Boston Uprising, the New York Excelsior, the Philadelphia Fusion, and the London Spitfire.