Saturday, 5 January 2019

Halo's Headlines: Top Stories Going Into The 2019 OWL Season

On February 14th the 2019 season of the Overwatch League starts again with the London Spitfire taking on the Philadelphia Fusion in a rematch of the 2018 finals. The off season has been long and full of drama with roster moves being made by all twelve original franchises and the eight new expansion franchises selecting their players for the new season. With a little more than month left until the season begins, we’re going to take a look at some of the bigger stories going into the new year.

Suspensions Will Cause Early Season Disruption

One of the hot topics this off season has centred around players who have previously boosted accounts, thrown games or who've been toxic during matches, receiving contracts from Overwatch League teams. In the 2018 season Blizzard only suspended two players who had a past history of boosting in Philadelphia Fusions Main Tank Su-Min "Sado" Kim for 30 regular season games and Dallas Fuels Main Tank Min-Seok "OGE" Son for four games. While OGE's predecessor Felix "xQc" Lengyel received a four match suspension on two different occasions for his behaviour during the season. 

The 2019 off season alone has already surpassed this with the league suspending four players for account boosting in Florida Mayhem's Two-Way DPS player Damon "Apply" Conti (Two Games), Boston Uprising's DPS Kelsey "Colourhex" Birse (Two Games), Hangzhou Spark's DPS Shilong "Krystal" Cai (One Game) and San Francisco Shock's Support Min-Ki "Viol2t" Park (Two Games) for what the league has seen as minor offences. The League also suspended Toronto Defiant's Support Se-Hyun "Neko" Park three games for selling an account and obstructing a league investigation and Los Angeles Gladiators Support player Riku "Ripa" Toivanen five games for throwing games and in game toxicity. (Guangzhou Charge Support player Won-Jae "Rise" Lee was also fined $1K for account sharing)

The league introduced a Player Discipline Tracker to provide clarity for these bans but it's also going to have deeper implications because of the leagues ongoing investigations on other professional players who have a bigger reputation for their actions. The amount of suspensions that are rumoured to be incoming is going to result in some teams having to change their game plans and will likely have an affect on results in the early season. With OWL teams only playing a total of 28 regular season games each, compared to last seasons 40 games. These suspensions could have a deeper impact on teams playoff chances as the season goes on but it will mean the mind set of every game counts will actually come into play.

Will Sinatraa Go From Top Prospect To Warming The Bench

When news came out prior to the 2018 season that Jay “Sinatraa” Won had been signed to the San Francisco Shock on a $150k contract, there was plenty of hype surrounding him and how he would become a potential star in the league. However, a change of head coach prior to him being able to play in stage three seemed to have some form of effect on his play from stage three onward when he was eligible to play.

This off season hasn’t done Sinatraa any favours going into the new season either. After a lacklustre performance with Team USA at the Overwatch World Cup resulted in a 3-1 loss to the United Kingdom, the Shock made two moves at DPS by firstly promoting NRG academy player Dong-Jun "Rascal" Kim and then acquiring the contract of Nam-Joo "Striker" Kwon from the Boston Uprising. These moves have the potential to relegate Sinatraa on the depth chart with both players being known for their strong play and ability to flex on to a multitude of heroes depending on the teams needs. Sinatraa may have to rely on the GOATS Meta staying in place in the early part of the season due to his strong Zarya play, to prove that he has the ability to not only be a star for the Shock but prove that they were right originally to view him as one of the best DPS Carries in the league. Otherwise this may be a long season for him riding the bench.

Dafran Returns To Reign Supreme

Yes as you're all aware by now, one of the most populor DPS players to have played Overwatch is returning to the professional scene. Daniel "Dafran" Francesca has signed with the Atlanta Reign for the 2019 season and it was the one signing that generated the most hype this off season. Dafran's ability to track with hitscan heroes is phenomenal and he has one of the biggest following in the game. However, there are questions around whether Dafran can last an entire season with his previous statements about how he wasn't going to return to professional play and his previous run in's with Blizzard. If there's one manager that will be able to utilise Dafran to his fullest and keep him on the straight and narrow, it's his former Head Coach from Selfless Gaming and current Atlanta Reign Head Coach Brad "Sephy" Ranjani.

If Dafran can avoid going down the xQc expulsion from OWL route, he should become a vital part of what the Reign can do this season.  

Some Of The Best Players Are Still Free Agents!

If you review all twenty Overwatch League Rosters, you'll clearly be able to see that some of the games best players are still free agents and have been hit by Davinitus that has spread from Europe and gone world wide. XL2 academy players in DPS Andreas "Logix" Berghmans and Off Tank Seung-Hyun "WooHyaL Sung are players who have played in the Overwatch League and have shown they have the ability to benefit a team at that level weren't signed to OWL contracts, while players like O2 Ardeont star DPS Ju-Ho "Climax" Maeng has seen two of his team mates with less upside and a potential offer with the Boston Uprising come and go this off season. 

With all twenty teams seemingly showing that they value different metrics when it's come to their attempts at building a competitive roster, it's hard to see how the three above, Lucky Future Zenith Support Jun-Seo "Lucid" Yoo, Angry Titans Main Tank Lukas "Lullsish" Wikland and Team Gigantti DPS player Tuomo "Davin" Leppanen have all been left out to name a few. The mid season signing window is going to be stacked with talent and those teams that are struggling to get the results they expected will have a wealth of talent available to them then, that probably should of been picked up at the start of the season. 

Wizardhyeong Needs To Prove He’s A Genius

The self proclaimed Typical Genius Hyeong-Seok "WizardHyeong" Kim has finally stepped out of the assistant coaching role he once occupied after receiving the vast majority of praise for how the New York Excelsior played during the 2018 regular season and into a a huge payday when he signed with the Washington Justice as their head coach. A lot is made of the statistical approach that Wizardhyeong takes when it comes to match performances and with the off season drama that surrounded Washington and how that effected the players they selected for their roster. It's raised more than a few eyebrows and caused for their to be even more scrutiny on the team he's created.

Outside of Main Tank Jun-Hwa "Janus" Song from NYXL, DPS Gi-Hyeon "Ado" Chon from the Shanghai Dragons and Seoul Dynasty Support Gi-Do "Gido" Mun, the Justice have a lot of lesser or even unknown players in this lineup. Having chosen to go with a mixed American and Korean roster for their first season, there is concern that Justice and WizardHyeong might be playing the long game instead of trying to be competitive from the start. American DPS duo Corey "Corey" Nigra, Ethan "Stratus" Yankel and Support Reily "Fahzi" Taylor have all shown promise and have good reputations from the North American Contenders scene. They don't have the experience needed to be instant winners in the Overwatch League and it seems that this is going to be a long season for Justice fans on paper. WizardHyeong is going to need to prove to everyone watching that he is the Typical Genius he says he is and not a flash in the pan coach who benefited from the excellent system that the New York Excelsior have.

The Titans Will Have To Live Up To Their Name!

The Vancouver Titans ended up being one of the worst kept secrets but most highly anticipated expansion rosters of this off season, when they picked up the most poplar team in all of competitive Overwatch when they signed Korean team Runaway. Many people believe that the Titans have instantly become a playoff contender after they signed the winners of Contenders Korea's second season and this is going to mean that expectations are high from the get go. The Canadian team are going to have no margin for error when it comes to their results and face the same win or bust situation that the Seoul Dynasty faced in 2018. 

While they are known for the high skill level and ability to play any composition, even when they have to transition on the fly in game. The Titans have some questions over the depth of DPS players Hyo-Jong "Haksal" Kim and Choong-Hui "Stitch" Lee hero pools, while the form of their tank line of Sang-Beom "Bumper" Park and Hyeon-Woo "JJanu" Choi are known to have very strong highs but huge dips when they're out of form. There may be a heavy reliance on their Support core of Sung-Jun "Slime" Kim, Ju-Seok "Twilight" Lee and former Element Mystic player Jung-Guen "Rapel" Kim to force them through if these weaknesses come into effect. 

One early benefit will be that Head Coach Ji-Sub "PaJion" Hwang has experience of coaching in North America with Fusion University, having led them to an undefeated season in the first season of Norther American Contenders plus having former San Francisco Shock Analyst Harsha "Harsha" Bandi stepping up to an assistant coaching role, helping them settle in to life in Los Angeles and getting acclimatised to the league. 

The Shanghai Dragons Must Rise From The Flames Of Their 2018 Season 

The Shangai Dragons released all but three players from last seasons 0-40 team and decided to select an entirely Korean roster outside of Chinese DPS Weida "Diya" Lu.They picked up the core of Kongdoo Panthera in DPS Jin-Kyeok "DDing" Yang, DPS Young-Jin "Youngjin" Jin, Support Seong-Hyeon "Luffy" Yang and Support Kyung-Woo "CoMa" Son. They also picked up Lucky Future Zenith DPS Min-Seong "Diem" Bae and Off Tank Jun-Hwan "GuardiaN" Jo from Uprising Academy. The Dragons management want to prove that they have learnt from their first season mistakes and want to show that they are a serious threat when it comes to getting their first ever win but taking the league title also and have done this by signing KDP Head Coach Seong-Hwan "BlueHas" We who recruited most of the Kongdoo Panthera line up that finished second in last seasons Korean contenders and highly regarded strategic coach Chung-Hyeok "Levi" Jeong from Element Mystic.

They are no longer the only Chinese team in the league with the Chengdu Hunter, Guangzhou Charge and Hangzhou Spark all now representing the country. The battle of the four kingdoms has begun and Shanghai are not going to want to be on the outside looking in.

The Overwatch World Cup Is A Great Scouting Ground. Time For The Players To Prove It 

The Overwatch World Cup of 2018 was one of the best events in terms of competition in my opinion for gaining information on individual talent and this was further boosted by performances of the Australia, China & United Kingdom. Australia managed to come out of the hardest group stage in second place, knocking out Sweden in the process. China went on a tear through the group and playoffs stages, only being beaten by eventual winners South Korea and the United Kingdom not only made the United States look foolish but they pushed South Korea to limit in a 2-0 loss and then came one map away against the 2017 runners up of Canada. 

Off the back of these performances, the Australian Tankline of Main Tank Ashey "Trill" Powell and Off Tank Leyton "Punk" Gilchrist joined the academy teams of the Dallas Fuel and Boston Uprising respectively. Chinese international players in Main Tank Xu "Guxue" Qiulin and Krystal were signed buy the Hangzhou Spark, with Ma "Lateyoung"Tianbin and Li "Yvetal" Xianyao joining the Chengdu Hunters and three UK players were signed in Main Tank Cameron "Fusions" Bosworth on a Two-Way contract by the Boston Uprising, Support Harrison "Kruise" Pond by the Paris Eternal and specifically because of his World Cup performance Finley "Kyb" Adisi was signed by the Guangzhou charge. The Boston Uprising also signed Brazilian Support Renan "Alemao" Moretto to make him the first player from Brazil to represent his nation and then play in the Overwatch League. 

While they had shown their potential during their respective Contenders scenes these players performed throughout the World Cup and showed the best of what the tier two scene had to offer. However, the Overwatch League and North American Contenders region is a step up to what they're used to, so their is some potential growing pains they may have to navigate this season. If they manage to maintain their good form from the World Cup then it should give more players who shine during the World Cup to use it as a springboard to OWL. However, if the reverse happens it could put teams off using it as a good measurement of talent evaluation.   

While their are more stories that have happened during the off season, these are the biggest ones for me and it's going to be interesting to see how they develop throughout the year.

(You can find more Overwatch League and London Spitfire related content on Twitter @haloofthoughts)
(Picture Credit: Robert Paul, Blizzard Ent & Atlanta Reign)

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