Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Barely A Gang, Definitely Not Outlaws: A Look At The Houston Outlaws In Their Current State

Ultimate Weekend Dallas is in the book and while it was the homestand for the Fuel, it was also a chance for the Houston Outlaws to play in their home state for the very first time. The outcome for Houston wasn’t what the team wanted, with their first result being a 4-0 loss to Seoul and then losing the Battle of Texas to the hometown boys Fuel 3-1, thus continuing the abysmal early season for the Outlaws. We’ll be going through where everything has gone wrong for the Houston Outlaws and how they can’t go Texas Hard or Ante Up!

A few weeks prior to the 2019 Overwatch League season starting, I shared my preseason power rankings and placed the Houston Outlaws as the fourth worst team in the league. As a team, many expected the Outlaws to be a mid table team at the very least, yet so far they have rather lived up to my low expectations of them.

While this was seen as a hot take at the time and drew the ire of Outlaws fans, I still didn’t believe that Houston were going to be able to match the majority of the teams in league with the roster they had, and still have, while all the teams returning and coming into the league brought in improved rosters.

I’m not going to pull any punches with this statement, but the 2019 Houston Outlaws are currently almost absolutely trash  and show no signs that their going to pull out of their current string of continuous losses. They currently sit at 17th in the league’s overall standings with only the Washington Justice, Florida Mayhem and Los Angeles Valiant sitting lower than them as of this being written. If this isn’t the time for the organisation to start hammering the panic button, then they never will.

The first big problem I have regarding the Outlaws is that this is virtually the same roster that finished 7th of out 12 in Season 1. That meant they missed out on the end of season playoffs by just two wins and would be enough to comfortably secure a place in this season’s play-in tournament. Their roster going into the second Overwatch League season needed to be improved to stay competitive, with new players and teams coming into the league and the levels of competition improving.

Yes the Outlaws had a lot of ongoing drama surrounding them during the off season, which included their ownership trying to sell their entire portfolio to prospective buyers and collapse of their academy team GGEA. However, they had players under contract in that academy team that could have been promoted to their OWL roster as potential upgrades.

Main Support Jae-Yoon “Aid” Go, who is now playing for the Toronto Defiant, Mads “Fischer” Jehg who is now a free agent and had previously played for Envy, as well as Luís “Greyy” Perestrelo, now of the Paris Eternal, could all have been players that could have contributed to the team this season.

The one move they did make by trading Main Tank Myeong-Hwan “Smurf” Yoo to the San Francisco Shock for DPS Dante “Danteh” Cruz was a positive one heading into the current Goats meta and gave the team two stand out players along with Austin “Muma” Wilmots to build around.  Yet the team did not look to improve or add to their support line, which some could argue were the weakest area of the Outlaws’ roster.

Christopher “Bani” Benell, Daniel “Boink” Pence and Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty  as a core have struggled to find a level of play that you would expect from OWL-level Supports and this has caused them to more often than not look like one of the worst Support groups in the league. While Boink and Rawkus players have improved stats on an individual basis compared to last year with Boink averaging 4.99 deaths ranking & 5,396 healing he’s ranked 108th and 79th per 10 minutes. While Rawkus is currently 31st for healing with 8:618

and 97th in deaths with 4.83 average per 10 minutes he hasn’t particularly managed to find the form that made him an integral part of United States teams in the 2017 & 2018 Overwatch World Cups prior to the start of the Overwatch League..

They also haven’t been helped by the sudden rise and just as sudden plateau of D.Va player Matt “Coolmatt” Iorio, who’s failing at times to provide the Outlaws with the peel and support they need. It also doesn’t help that Coolmatt’s hero pool has the flexibility of a boulder and would likely be in trouble when and if D.Va is eventually nerfed out of the meta. Even with Alexandre “Spree” Vanhomwegen coming in as the main Zarya player for the Outlaws, the expectations around his play on her have failed to reach the heights of last season.

One of the main bright spots from last years Outlaws team was Muma, who had a great season last year that accumulated in him becoming an All-Star pick for the Atlantic Division. His play hasn’t been up to the level of last season with only brief moments of brilliance highlighting a stretch of mediocrity. Overwatch is a team game where it’s near-impossible to single-handedly carry a team and his drop of performance seems to be due to the supporting cast around him not playing to the level that is required in the league right now.

While it was admirable of GM Matt “Flame” Rodriguez to keep faith in the team from last year, the Outlaws are not Mayhem Academy. They don’t have the coaching staff or players outside of one or two, that can regroup and return better than they were last year. Don’t get me wrong, I like Flame and the fact he’s willing to back his players, however, he’s misjudged the talent level of the roster he’s got and some of the Outlaws performances lie on him.

While blame for the current state of the roster can be attributed to  Flame, the team's performances lies on Head Coach Tae-Yeong “TaiRong” Kim and the players. At times during this season, there have been some questionable decisions made regarding their starting lineup and compositions. This have been picked up previously by analyst Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles when referring to the decisions made in Houston’s game against the Vancouver Titans. There have been further questionable decisions made in games since.

The key one that stands out to me was the composition decision against the Shanghai Dragons on Oasis. When the Dragons went for the stronger DPS composition of Soldier 76/Tracer, the Outlaws didn’t try to mirror the composition and went with Tracer/Brigitte. It was a dumbfounding move to me, because not only did they not have Jiri “Linkzr” Masalin in at that time having opted for a DPS lineup of Danteh and Won-Hyeop “Arhan” Jung, they did this despite knowing they were likely going for a DPS duo that are both known for playing Tracer while their best Soldier 76 player was on the bench. They also stuck with this composition well into a map they were getting stomped on and made changes too late for it to matter.

I’m not sure if it was because of the criticism the week before and they decided to try and prove Monte wrong, but it was a horrible call to make and put them into a hole they’ve struggled to get out from all season, with Houston not having a single reverse sweep all season.

The Outlaws have one last chance to get out of becoming the third different team in Overwatch League history to go 0-7 in a stage, following in the footsteps of the Shanghai Dragons in season one and this years Los Angeles Valiant in stage one. While they have the series lead against London in regular season play, I can’t see an outcome where Houston can avoid going winless, because, as of right now, they are the worst team in the league.

(You can find more Overwatch League related content on Twitter @haloofthoughts)

(Picture Credit: Dallas Fuel & Robert Paul)


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