Photo: Blizzard/Robert Paul
Who's the best team in the Overwatch League right now? It's not really clear, and that's a good thing.
After a first stage that, at times, felt like a feeling-out process, Overwatch League teams are now showing a much better understanding of what makes each other tick. It's not just about which team is doing the best job of bending the current meta to their will anymore. Top ranked teams are exploiting their opponents' minute strategic and personality quirks, and it's been a blast to watch.
That's not to say this is some kind of revelation. It's a natural turn for a franchised sport to take, and there were inklings of it during season one with teams like Seoul Dynasty, London Spitfire, and New York Excelsior preparing heavily for each other (sometimes to their own detriment in matches against other teams).
Now, though, it feels like teams are taking it to the next level, planning not just for specific opponents, but for numerous exact situations and strats, leaving heads spinning as fans feverishly try to figure out who's Objectively The Best. This weekend, we got to see some especially good examples of that.
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Take, for instance, Houston vs New York, a match that, from a purely numerical standpoint, seems to be a one-sided blowout at 4-0 in New York's favour. The Outlaws came into the match on uncertain footing after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against the Philadelphia Fusion earlier in the week (and silencing chants that they were the new Best Team In OWL in the process).
However, once things got rolling, Houston quickly showed that they could hang with NYXL. Problem was, NYXL knew exactly what they needed to do to sweep the legs right out from under Houston.
This was especially apparent on first map Volskaya, where New York repeatedly deviated from their usual playbook to keep Houston on the back foot. They knew that Houston tank Muma, who's widely considered to be among the best in the league, would be responsible for holding things together, so consistently took him out of action.
When Muma, as Winston, dove in to wreak havoc on New York's supports, those supports took advantage of Muma's aggression, baiting him and then taking him out of action with Ana's sleep darts so that they could make an easy escape. As a result, New York rarely had to pop their support ults to survive dicey situations, giving them an ironclad first point defence. Houston, the self-proclaimed "Green Wall," slammed face-first into New York's impregnable fortress.
Meanwhile, New York's star DPS player, Jong-yeol "Saebyeolbe" Park, changed his style entirely just for the occasion, targeting supports and tanks instead of other DPS players like he usually does. This further served to remove Houston's normally reliable base, leaving them off-balance and uncomfortable for most of the match.
Houston, however, went down swinging, showing a strong counter to NYXL's brand of hyper-specific game-planning in the process: idiosyncratic strategies. On third map King's Row, Houston ran a tank-heavy formation centered around Muma's Reinhardt, flanked by Jake "Jake" Lyon and Alexandre "Spree" Vanhomwegen on Roadhog and Zarya, for good measure.
This made the team insanely survivable. Almost as importantly, it threw a wrench in New York's plan, because hardly anybody else in OWL plays King's Row this way.
That, of course, makes it damn hard to prepare for. While New York still prevailed in the end, it was easily their shakiest map of the series, with Houston pulling off some wild plays like this now-famous Reinhardt charge:
The weekend also saw Philadelphia Fusion, fresh off a come-from-behind victory against Houston earlier in the week that earned them the crown of Maybe The Best Team In The League, Who Really Knows Anymore, get utterly shut down by London Spitfire in a match that was supposed to be far more competitive.
Again, though, London knew what to expect, and they capitalised, making mincemeat of Philly's dive composition by methodically hacking away at their supports and, in the process, neutering their trademark aggression. A frustrated Philadelphia repeatedly failed to take even a single point.
In a post-match interview, London tank Jae-hee "Gesture" Hong explained that "there is such a thing as kind of a rock paper scissors to the teams, and we're kind of the rock to their scissors." With Overwatch League teams figuring each other out on increasingly granular levels, though, nothing is set in stone. Rock today might be scissors tomorrow.