It’s strange to think that not too long ago the Overwatch League was just something rumored to be in development and now we stand having completed the first full season and ready to see which of the six qualifying teams come out on top in the playoffs.
The formation of the league, and in particular its expensive franchise format in which teams to buy in to participate, may have raised the hackles of more than a few esports experts and gamers, but there is no question Blizzard’s brainchild has been a success. That’s particularly true for the game developer, its sponsors, and perhaps most importantly, its franchise owners, who invested $20 million each to participate.
The inaugural season featured 12 teams split into two divisions, the Pacific and Atlantic. Running from Jan. 10 to June 16, the season consisted of four different stages, each running for approximately one month.
Teams were therefore competing to win each of the four stages, as well as maintaining a strong position on the overall leader board. Here’s how the very first Overwatch League regular season panned out.
Overwatch League – Season 1 stage winners
- Stage 1 Winner – Jan. 10 to Feb. 10 – London Spitfire (Atlantic)
- Stage 2 Winner – Feb. 21 to March 25 – New York Excelsior (Atlantic)
- Stage 3 Winner – April 4 to May 6 – New York Excelsior (Atlantic)
- Stage 4 Winner – May 16 to June 17 – Los Angeles Valiant (Pacific)
Season league standings (all teams, all results from all four stages)
|1||Atlantic||New York Excelsior||34-6||126-4-43||+83|
|2||Pacific||Los Angeles Valiant||27-13||100-7-64||+36|
|4||Pacific||Los Angeles Gladiators||25-15||96-3-72||+24|
|9||Pacific||San Francisco Shock||17-23||77-5-84||-7|
Having claimed two stage victories, as well as reaching the final of the other two, New York Excelsior dominated the Overwatch League this season. They pocketed $300,000 in prize money from their individual stage performances alone. Then, they doubled that amount by finishing on top of the overall standings. They are the strong favorites to win the overall title heading into the playoffs.
Behind them, it was a far more even contest among seven other teams. Just five victories separated runners-up Los Angeles Valiant from the eighth place Seoul Dynasty.
Seoul and the Houston Outlaws were the two unlucky teams not to make it into the playoffs. They finished in 8th and 7th place respectively, two wins shy of a playoff berth. Joining New York Excelsior in the playoffs will be fellow Atlantic League teams Philadelphia Fusion, London Spitfire, Boston Uprising, plus the two Los Angeles teams, Valiant and Gladiators, from the Pacific League.
A season to forget?
For the four teams outside of this tightly knit top eight, this summer brings little joy. San Francisco Shock and Dallas Fuel both managed to earn a respectable number of victories this season (17 and 12 respectively). But both were well short of the playoffs. I’d expect to see the management of both these teams make some changes to their rosters before Season 2.
Florida Mayhem were by far the weakest team in the Atlantic League with just seven wins out of their 40 games. That was 15 behind their nearest opponents and major changes are needed if they are to improve on that performance next season.
However, the wooden spoon for disastrous performance of the year goes to Shanghai Dragons. They managed to lose all of their 40 games, winning just 21 rounds in total across those matches. The pressure will be on their management to make huge changes for next season to avoid a similar embarrassment.
The Overwatch League playoffs take place at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles and at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Alongside the money the teams have already pocketed for the individual stage and season-long performances, a further $1.7 million is available in the playoffs.
The playoffs will be contested from July 11-28.
Similar to what happens in the playoffs of Major League Baseball or the NBA, teams in the Overwatch League playoffs will play each other over a series of matches. Each series will be a best-of-three contest. And each individual game in that series plays out over a best-of-five maps format. Therefore, the first team to win three maps wins the first game. And the first team to win two games wins the series.
The top two teams from the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions have earned byes through to the semifinals, leaving the four remaining teams to battle it out in the quarterfinals. However, after the quarterfinals, the bracket is then reseeded based on the regular season record of the teams to ensure that the highest-seeded team always plays the lowest-seeded remaining team.
This means Los Angeles Valiant and New York Excelsior receive byes into the semifinals. Los Angeles Valiant will play the highest seed that qualifies from the quarterfinals. New York Excelsior will play the lowest seed qualifying from the quarterfinals.
The draw for the quarterfinals will see Boston Uprising take on Philadelphia Fusion. Then, the Los Angeles Gladiators face London Spitfire.
In truth, whatever the outcome of the playoffs (and personally, I think it is likely Excelsior will dominate), the Overwatch League has been a huge success in its first season. With plans to expand the league still further next season, with additional teams being added to represent other cities from around the globe, this tournament could rival The International and the League of Legends Worlds as the biggest esports event in the world going forward.