Tomorrow evening, at 6pm local time, the team I’ve supported since their very first game, the Philadelphia Fusion, are going to be facing off against the London Spitfire in the first of three possible matches for the title of Season 1 champions of the Overwatch League. After an unexpected strong first round and a shocking sweep of the top-rated team in the league in the second round, the Fusion are facing against the next-lowest ranked team in the championship. That’s right. The two lowest seeded teams, Fusion and Spitfire, are facing off in the championship. I’d say it was a surprising turn of events, but such upset are honestly kind of common place in season 1 of the Overwatch League.
Time and time again, the general perception of the best teams, the favorites to win each stage of the season, has been thrown aside as some underdog or another rises up to shake up the top ranks. The only exception to that has been New York, who has sat at the top of the league for the entire season and has made it into the stage finals every time. It got to the point where I stopped watching because there was no longer any consistency. Every match was a giant ball of suspense because almost every team had a surprising victory or record-altering streak of victories. In fact, the only thing about the league that has been consistent is that New York wins a dumbly high number of matches and that the Shanghai Dragons never won a single match. For instance, the initial favorite to carry the league was the Seoul Dynasty. That expectation ended rather abruptly in the first stage and they never even made it into the playoffs. Even my favorite team, the Fusion, couldn’t manage to do more than jog up and down the standings as they won against fearsome foes like New York (they were the first team to actually beat New York) and then lose to some of the lowest ranked teams in the league who have only a handful more victories than the Shanghai Dragons.
It has been an intense and harrowing journey, let me tell you! Sure, the reason we watch sports is because it gets us fired up about something we care about. Suspense is good! We love it when we see our team land a win that could have easily been a loss. But most sports don’t occur with as much frequency as e-sports do and even then we have certain general expectations about our teams performance that help us set our expectations for what we’ll see. No one expects the Browns to go to the Super Bowl and so their fans don’t really feel as beaten down when they eventually lose. In the Overwatch League, a high-performing team can wind up sitting at the bottom of the roster from one stage to another. They can absolutely kick butt against one team and then get absolutely destroyed by another team despite there not being much of a shift strategy. There’s not even a consistency in their wins and losses. Players change all the time as certain people are bench so a new approach can be tried, but that’s still a poor indicator of success or failure. An individual player’s stats don’t even mean that much because they could carry their team to victory on one map and then wind up holding them back on the next one. There are too many factors at play to spot patterns.
I really hope the league gets a little more consistent in the future. And I’m not talking about places in the rankings so much as overall performance. If a team starts rising, they should get to a point where they’re more or less bumping up against similarly skilled teams on the rankings. The best teams should rise to the top and the teams who can’t get it together should sink.
That being said, e-sports are relatively new and it would be kind of foolish to expect the same analytics, predictors, and measures of strength to apply to Overwatch that people would used to measure baseball. I prefer consistency and dependability, but that’s not really the point of video games. Since they’re still so new and rely on every-changing physics, rules, and worlds, any team that can figure out an edge first can get an upper hand against their opponents. Any team can go from the bottom of the rankings to the top because there’s just so much that changes from time to time. Imagine how crazy baseball would get if one team figured out how to double the speed of their runners or how to identify when the pitcher was throwing a slider every single time without fail. That team would probably rise up before people figure out what they were doing an either adopted their skills or found a way to negate them.
I expect that, given time, the Overwatch League will eventually sort itself out. As more teams are added and the e-sport grows, I’m sure it’ll fall into a comfortable groove with reasonable expectations that still allow for surprise upsets and some teams occasionally shifting ranks around. That, or I hope they wind up spacing the matches out so I’m not committing six hours a night, four nights a week to trying to watch them. I wouldn’t have minded as much if they’d done a total of six or even eight matches a week instead of the current twelve. There’s just so much constant suspense and surprise that I can’t really stand it. Even when I watched more closely, I usually just had it on the background as I worked on something else. It’s so exhausting to get caught up in the energy of a match only to have it suddenly reversed when a team that should be winning suddenly loses with no clear reason as to why. As someone who has watched a lot of Overwatch, played a lot of Overwatch, and is really good at finding patterns, I can say that sometimes teams just lose and it isn’t necessarily because they’re performing poorly or their opponents are performing well. That’s usually the reason, but not always. Sometimes, they just do one dumb thing and they lose momentum. Or their tank dives in only to die instantly (literally a thing that used to happen to the Fusion more frequently than I could stand).
I like the way the championship competitions have been organized. Fewer matches a day and often with skips in between the days. I’ve been able to enjoy it a lot more when I don’t have another entire 3 match set, at two hours per match, to watch the next day. I’ve been able to focus more on the strategies the teams have used, what tricks have worked for them and what daring ploys did not. You can really learn a lot if you watch the pros play and know enough to really grasp what they’re doing. I know I do.
Regardless, I’m super excited to watch my team take a shot at the title and million-dollar prize that comes with it. I’d love to see them win after all the hard work they’ve put in to get this far into the championship. If they do, I might finally spend some tokens and get a second Philadelphia Fusion skin in Overwatch. They look kinda gross because they’re a deep, glossy orange, but I gotta show my love for the team that’s come way further than I ever expected them to.