Just a couple days away from the start of the 2019 Overwatch League season, all 20 teams are making their final preparations. We caught up with them last week to get the scoop on where they stand as Opening Day approaches. Yesterday, we looked at half the league, and now here’s the rest:
11. Last year there were two teams that felt the profound disappointment of crumbling under the weight of expectations: Seoul and Dallas. For the Dynasty, who entered the league as early favorites due to their accomplishments and status in Korean Overwatch, the burden could be felt as early as their introductory press conference.
“Until you play against other teams, you don't know where you stand, but even before people had that information, everyone had so many expectations, and that pressured the team a lot last year,” Dynasty GM Ho-Cheul “Hocury” Lee said. “What the team wants to do now is to be able to look at ourselves honestly, without that pressure, so that's why we're looking forward to this season.”
Hocury is the only remaining member of last year’s coaching staff, albeit in a new management role, and the changes made during the offseason have already had a big impact on the players. “The coaching style has changed a lot,” support Jin-Mo “Tobi” Yang explained. “Now it's more about strategy and [being] detail-oriented, and the coaching staff asks more questions to make the players think themselves. It's more professional, so it took some time to adjust.”
The new coaching system, along with new players and a new start, has allowed the returning players to adopt a more measured approach to the season.
“We don't feel the same kind of expectation from people,” Tobi said. “Also, for us, we can only improve.”
12. The only expectations that should matter to a team are the internal ones, according to Dallas head coach Aaron “Aero” Atkins. “If we focus on our improvement and our growth and our play, we'll get to a point where we're better than other teams, and the wins will come along with that.”
The Fuel’s rejuvenation started late last season, when Aero was brought on and the team found a meta they could thrive in. In the offseason, the organization focused on establishing a more thorough infrastructure, modeled off professional basketball teams, where the training environment mirrors the Overwatch League stage settings, and special attention is paid to specialized coaching as well as mental health.
As a result, the players are now able to train more effectively, and that’s allowed them to hit the reset button. “Compared to last season, personally I think we need to forget it,” DPS Dylan “Akm” Bignet said. “Just move on and try to focus on the present and the future. We're a completely different team from last season. We have a lot of trust, we want to be a team. We win as a team, we lose as a team, we are family.”
When the new-look Fuel take the stage for their first match against San Francisco, that’s the message they want to convey.
“We're not just a team that can play one thing and one thing only,” Aero said. “We're not just the team that had a really bad first season. We're brand new in so many ways. We're going to show that we're strong, that we've been putting in the work to be the best.”
13. Going into the 2019 season with the same core can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, everyone has experienced a year of the Overwatch League. “Retaining a roster that you know isn't going to crack under pressure and could handle the mental stress of last year has a lot of benefits,” Houston Outlaws GM Matt “Flame” Rodriguez said. “That is definitely an advantage from a gameplay perspective.”
On the other hand, for a team like the Outlaws, who like to play a certain style, there’s a year’s worth of data that opponents have on them. Becoming harder to play against requires individual players to improve, but there’s one big equalizer entering this season: the meta.
“The meta shifts kind of mask everything,” DPS Jake “Jake” Lyon explained. “Even if you have tendencies, those tendencies have to change. When the meta changes, you have to play the game a different way, even on the same hero.”
Triple-tank, triple-support is “the most unique composition ever,” in Jake’s opinion, since the viable hero pool resembles nothing that ever came before it, and team coordination is much different. But like the Mercy meta, it won’t last forever, and when it changes, that’s where the Outlaws’ prior experience can come in handy once more.
“We're especially cognizant of being ready for the meta to change and overriding the importance of, oh we're doing well, we're a great team, or oh we're doing poorly, we're a bad team,” he said. “Maybe that's the biggest advantage of being on a team that has played in the Overwatch League before—you're ready for change to come, and not knowing what it'll be, just being open-minded about change.”
14. The returning teams were almost unanimous in citing team chemistry as the biggest advantage they had over newer teams, and the ability to communicate honestly is a big plus for the Valiant in particular.
“We're very comfortable with each other and we're not afraid to talk to each other about mistakes, or what we think is good and what we think is bad,” flex tank Indy “Space” Halpern said. “If you're playing with new players, you don't want to cross a line or think you accidentally offended somebody. So it's nice to have to almost a brotherhood and know that you want to win and you're all looking for the same goals.”
“We all have a mutual respect for each other,” support Scott “Custa” Kennedy said. “We know how far we got last season, and we know we can replicate that. It's just about doing what we did last season, but doing it just better.”
What they did best last year was a disciplined, reactive playstyle, but for them, predictability isn’t the worst thing.
“We have an identity as a team, and it's definitely easier for the other teams to prepare against us, but there's so many other things that we have the advantage [on],” Custa said. “All of our players have stage experience and know how we want to play on that stage. Those [new] guys have a lot of things to figure out and a lot of problems to solve. I think we also have a very versatile roster, just in general. Yes, we are built around the strength of our tanks and playing a very conservative playstyle, but I think we have the versatility to go away from that if we need to.”
15. Some teams, like the Outlaws and the Valiant, sent their most talkative representatives to media day. Hangzhou sent main tank Qiulin "Guxue" Xu, whose approach to interviews can probably best be characterized as playfully taciturn. Is he integrating well with his mostly Korean teammates? "Yes, we talk a lot and play games together." Is he feeling extra pressure to perform after his breakout performance at the 2018 Overwatch World Cup? "Not really, I know can play even better."
He mentioned that in-game comms for the Spark are in English, rather than Korean or Chinese. Has it been hard? "Yes." Pause. "We can say the easy stuff."
Some more brief insights from Guxue: Who's he looking forward to playing? Everyone. Who does he want to beat? Everyone.
("You're tough," I told him at the end after exhausting all of my questions. He just smiled.)
16. It’s common for multilingual teams to default to English, no matter what the majority nationality is, but Florida seems to be an outlier in this regard. At the Mayhem’s practice facility a couple weeks ago, DPS Kevin “Tviq” Lindstrom—the team’s only full-time English-speaking player—talked a bit about the team’s in-game comms.
“I would say maybe 60-40, 70-30 Korean,” he said. “A lot of times, when there’s something really urgent that doesn’t exactly involve the English[-speaking] players, they’ll always do it really fast in Korean, and then if there’s time they’ll say it in English too, but a lot of time it’ll be in Korean, which is completely fine because you pick up most of the Korean phrases anyway. You learn to deal with it.”
Having been around Korean callouts for a few months now, Tviq has a handle on most of what goes on in the game. But has he picked up anything outside of Overwatch?
“I mean, swear words?” He chuckled. “As you first start learning any language, swear words are always the thing you pick up the most and first.”
17. One hidden benefit of the triple-triple meta is that the communication around it isn’t as rigorous as it might be for dive, something that’s been favorable for the LA Gladiators, another team that brought in new Korean talent during the offseason.
“The current meta requires a lot of teamwork, but once you're inside the game, the plans aren't as complex as in other metas,” support Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni explained. “It’s a lot about game knowledge and working as a team. Of course, there's execution and all that, but I think game knowledge and teamwork goes above that, currently.”
Preparing for fewer games in the schedule might seem less stressful for the coaches, but David “Dpei” Pei said that’s not necessarily the case due to the increase in map-pool diversity this year.
“Each map is very unique, I would say, so each one requires a different strategy,” he said. “The prep is a little harder, but [during] the preseason time, we already knew about these maps, so it wasn't too complicated. I think as we move on, we're going to have to iterate faster and hopefully have the right take on the meta.”
18. “For whatever reason, some people online and in the Overwatch community seem to be underestimating us, so we want to prove them wrong.” These were fighting words from Vancouver DPS Hyo-Jong “Haksal” Kim, regarding his motivations for the season ahead.
To be fair, it’s difficult to evaluate the Titans when there’s virtually no information about them besides their past accomplishments. They were ensconced in Korea until last week due to visa delays, and as a result haven’t even scrimmed against their peers. For this team, though, that could be an advantage. “We can hide our strategies from Overwatch League teams this way,” Haksal said.
After arriving stateside, the players have been whisked around for official league business and practicing when they can, but the lack of adjustment period is barely a hurdle, according to main tank Sang-Beom “Bumper” Park.
“Even though it's been a short adjustment period, we feel it's enough,” he said. “All we want to do is go up on stage and show what our team is made of.”
19. Vancouver might be able to hide strats from opponents due to circumstances out of their control, but San Francisco is able to do so intentionally, thanks to a 12-man roster that allows for internal scrims and experimentation. “There will be lots of different teams with different colors, so we can change our color also,” head coach Da-Hee “Crusty” Park said.
Color, in this case, refers to playstyle and team identity, and Crusty is hoping that his roster of five DPS, four tanks, and three supports will allow his team to be a chameleon, adapting at will to their opponents. Managing playtime is his number-one priority, but the players seem to be taking it in stride.
“If I’m not [in a map], it's a learning thing for me,” DPS Jay “Sinatraa” Won said. “I can spectate the other players and get better myself, increase my worth as a player and get smarter.” It’s what he did the entire first half of last season, when he was still under the age limit, so he’s used to it.
“Last year [with Boston] I played pretty much every single map,” DPS Nam-Ju “Striker” Gwon added. “There are certain downsides to that because it does get exhausting. Here, in terms of my personal health, it won't be as tiring because there are other players to relieve me if I'm not in top condition.”
Having such a robust roster has also resulted in other changes. Last season, Sinatraa explained, the players were in individual apartments, which made it harder to bond as a team, so being in one house this year is a better arrangement. “Everyone likes each other a lot, we have lunch and dinner together every day, everyone's always laughing, making jokes,” he said.
“With Boston, everyone would just go home and live their own lives,” Striker added. “Now that we're all in this one area, we have no choice but to talk to each other and get to know each other more. With the Shock it feels like everyone is part of a family.”
20. There’s no loan system for the Overwatch League, but if there were, Boston might be the first team to take advantage of it. With just two DPS signed, and one—Kelsey “Colourhex” Birse—suspended for the first two games, the Uprising have to get creative for Week 1.
“Luckily, we're playing in a meta that requires zero DPS players, so we kind of lucked out in that aspect,” GM Chris “Huk” Loranger said. “It makes practice really interesting. We're just going to have to do as well as we can.”
When Colourhex does return to the lineup, he’ll be joining a team that took a lot of people by surprise in 2018, and being the new kid on an established team has its pros and cons. “Everyone has experienced this before, so they know what they're doing in a sense, and it's easy to rely on them and go to them for help or ask questions,” he said. “At the same time [there’s] a lot of pressure to perform because, obviously, the people before me…”
Whether it’s individual or team pressure, there’s no denying that the Uprising are feeling more of it in 2019. It’s a matter of pride for returning teams to not be upstaged by the incoming talent.
“If you were a playoff team in [the inaugural season], it feels like you should build off of that, especially against an expansion team,” Huk said. “Even in traditional sports, if you're the Patriots and a new expansion team comes in and they do better than you, with a whole new roster, with a staff that don't have as much experience or management or whatever... One, kudos to that expansion team, but it definitely feels bad if you can't improve on your results.”
A look at the first 10 teams can be found here. Don’t miss a moment of Opening Week, as the 2019 Overwatch League season kicks off on Thursday, February 14, at 4 p.m. PST. Watch all 2019 season matches live and on demand on overwatchleague.com, the Overwatch League app, our Twitch channel, MLG.com, and the MLG app.