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Overwatch League – Does anyone stand a chance against Korea?



This week marked the long-awaited launch of Overwatch League’s Inaugural Season, a 6-month-long tournament pitting 12 teams against one another for the chance to ascend the ranking table and achieve eventual glory. Like traditional sports, each team has a geographical designation, moniker and matching skin set. It’s an immediately familiar concept; as a Brit, it feels a lot easier to affiliate myself with London Spitfire than with the jumbled assortment of letters and numbers esports teams normally bear. However, just as football team Manchester United can recruit players from all over the world, so too can Overwatch League teams.

This leads to most team line-ups being diverse, selecting the best players from across the globe to play alongside each other in dream-team scenarios. Dallas Fuel, for example, only has one American player (Brandon ‘Seagull’ Larned) with the rest cherry-picked from all over: Taimou from Finland, Chipshajen from Sweden, xQc from Canada, and so on.

There is one country however, with a lineage of players that stand taller than all the others. In the relatively short history of competitive Overwatch, there is no denying that Korean teams have consistently dominated every event. There have been two Overwatch World Cups – and twice, South Korea have been crowned World Champions. Of the four seasons of Overwatch APEX (a televised Korean tournament, previously known to be the highest level of Overwatch play) the latter three seasons have been won by Korean teams. Interestingly, APEX season one was won by Team EnvyUs, all of whom now play for the aforementioned Dallas Fuel. After APEX season three however, international teams stopped even being invited to compete, due to them being eliminated so quickly.

In a similar fashion to EnvyUs becoming Dallas Fuel, the teams that won the latter three seasons of APEX, LunaticHai and GC Busan, now make-up Overwatch League’s Seoul Dynasty and London Spitfire, respectively. Having the Dynasty be an all-Korean team is expected, but to see my ‘home’ team be composed the same way feels like a double-edged dragonblade. On one hand, I have a very real chance of supporting the overall winners, such is the caliber of the squad make-up. On the other, there’s a disconnect that the inherent nature of location-based teams shouldn’t allow for. The UK team in last year’s World Cup had several strong personalities to rally behind, and to see none of them make it through to the only UK team (in fact, the only European-based team) in the League is disappointing.

All of this culminates in the current situation, where if you base skill on past successes, Seoul Dynasty and London Spitfire are simply better than the rest of the League. From that point of view, it feels like there’s little point in the tournament structure at all, as if wins are predestined and no-one else stands a chance against these Korean behemoths. It’s almost like two different leagues, where all the lesser teams compete for third place. If the Overwatch League actually does unfold in this manner, the excitement of watching a match diminishes to the point where it feels trivial to watch. Without the back-and-forth anyone-could-win mentality, any sport loses its lustre, especially as a viewer.

This does, however, provide the perfect opportunity for a Disney-esque underdog story. Cue the first ‘real’ match of the season, this week’s game; Dallas Fuel vs Seoul Dynasty. Before the game, all four commentators on the desk predicted a 3-1 victory in Seoul’s favour. When the first hard-fought game went to Dallas, the arena erupted, as the audience saw that the infallible Koreans could be beaten. What unfolded on the next map, Temple of Anubis, was one of the greatest games in Overwatch history – rivalling even the World Cup semi-finals match on Hanamura between America and South Korea.

The nature of a ‘2CP’ map involves both teams alternating between defending and attacking two consecutive points. If one team succeeds where the other failed, they instantly win. If both teams successfully attack both points before the time runs out, they do it again, until one team fails to take a point. However, in these subsequent rounds, you’re only allotted the time left over on the clock from your previous attempt. This means it becomes increasingly difficult to continue to take a point, as losing even a single team member to a well-placed headshot means waiting for them to respawn, or carrying on without them and hoping for the best. Once you’re in these subsequent rounds, it’s essentially sudden death, requiring perfect teamwork and skill to pull-off a victory. Not only did this match go to round 2, but to round 3 – and almost to round 4. I cannot overstate the intensity to the back-and-forth here, watching Dallas and Seoul team-wipe each other over and over. This is exactly what we as the audience needed to see, and was the epitome of what the Overwatch League can be. Eventually, the game did go to the Dynasty, levelling the score at 1-1.

This is where things went downhill. The next match, taking place on Ilios, wasn’t even a contest, and Seoul took a quick and decisive victory. During the final match, on Numbani, Dallas failed to take the first point, meaning that before the game was even over, they literally had no way of winning overall. That was definitely a flaw in the system, with an exciting game ending with a whimper. Dallas did manage to force a draw at least, leading to a final score of 2-1 to Seoul. Korea remains undefeated, but at least by a less decisive margin than the commentators assumed.

As the next few months of the Overwatch League press on, we can only hope that, eventually, a more even playing field will present itself. However, this was not a bad start, and it was (for the most part) thrilling to see. Even if there is a clear divide between the upper and lower skilled teams, it seems the matches will be a joy to watch, and that’s all I can ask for.