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Will Role Lock Help or Hurt the Houston Outlaws’ Comeback?

Houston Outlaws

As little as a stage ago, a 2-2-2 role lock in the Overwatch League seemed like an obvious boon for the Houston Outlaws. They’ve struggled with the 3-3 meta from the start, and anything that would free them from it sounded like a blessing. But Stage 3 has seen the Outlaws turn over a new leaf, upsetting the San Francisco Shock and securing a place in the stage playoffs. It took a while, but they’ve finally found their groove.

Unfortunately, that groove will be just as upset by the impending role lock as other teams’ 3-3 prowess, and there’s no promise that what comes after will be as effective. The idea of the role lock brings up visions of the early 2018 season and an 18-map win streak. But Houston also ran a traditional 2-2-2 comp during the end of last season — a long slog of mediocrity where they weren’t good enough to win, but weren’t quite bad enough to give up on, either.

What comes in Stage 4 could be awesome, or it could be disappointing. Either way, it won’t be the same resurgence that’s been seen in Stage 3. Will that be a good thing or not? The devil, as always, is in the details.

What They Have Now

The Outlaws’ secret recipe seems to rest in the current starting lineup, which isn’t even a 2-2-2 balance of player roles, much less hero choices. Austin “Muma” Wilmot has been solo tanking the entire stage, with LiNkzr, Jake “Jake” Lyon and Dante “Danteh” Cruz forming the DPS core. Daniel “Boink” Pence and Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty make up the support line.

Houston Outlaws
Image courtesy Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Most frequently, they’ve played a “Sombra GOATS” composition that swaps out D.Va for Danteh on his signature Sombra. It’s a powerful combination that allows for faster picks on HP-heavy defensive heroes. His masterful EMPs combined with Muma’s Earthshatters gave his former teammates on the Shock fits earlier this stage.

Along with this, Houston has made great strides with a “3-2-1” composition — three DPS, two supports, and one tank. This makeup frequently sees Jake and Boink on a devastating Pharah/Mercy combo, with Danteh again disabling enemies on Sombra. Muma wreaks havoc on Wrecking Ball, LiNkzr fills on whatever other DPS makes sense at the time (often Doomfist, Widowmaker or Tracer) and the KBs rack up at an alarming rate.

These two comps have been massive successes for the Outlaws this stage. There’s just one problem: neither of them is viable in a role-locked Stage 4.

What Will Change

DPS

The linchpin of both of these compositions — and of most of Houston’s success this stage — has been Danteh’s Sombra, and for good reason. He’s one of the best in the League at playing the most powerful hero in the game. But he’s far from carrying the team alone. Jake’s reputation as a motormouth is good for more than just Watchpoint bits; his teammates frequently laud his gamesense and playcalling. And LiNkzr wasn’t dubbed “Finland’s gift to esports” for nothing.

But the role lock means only two of them will play at a time. Which two? Well, that depends on what onw is willing to give up. Jake’s shotcalling? Danteh’s mastery of Sombra? LiNkzr’s absurd hitscan prowess?

Several Outlaws have said that having a set starting lineup was an important part of their Stage 3 success. Would one of the team’s two hitscan players be benched for the stage, or would they sacrifice that stability for adaptability? In either case, would it be worth it? And what if the new meta calls for heroes outside Jake’s repertoire? Will team cohesion suffer if he’s swapped out?

Flex Tanks

Houston Outlaws
Photo courtesy Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

The other variable in the puzzle is the second tank position. Granted, there are less moving parts involved — either Matt “coolmatt” Iorio or Alexandre “Spree” Vanhomwegen will cycle back into the starting six. At surface level, Spree feels like the obvious choice. While he and coolmatt are both highly specialized as Zarya and D.Va respectively, Spree has spent far more time flexing between the two. He was cranking out massive damage on Zarya before it was cool, leading the league in damage in 2018. Not damage on Zarya — damage, period.

That’s not to say coolmatt isn’t a viable choice as well — that will depend on what compositions the team decides to run. If D.Va is strong enough in the new meta, his longstanding synergy with Muma could be valuable. They’ve been tanking together since mid-2017, which makes them an old married couple in esports years. But Muma has plenty of experience with Spree as well, and coolmatt is persistently plagued by rumors of retirement (based solely on a sparse social media presence and being old enough to rent a car).

What Might Not Change

All of this, of course, could be secondary compared to the biggest change between Stages 2 and 3. Houston has a well-earned reputation as a “momentum-based” team — which is a polite way of saying they get in their own heads. Big victories and clutch plays tend to beget more of the same, as do unexpected losses. Some fans panicked after their unexpected loss to the Florida Mayhem this stage, wondering if it would lead to collapse.

But the collapse didn’t come. Nor did it come in Week 2, when they took one map from San Francisco and then dropped two. Or in Week 4, when Andreas “Logix” Berghmans made his OWL comeback by kicking them up one side of Oasis and down the other. Clips of their comms in Stage 3 are more focused, with audible calls of “calm down, it’s not over”. Whether it was the long mid-season break, increased financial support after their struggling parent company was bought out, or a bit of both, the Outlaws seem to be less tiltable than ever.

That’s the X factor that may see Houston through the new meta change. Yes, they have the talent necessary to be successful in a 2-2-2 meta, but they’ve had the talent before as well, and still not come up with wins. What sees them through this latest changes may not be raw skill, but their newfound stability. If that much carries over from Stage 3, then the Outlaws’ comeback may just be beginning.

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