The Houston Outlaws are one of the most popular teams in the Overwatch League. They had a promising run with some major plays, but they finished in the middle of the season standings. Why exactly did the Outlaws fail to clutch a playoff spot? Read on with TGH, we hope to answer that question in part two of this three-part series.
STAGE 1: MOMENTUM BUILDS (FOUR 4-0’S IN A ROW!)
The first week of Stage One for the Outlaws did not go as planned. They lost to the Philadelphia Fusion (who made their league debut with this match) after forcing them to a game five. They lost again 3-1 to New York Excelsior two days later. However, Houston quickly rebounded by securing four 4-0 sweeps in a row against the Shanghai Dragons, Dallas Fuel, Florida Mayhem, and Los Angeles Gladiators. The San Francisco Shock slowed the Houston hype train by breaking their 18 map win-streak. However, the Outlaws pulled through and won 3-1 against SFS. The fourth week of the first stage ended on a bitter note with Houston losing to Seoul 3-2 on a fifth game again.
The fifth and last week of the stage secured Houston their one and only stage playoff spot. They finally showed their dominance against a different all-Korean roster, the London Spitfire, by beating them handily 3-1. Houston went on to finally clutch an overtime fifth game on Saturday by beating the Boston Uprising. However, the Outlaws had only a couple hours to prepare for their Stage 1 playoff match against the Spitfire later in the same day, which the team attributed their 3-1 loss towards. At the end of the first stage, Houston looked good, placing at #2 with a 7-3 Win/Loss record in the standings, a high the team would sadly never return to.
STAGE 2: SLIP-UPS & UPSETS
Week One Dominance
On the first week of stage two the Outlaws came out swinging. Again the team showed their dominance over the London Spitfire in a game that officially sparked a rivalry. The game went the distance, however, as the Spitfire did not want to go down without a fight.
The two teams went into half-time 1-1 as London took Volskaya and Houston held Nepal. The third map, King’s Row, was very strong for the Outlaws as they took the map almost as fast as a team could. Houston was able to take the King’s Row first point yet again to ensure their lead over London. 2-1 going into Route 66, Houston showcased one of their premier map issues as they could not even get to the second point. While London was also unable to make it to the third point, they didn’t even have to as the Outlaws set an easy target to achieve.
London ended up winning on Route 66 and tied the match up 2-2, forcing a match-deciding overtime game five. While London still put up a fight, they failed to fully capture the point to 100 percent even once as Houston took the two out of three map wins needed to ensure their overtime victory.
Another win against a full Korean roster definitely helped the Outlaws’ morale going into their next match two days later against the Boston Uprising. At this point in the stage and season, Boston was looking to prove themselves just as much as the Outlaws. BOS had a very up-and-down first stage and they were the opposite of HOU morale-wise, coming off of a hard 0-4 sweep from the Philadelphia Fusion. Apparently, the difference between the two competing teams’ attitudes made a large impact. Houston completed a 4-0 sweep against Boston, giving the east coast team a two-game 0-4 sweep losing streak. At the end of the first week of Stage Two, Houston was looking on top of the world.
One Tough Loss Causes Houston Outlaws Hype-Train Derailment
Considering Houston’s second-place standings in Stage One, many thought the Outlaws were one of the strongest teams in the League. Sadly for the team and their fans, trouble was brewing for the popular squad. Coming in very confident into the third week, Houston looked to redeem themselves with a revenge-win against the Philadelphia Fusion for causing their Stage One Week One losing streak. Their confidence paid off in the first half, as they secured a 2-0 lead going into half-time. In a twist of fate, Philly came back to win the second half making the score 2-2, and forcing a game 5.
The Outlaws at this point were headed downhill with their momentum and team cohesion. They thought they could have easily secured a 4-0 sweep against PHD since the first half had went in Houston’s favor. Clearly, this thought was in the minds of the Outlaws more clearly than winning the match as the Fusion (although taken to the third and final map of Ilios) clutched the victory.
Then NYXL Shows Up…
Houston’s overtime loss to Philadelphia all but crippled the team’s momentum and morale. The Outlaws were faced with a tough loss that they potentially could have prevented and now they were staring down the barrel of facing the top-ranked New York Excelsior. NYXL absolutely dominated that match and handed the Outlaws a bitter-tasting 0-4 loss. New York showed off their expertise in forcing teams to dive them and controlling the game’s tempo.
In the last three weeks of Stage Two, the Outlaws won only three out of their next six games. Luckily enough for the Outlaws’ morale, they managed to pull off a strong 3-1 upset win against the highly-lauded Seoul Dynasty after struggling against them in the preseason and Stage One.
STAGE THREE: UPS & DOWNS ALL AROUND
The Outlaws’ first match of the third Stage was again against the London Spitfire, who definitely sought to upset Houston in the same way Houston upset Seoul at the end of Stage Two. With the rivalry officially underway, the Outlaws again went into half-time 1-1 against the Spitfire.
The second half of the match went with another point in favor of each team again with Houston winning Nepal and London full-holding Houston on Route 66. Luckily for the Outlaws, the Spitfire didn’t perform very well on Oasis. London again couldn’t even get one point to 100 percent. Houston won the first two maps without needing to go onto a third.
Looking ahead to their next match, it seems that the Outlaws may have assumed that they did not need to prepare as much as they did for the Spitfire. That strategy did not work in Houston’s favor. Boston got their revenge for Stage 2 Week 1 by giving the Outlaws their own 0-4 loss.
The Philly Factor
In the second week of Stage 3, Houston had a repeat performance against the Philly Fusion. The match again went the distance to five games, but the Fusion were starting to make a name for themselves and specifically for their Game Five clutch wins. Philadelphia wasn’t about to let a 5th map loss happen, and their performance on Oasis showed it. Houston wasn’t able to even take one map of the three map series as Philly won the first two in a row.
Again shaken from their self-perceived poor performance, the Outlaws had to stare down the top-dog New York Excelsior for their second match of the week for the second time in a row. This time the Outlaws were more confident and studied the Excelsior properly. However, as every team in the Overwatch League knows, you can’t prepare enough for what NYXL brings to the table.
Trying their best, Houston forced New York to a game five after coming ahead 2-1 in their third game of the match. NYXL clutched it up and beat them on Route 66, setting the stage for a fifth game. Sadly the Outlaws’ ability to clutch a fifth game match faltered yet again and allowed New York to take a 2-1 win on Nepal, winning NYXL the series.
The third week of the third stage went well for the Outlaws though. They secured two wins for the week against the Florida Mayhem and Dallas Fuel 3-1 and 3-0 respectively. Although these matches gave HOU an additional W, both of the teams they faced were low in the standings. Houston was apparently ready to compete above lower-level OWL teams but wasn’t ready for any wins against top-tier rosters.
Another Slip ‘n Slide
The Outlaws’ last win of Stage Three came during week four. They secured a handsome-looking win over the Los Angeles Valiant, who themselves were having an up-and-down stage. Houston secured the first three maps, winning them the game, but surprisingly lost on a map famously nicknamed “JAKE-rtown” for their star Junkrat player. Even though the Valiant lost the match, they showed that the Outlaws aren’t unbeatable on some of their best maps.
This lesson must have been learned by the next few teams the Outlaws played against since the remaining games of Stage Three awarded Houston three more L’s. Two days after winning against the Los Angeles Valiant, the Houston team faced the other Los Angeles-based team: the Gladiators. Perhaps overconfident since the Gladiators lost to the Valiant in the previous week of matches, Houston again failed to clutch a win that was forced to a game five.
The final week of Stage Three definitely didn’t end up how the Outlaws would have liked it to. They lost (again in overtime) to the San Francisco Shock. Lastly, Seoul Dynasty came back at Houston with a vengeance sparked from their loss in the last week of Stage Two, winning with a resounding and punishing 4-0 sweep. Every last one of the games Seoul controlled the Outlaws so much that Houston couldn’t perform on the same level.
The last stage was starting to loom over the Outlaws’ roster like a dark stormcloud. They ended Stage 3 in ninth place, finished Stage 2 in the middle at seventh place after placing second in the first Stage.
The Outlaws were on a downward trend. What was going on and how could they fix it?
STAGE 4: …SO THIS IS IT (IT ALL COMES TO THIS)
The meta-changes for Stage 4 came very late and as a surprise to most players in the Overwatch League. It did not seem to be this way for the Outlaws, though, as they seemed more confident than ever. They knew that the new hero, Brigitte, was finally going to be eligible for play in OWL for the first time. The Houston boys thought that this was a great fit with their roster. Many players could rotate turns with using her since the new meta occasionally called for many supports and tanks.
Houston’s predictions seemed to come to fruition with full force upon the launch of Stage Four Week One. Houston blew away the London Spitfire, this time by sweeping them 4-0 instead of being forced to a game five. Their next game against Boston went nearly as well. Boston was still a team to be feared as they were undefeated in Stage Three before the playoffs. Boston had lost to Philadelphia on the same day that the Outlaws blew away the Spitfire, so their momentum had faltered by that point. The Outlaws made sure that Boston’s momentum was finished for some time as the Texas team secured a 3-1 win.
Overconfidence is a Flimsy Shield
Sadly Houston’s overconfidence again led to a downward spiral. Already thinking themselves the kings of Stage Four by the end of the first week, the Outlaws didn’t do their research on their opposing teams. While this may have panned out initiailly, this was not the case for any of the following weeks’ matches.
The Outlaws’ tendency to underestimate their opponents turned out to be a fatal flaw. The second week’s matches went absolutely nothing like the first. They showed up the Gladiators on their first game, beating them on King’s Row 3-1. Sadly, nothing went the Outlaws’ way after that. Houston failed to get a mark on the board for the next two matches on Hanamura and Oasis and only got one point on Dorado. The Gladiators were a team not to be underestimated, and they definitely knew it.
Not much can be said of the Outlaws during the next match a few days later. Houston obviously did not prepare adequately for the match against the San Francisco Shock, as evidenced by the 4-0 score. Even more so, the Outlaws were full held to ZERO points on three out of the four maps they lost. There is not much else more to say besides SFS was looking extremely good.
Determined to make a resurgence, the Outlaws secured two wins against the Shanghai Dragons and Florida Mayhem yet again the next week. At the very least, Houston was sending a signal that they are not among the worst teams in the League.
The Determining Factor
In the fourth week, the Houston Outlaws faced the Dallas Fuel, then the Los Angeles Valiant a few days later. The Outlaws were able to retain their status as the Kings of the Lone-Star State, beating the Dallas Fuel 3-1. For the Outlaws, this match proved to them that they are at least above the lower-tier rosters.
Doing even better than Houston and Dallas stood the Valiant, also finding their stride in the final stage. The Valiant won head-and-shoulders above the Outlaws, securing a 4-0 sweep. LAV did not let HOU get any advantage for very long as their new lineup punished any team they played against. This was a key win-factor that the Outlaws needed to win not only the match but to contest for playoffs.
Everything came down to the final two games, and Houston was determined to be in the playoffs. This time they did their research, prepared and practiced extensively for the Fusion. The preparation must have paid off since Houston came through with their first win against Philadelphia. Also for the first time they did not have to go to an overtime fifth game! Their confidence soared after the match, and they believed that since they beat the Fusion, they could beat the Excelsior.
New York State of Mind
The Outlaws came off to a promising start after winning the first map of the match, Blizzard World 3-2. However, NYXL came back to win 1-2 on Horizon Lunar Colony. After the half-time break, Houston again came out swinging by winning two of the three maps on Lijiang Tower. The luck and momentum stopped as New York held Houston to one point and then won the fourth game 1-2. The Outlaws, playing their best against this number-one seeded team, were forced into a Game Five yet again.
The last map was Nepal, one with a checkered past for the Houston Outlaws. The Outlaws seemed to falter under the pressure of being forced to win this map to make playoff contention. New York seemed to dominate the maps and didn’t let Houston take one point on Nepal. This ensured that the Outlaws were officially out of the playoff race.
So This Is It, Huh? We Some Kinda Suicide Squaaaad?
In the end, Houston did not make the overall playoffs and didn’t make any stage playoffs other than the first. Internal mind-states of the players and preparation problems seem to be the issue. Confidence issues and inadequate study of opposing teams in key moments allowed space for the Outlaws to faulter. This space was taken from Houston by the six teams standing above them practicing for playoffs.
Check in on Friday when we break down the Houston Outlaws’ own opinions about their performance overall and previous games! Be sure to follow TGH on Facebook and Twitter!