The Atlanta Reign enter the OWL season with the weight of expectation on their shoulders. After the pleasant surprise that was their expansion season, the Reign are poised to claim their spot amongst the league’s elite. For Atlanta to become contenders, they’ll need continued internal improvement alongside big contributions from their touted rookie signings.
2019 In Review
To call Atlanta’s first OWL season a roller coaster would be selling it short. They burst onto the scene with swagger, taking on the irreverent spirit of their outsized star, Daniel “dafran” Francesca. They outperformed initial expectations and produced some iconic highlights along the way. Then dafran took his leave, retiring from professional play after just eight games on the OWL stage.
The team was left scrambling to cobble together a capable roster without their star DPS. Some savvy midseason pickups helped to stabilize a volatile situation, but the team still slumped through the middle stages of the season. Big upsets over NYXL and two wins at the Atlanta Homestand kept them in reach of the playoffs.
The homestretch of the season was where Atlanta truly shined. The arrival of role lock rejuvenated the Reign and they reeled off nine straight wins to close the regular season. Their remarkable turnaround earned them the sixth seed in the season playoffs, where they continued to impress. They upset the San Francisco Shock in the first round of the double-elimination bracket, the only team to even take a map off the eventual champions.
Head Coach: Brad “sephy” Rajiani
Assistant Coach: Dimitri “Silence” Couturet
Main Tank: Hyeonjun “Pokpo” Park
Main Tank: Blake “Gator” Scott
Flex Tank: Nathan “frd” Goebel
Hitscan DPS: Andrej “babybay” Francisty
Flex DPS: Jun “ErsTer” Jeong
Main Support: Petja “Masaa” Kantanen
Flex Support: Dusttin “Dogman” Bowerman
The Reign are returning much of their 2019 roster in an attempt to build on the success from last season. After an excellent run in the OWL Playoffs followed by a stellar showing at the Contenders Gauntlet, Gator has been upgraded from a two-way contract to full OWL status. Given his versatility and the progress he made last year, expect him to give Pokpo some competition for that starting spot.
The support line is the one area that is unlikely to see much change in 2020. Both Dogman and Masaa return after solid rookie seasons. Masaa made his name last year as one of the biggest playmakers at the main support position. If Dogman can reign in some of his more reckless tendencies and build on his leadership role in the team, he could be in for a breakout season.
LAst year, ErsTer truly established himself as an elite talent, whether he was lighting up the killfeed on Tracer or making impact plays on Brigitte. He was a darling amongst fans who really paid attention, but playing off-role and Atlanta’s midseason slump kept him from being a household name. 2020 could be the year he really breaks through and becomes a superstar in every sense.
Assistant Coach: Chung-in “Mentalist” Kim
Flex Tank: Xander “Hawk” Domecq
Hitscan DPS: Hugo “SharP” Sahlberg
Flex DPS: Tae-Hoon “Edison” Kim
Main Support: ?????
Flex Support: ?????
Atlanta has undoubtedly had one of the best offseasons in the entire league. For starters, the promotion of Hawk from ATL Academy gives them a proven partner for whoever wins the starting main tank spot. He was easily a top-3 flex tank prospect, and he’s already flashed a strong Sigma to go along with his signature D.Va.
The DPS line is where Atlanta made its biggest upgrades this offseason. Edison enters the league as one of the most hyped prospects around after years of excelling in Korea. Another hyper-flexible player with star power, Edison favors hitscan heroes, making him a perfect compliment to ErsTer’s projectile focus. If that duo wasn’t enough to excite, the Reign also added Sharp, a hitscan specialist from Envy with tremendous potential. Collectively they’ve put together a DPS group that can challenge San Francisco or New York for the best in the league.
Right now, the support pickups for Atlanta remain a mystery. Head coach Brad Rajani confirmed that the Reign had two more signings coming this offseason, and it makes sense for those to fill out the support lineup. Recent speculation has turned toward SharP’s former Envy teammate, Anthony “Fire” King, as an option at main support. Whoever takes these last two spots, it seems unlikely they would break into the starting lineup at either position,
The move to the Homestand model in 2020 brings a massive shift in the logistics of the league, Adapting to the added travel is going to be vital for any team with championship aspirations. Luckily for Atlanta, they’ll definitely be on the lighter side when it comes to travel. They won’t have to face a daunting Asian road trip like many teams, and they only have to cross the Atlantic once.
On the flip side, the Reign will be one of the most disadvantaged teams when it comes to home-field advantage. They’ll play seven of their 28 matches in the home city of their opponents, one of the highest marks in the league. They have just four home matches of their own, putting them at a serious deficit.
The Reign have one final quirk in their 2020 schedule: they don’t play until Week 4. They’ll have some extra time once the season starts to boot camp and prepare for their first match. The coaching staff can have a few weeks to let the meta sort itself out. It should be a big advantage, but don’t be surprised if they come out a little slow against teams that have already kicked off the rust.
Homestand Dates and Venues
March 21-22 at the Coca-Cola Roxy
June 13-14 (Location to be determined)
Atlanta’s fate is going to be largely decided by how they fare against the other teams in the Atlantic Conference. With that in mind, circle their Week 20 trip to Washington on the calendar. Sandwiched between two brutal stretches of Pacific opponents, the Reign take on the hometown Justice as well as the Philadelphia Fusion, Atlanta’s biggest rival in 2019.
Speaking of matchups with some history behind them, Atlanta’s two games against the New York Excelsior will be must-watch affairs. Last year New York handed the Reign their two biggest wins of the regular season, and they certainly want revenge for those embarrassing upsets. They play twice in the first nine weeks of the season and two more wins would set the tone early for Atlanta.
Finally, Atlanta’s second homestand brings two crucial cross-conference opponents. Seoul and Shanghai both bring some serious upgrades into the season, but Atlanta has proven that they feed off the energy of their home fans. Week 19 will gave then that edge against tough competition.
Player to Watch
In 2019, flex tank was never a position of stability for the Reign. Despite his considerable individual skill Donghyung “DACO” Seo never really gelled with the team. His issues led to frd joining the roster. He acquitted himself nicely during Stage 4, before being benched in favor of Gator during the playoff double-shield meta.
2020 offers the opportunity to have a constant presence at that position, and Hawk has a chance to be a legitimate star. If he can fulfill that potential, Atlanta can insert themselves into discussions of the best teams in the league. The Reign are one of the few OWL teams who still have an Academy team, so success for Hawk makes a great case for the value of a Contenders roster.
Keys to the Season
The bar has been set extremely high for Atlanta in 2020, but how do they reach their lofty goals? First and foremost, they, like every OWL team, must effectively mitigate the downsides of increased travel. Life on the road will mean less practice time, being tired, jet-lagged players and plenty of opportunities for illness to torpedo a team. Protecting against those pitfalls is likely just as important to Atlanta’s success as the talent they’ve assembled.
That talent, though, has immense potential. If this coaching staff can incorporate the new additions while maintaining their strong team culture, they’ll be off to a great start. In terms of the roster, Atlanta is beautifully set up to do their best San Francisco Shock impression. A deep 12-man roster gives them the ability to scrim in-house and also have backups available to practice for future metas. With practice at a premium, those kinds of contingency plans will be more valuable than ever.
After catching the league off-guard last year, Atlanta has a fantastic foundation to build on for their second season. This time though, they won’t be able to stay off the radar. Their talent warrants championship aspirations and the infrastructure suggests Atlanta is prepared for the challenges of 2020. Now, all that remains is to prove they belong.
Featured image courtesy of Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment.
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