First impressions mean a lot. In social settings, a good introduction can grease the wheels for a lasting relationship. In the Overwatch League, early success sets the tone for the rest of the season. A grueling, globetrotting season awaits, and the chance for some early momentum to carry a team through the slog is invaluable.
When the Atlanta Reign take the stage in Houston this week, they’ll have their opportunity to get off on the right foot. After three weeks of watching from the sidelines, Atlanta are finally making their 2020 debut – one of the most anticipated in the entire league. Their offseason additions upgraded them from dark horse to serious contender, placing the weight of expectation squarely on the Reign’s shoulders.
They face two teams with serious upset potential in the Toronto Defiant and Paris Eternal, who both defied expectations at the Justice Homestand last week. If the Reign come out a bit rusty on stage, their coming-out party could be hijacked by hungry opponents looking for a big win against a league favorite.
Toronto Defiant (Saturday, 5 PM EST)
Of Atlanta’s challengers this week, Toronto presents the most interesting matchup. Their ability to play outside of the meta was a huge factor in their near reverse sweep of the Philadelphia Fusion in Washington. They spent roughly half of that series playing dive compositions featuring heroes like Winston, Genji, Sombra and Doomfist. When most of the league has settled into Reinhardt-Mei-McCree comps, Toronto’s flexibility can throw teams for a loop.
The Defiant are one of the few teams that can effortlessly flex between different styles. Lane “Surefour” Roberts and Brady “Agilities” Girardi are incredibly versatile, and while Toronto might not be the best at any one composition, they’ll be competitive no matter what they play.
Against a more talented Philadelphia team, the Defiant made things messy and almost came away with the upset. Atlanta is similar to the Fusion in their overwhelming firepower, but putting the pieces together on stage is another story. Toronto seems like a good first test of that potential – not an elite team but one that will definitely make the Reign work for their first win.
Paris Eternal (Sunday, 3 PM EST)
The Paris Eternal might just be the surprise of the season up to this point. So much of their 2019 roster remained that it was tough to see them as a legitimate threat, especially with their blockbuster signing Yeong-han “SP9RK1E” Kim ineligible until June. Instead, the new coaching staff has revitalized Paris’s European core and seamlessly integrated their Korean additions.
For the Reign, much of their focus has to be given to Ki-hyo “Xzi” Jung. The Eternal DPS has been one of the breakout stars of the league in 2020, landing near the top in every major stat for his position. Among damage players with at least 60 minutes played, he ranks second in Finals Blows/10, second in Eliminations/10, third in Hero Damage/10 and third in Solo Kills/10. The man has been an absolute stud so far, and Atlanta can’t afford to let him have free reign.
Atlanta should see several players in their first action this weekend, including flex tank Xander “Hawk” Domecq. If he wants a blueprint on how to make a splash in his OWL debut, he should look no further than his Paris counterpart, Han-been “Hanbin” Choi. Hanbin was brilliant against the Justice last week, keeping Justice superstar Corey “Corey” Nigra in check for much of the series.
Keys to Victory
Don’t be afraid to flex: On paper, the Reign should have one of the most versatile teams in the league. Their twelve-man roster gives them exceptional depth, and the individual pieces all have a history of flexibility. The meta is fairly defined at the moment, but certain maps allow for variety. If Atlanta wants to make the most of their talent, they need to be willing to show different looks.
Empower the DPS: The Reign’s damage core feels like an embarrassment of riches. They return a true powerhouse in Jun “Erster” Jeong, alongside veteran presence Andrej “babybay” Francisty. Newcomers Taehum “Edison” Kim and Hugo “SharP” Sahlberg are expected to make a big impact, especially in the hitscan role. If Atlanta can set this group up for success, they’ll be well on their way to a 2-0 week.
Retain the underdog mentality: Last year, the Reign largely flew under the radar. They hung around for most of the season before going on a tear to make the playoffs, where they upset the eventual champions, the San Francisco Shock, in the first round. This time around, they’ll experience real expectations for the first time. The pressure is on, and a lot of teams will be circling the Reign on their calendars. Keeping the humility and hunger from last season will keep them in the right mindset going forward.
Atlanta enters the week as the heavy favorites in both of their matches, but that only means they’ll have a target on their backs. The biggest question here is if the Reign’s three bye weeks have helped them prepare for their opponents or if they’ll be a bit slow out of the gate. It should be the former, but don’t be surprised if Toronto and Paris take a couple of maps or even pull off big upsets.
The wait is finally over for Altanta fans. It’s time to find out if the Reign can deliver on the hype they’ve built in 2020. A loss here won’t derail their season, but a clean slate in their opening weekend would validate Atlanta’s status as an early contender. The stage is set. Now it’s time for the Reign’s grand entrance.
Featured image courtesy of Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment.
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