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Big Iron: A 2021 Houston Outlaws Retrospective

Heading into the 2021 season of the Overwatch League, very few fans had faith in the Houston Outlaws. Over the course of the offseason, the Texan team had undergone a near-total roster rebuild. The team’s 2020 lineup, which consisted of both veteran and rising talent, had been nearly completely scrapped. Outlaws classics like Linkzr and Muma were removed alongside relatively new signings, such as Rapel and Jecse. In fact, once the dust had settled, only three relics of the Outlaws’ past remained- Dante “Danteh” Cruz, João “Hydration” Telles, and Jacob “Jake” Lyon, the latter of whom would come out of retirement to rejoin the team later in the offseason.

Despite acquiring hotly contested rookies like Min-Jun “Piggy” Shin alongside League veterans like William “Crimzo” Hernandez, as the 2021 season of the Overwatch League approached, confidence in the Outlaws was at an all-time low. Green and black began to litter the very bottom of a countless number of power rankings. After all, how could you put them anywhere else? To fans of the League, the 2021 Houston Outlaws roster seemed alien. They were a gang of strangers, masquerading as a well known and well loved Overwatch League team. But most of all, they were unproven. No one knew how well the team would mesh, or how they would succeed once they did. So heading into the first weeks of the May Melee, it was clear that the Houston Outlaws had absolutely nothing to lose- but absolutely everything to prove.

And The Notches on His Pistol Numbered One And 19 More

2021 Houston Outlaws beat SF SHOCK
Courtesy of The Houston Outlaws

As the first tournament cycle of the 2021 Overwatch League approached, it was clear that the Houston Outlaws were hungry to prove themselves. However, nobody expected them to do it quickly- and certainly not in just a couple of standoffs. But it would take only a handful of dominant gunfights for them to prove just how much of a threat they could be. In just their first week of play, the Outlaws defeated two incredibly threatening opponents. First, they shot down the up-and-coming Dallas Fuel superteam, which had consistently ranked above them in the preseason. Then, they took out the legendary San Francisco Shock, a dominant force coming off of their second championship win that many saw as untouchable.

The Outlaws would tout an incredible 4-0 record throughout the May Melee. Though they failed to make it to Hawaii, they would still possess the best Western record at the time- but even then, they weren’t satisfied. The Outlaws would continue their reign of terror throughout the June Joust. But that doesn’t mean they were invulnerable. In fact, it was within the June Joust that the Outlaws would suffer their first non-knockout loss. A 3-1 defeat against the Atlanta Reign, alongside a second lost knockout bracket, proved that the Outlaws weren’t as invincible as many fans had hoped. In fact, the Houston Outlaws touted some incredibly prevalent weaknesses. And it wouldn’t take long for these weaknesses to become irreversibly exposed.

Texas Red Had Not Cleared Leather ‘Fore a Bullet Fairly Ripped

2021 Houston Outlaws Piggy
Courtesy of The Houston Outlaws

The Summer Showdown marked a clear transition for the 2021 Houston Outlaws. It was as if a switch had been flipped, shutting down whatever had kept the superteam powered. The rewiring wasn’t immediately apparent. In fact, in many of their earlier matches, the Outlaws maintained their title-seeking image. But it still wouldn’t take long for their achilles heel to become uncovered. Though it was true that they could routinely beat struggling teams, it seemed as if it was all they could do.

Their ability to destroy the opposition was weighted to only a single side of the power rankings. Against bad teams, they prospered. Against good teams, they were crushed. They couldn’t catch a break against the Fuel. And they couldn’t make a dent in the armor of the Reign or Gladiators. This inability to defeat dominant teams caused the Outlaws to miss both the Summer Showdown and Countdown Cup knockouts, thus tournament attendance an impossibility.

But what caused this sudden downturn in performance? In the eyes of many Overwatch League fans, it was the Outlaws’ inability to adapt mid-match. Once they had locked in a composition, they stuck with it. No amount of counter picking could faze them. And counter-picked they were all the way from a 7-1 record in the first half of the season to a 4-4 in the second. The wind was clearly out of the Outlaws’ sails, and the bullets out of their chamber  But it wasn’t the end of the world. Thanks to a dominant early season, the Outlaws would need to win only a single play-in match to advance to the playoffs. In many fans’ eyes, there was no way they could miss their shot. Such a flub only ever happens in westerns- right?

There Before Them Lay The Body of The Outlaw on The Ground

Yikes.
Courtesy of The Houston Outlaws

When the 2021 Overwatch League season began, the Houston Outlaws were an unproven roster. The odds had stacked themselves against them. And despite the many slip-ups they made throughout the season, they still defied these odds. They were truly a brilliant team- which is why the sudden end to their season feels so gutting.

There’s not much you can say about the final match of the Houston Outlaws’ season. Heading into it, everyone had high hopes. The Washington Justice were just coming off of a terrible Countdown Cup run. It seemed like an easy win for Houston- but in the end, the match exemplified the team’s greatest themes throughout the season. Throughout the series, the Houston Outlaws stuck with Wrecking Ball compositions. Even when it was nonoptimal. Even up against characters like Sombra. Like an Arizona Ranger, they stuck to their guns. And when it worked, it worked. They were explosive. Clean. Dominant. But in a perfectly winnable game, in which even the players seemed confident in their success, and in which they were fully capable of coming out on top, it’s what led to their downfall.

The Outlaws’ season may be over. And it may not have ended how many fans wanted it to end. But it’s far from the end of the Outlaws. Like every great western, the Outlaw hasn’t fallen over dead. Nor have they wound up in an inescapable situation. Instead, they’ve ridden off into the sunset, ready to take on whatever danger they’ll need to face next. The 2021 Houston Outlaws’ story is far from done- it’ll just have to be continued in the new frontier of Overwatch 2.


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