With coaching changes already in the works, the next big question about the Houston Outlaws’ 2020 season is the roster. After two mediocre seasons, many fans and analysts have wondered how much change the team was planning on making. Many have suggested that new coaching could solve most of their problems; others have advocated for keeping only one or two key players and fully rebuilding.
On Friday afternoon, the Overwatch League released the contract status of all current players. While this doesn’t solidify anyone’s future, it narrows down the options for some. Players currently fall under three statuses:
Free Agent: The player’s current contract has expired, and they are free to sign with any team — including negotiating a new contract with their current one.
Team Option: The team has the option to either renew the player’s current contract, or let it expire, thus making them a free agent.
Under Contract: The player’s contract extends into the 2020 season, but can be traded to another team, or mutually terminated in the case of player retirement.
Right now, the majority of Outlaws players are under contract. This means that the team itself controls most of its changes — very few players have the choice of walking away. However, players under contract also can’t be unilaterally cut from the team without still having to pay their salary. This limits most of Houston’s changes to trades, and many of the team’s weaker players may be hard to sell.
So what, exactly, are the Outlaws’ options?
Under Contract: Austin “Muma” Wilmot (main tank), Alexandre “Spree” Vanhomwegen (flex tank), Matt “Coolmatt” Iorio (flex tank)
During the 2018 season, Houston’s tank line was its pride and joy. It makes sense that all three players’ contracts were extended, but the team now has tough decisions to make. It seems likely they’ll hold onto Muma, whose performance has remained solid. However, as one of the most lauded players on the team, he could also command a decent price on the trade market. If they want a certain player badly enough, his contract may be the key.
The futures of Coolmatt and Spree are less certain. Even when both played at their best, having separate specialists for D.Va and Zarya was a challenge. The team could definitely use a stable flex tank… but with both players under contract, simply dropping either one would mean paying out their contract for nothing. Rumors of Coolmatt retiring are common, but aside from him being the oldest player in the League, there’s been no supporting evidence. And after the 2019 season, it’s hard to imagine many OWL teams picking them up.
If Houston does want to sign a new flex tank, there are options available. Lucas “NotE” Meissner (Dallas), Aaron “Bischu” Kim (Guangzhou) and Andreas “Nevix” Karlsson (San Francisco) are all free agents. And while the LA Valiant still hold a team option on Caleb “McGravy” McGarvey, it seems unlikely he’ll see much play with Indy “Space” Halpern still on the roster.
As heartless as it sounds, Coolmatt retiring would make this decision easier. Spree could ride out the rest of his contract while a new face takes on the starting role. But if he stays on board, Spree might be easier to trade — possibly to an Academy team in need of experienced players.
Under Contract: Jacob “Jake” Lyon, Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin
Team Option: Dante “Danteh” Cruz
Free Agent: Won-Hyeop “ArHaN” Jung
There shouldn’t be any major surprises in Houston’s damage lineup. As the only Korean-speaking player on an English-comming team, ArHaN’s days have been numbered since the departure of Houston’s Korean coaching staff. Expect to see him officially released without much fanfare.
Keeping Danteh on after his performance this season is a no-brainer, and Jake is integral enough to the team to likely be safe as well. If any of them leaves the team, it’s likely to be LiNkzr, traded for cash or a more flexible player. Even if he stays, another pickup seems likely, especially with free agents like Lane “Surefour” Roberts (LA Gladiators), Josue “Eqo” Corona (Philadelphia) and Simon “Snillo” Ekström (Philadelphia) potentially on the market.
Under Contract: Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty (flex support)
Free Agent: Chris “Bani” Bennell (main support), Daniel “Boink” Pence (main support)
The support line is where choices may get tricky for Houston. Most analysts agree it needs improvement, but few can agree on specifically where. Each of their three supports have been declared “must go” by somebody.
Rawkus might be a difficult trade after the amount of criticism he’s weathered. His Zenyatta play has been shaky, although he’s as strong on Ana as ever. Bani may have some leverage in the conversation depending on how Team Canada performs in the Overwatch World Cup. Meanwhile, Boink hasn’t played especially poorly this year, but hasn’t really excelled, either.
Of the available options, it may be easiest to drop Boink and/or Bani and pick up a new main support. Kristian “Kellex” Keller (Boston), Alberto “neptuNo” González Molinillo (Philadelphia) and Yeon-Jun “ArK” Hong (Washington) are all free agents and have all expressed interest in OWL offers (Kellex, neptuNo, ArK).
While no other OWL teams seem likely to show interest in Rawkus, the Outlaws could consider trading him to a Contenders team. A mid-tier OWL support could be a strong pickup at the T2 level, and Houston could invest in an upcoming player. But, as a longstanding public face of the team and three-time World Cup starter, it seems likely he’ll stay put.
Controlling Their Own Future
Having most of their players under contract gives the Outlaws a lot of leverage. Their contract investments have definitely paid off — even if it makes cleaning house more difficult, they’re protected from a mass exodus of good players. After two difficult seasons, that stability is a good place to start. Now, with just a few more good decisions, Houston is poised to bounce back in 2020.