After an off-season full of overhauls, the 2020 Houston Outlaws will finally take the stage this weekend in Philadelphia. Fans are eagerly wondering what to expect. But it’s still difficult to predict what will happen between rosters that have yet to play this year.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, of course. The two opening homestands in New York and Dallas delivered eight games between ten teams, all in a brand-new meta with brand-new strategies. That may not offer much insight into the inner workings of the Outlaws or their upcoming opponents, but it does shed some light on the environment they’ll be working in. So what may or may not be advantageous for Houston’s opening week?
Variety in DPS: While the League is still a winter wonderland of Mei play, the overall cast of DPS heroes was wider than it’s been in some time. Saebyeolbe on Tracer! Haksal on Genji! Logix and Xzi even had an honest-to-Betsy Widow duel! And Houston just happened to acquire two flex gods of their own this off-season in João Pedro “Hydration” Goes Telles and Jeffrey “blasé” Tsang. If niche hero picks and unorthodox compositions remain powerful, the Outlaws will be well prepared to capitalize on it.
Mobile Tank Lines: It took three stages and a rule change to kill GOATs, but only one week to put down a horse. Outside of the odd double-shield strategy (mostly by Paris, who had no flex tank player available), Orisa saw precious little play time. The most common combo was Reinhardt and D.Va, with the occasional Winston or Sigma thrown in. One could hardly imagine better circumstances for Austin “Muma” Wilmot and Tae-hong “MekO” Kim to make their debut as a duo. Winston and Reinhardt are Muma’s signature heroes; MekO played a dominant Sigma in last year’s playoffs, and his D.Va is legendary.
The (Possibly) Bad
Dominant New Talent: Most of the breakout talent in Dallas and New York last weekend came from League rookies, recently signed from Contenders teams. Houston, meanwhile, only signed Overwatch League veterans. In fact, all but three Outlaws (blasé, Jung-geun “Rapel” Kim and Seung-soo “Jecse” Lee) have been in the League from its inception. ‘New players are better’ is a big assumption to make from one weekend of play, but it does make Houston an outlier.
Constant Counter-picking: Hero switches and counter-picks are one of the most prominent features of Overwatch. Last weekend saw many teams changing compositions and tactics mid-round. It’s also something the Outlaws have historically had trouble with. They’ve lost plenty of maps by sticking to a comp that wasn’t working for a few fights too long. Thankfully, the odds of such bad habits being continued by an entirely new staff and roster are low.
The Return of Sniper Duels: No, this isn’t misplaced from the ‘Good’ section. While Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin has put up some of the best Widowmaker play known to man, he also tends to be streaky. When he’s ‘on,’ he’s unstoppable; when he’s not, he’s all but dead weight. To top it off, this weekend’s matches will be against Jung-woo “Sayaplayer” Ha and Corey “Corey” Nigra – two terrifying snipers in their own right. If a duel does break out against either one, it could be anything from triumphant to disastrous for Houston.
The “Control Curse”: It only lasted one day, but in every single match last Saturday, the team that won the opening Control map went on to lose the match. The Outlaws have historically had poor results on that game mode, which may play into their favor.
…okay, yes, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s not like any team in the league can turn down an advantage right now, no matter how superstitious.
The Mayhem’s new look goes well past their neon jerseys. The team has shaken things up in the offseason, notably bringing on Jun-ki “Yaki” Kim and Nam-jin “Gangnamjin” Gang from Contenders Korea’s legendary RunAway. They’re joined in Florida by their former RunAway coach Dae-kuk “KuKi” Kim (who also played for the Valiant in 2018).
Like many teams who struggled in 2019, the Mayhem began to perk up in Stage 4 of last season. But much like the Outlaws, they’re made up of a lot of skilled players without much history together. Not having a language barrier to deal with may make them a bit more cohesive. Overall, they seem like a solid mid-tier team for a new Houston squad to cut their teeth on. Expect a close match.
Prediction: Mayhem 3-2 Outlaws
The Meme Kings of the Atlantic Division have a lot to prove in 2020. They had a stellar Stage 4 last season, with Corey leading the charge that earned him a spot on the USA World Cup roster. But they’re playing with a few disadvantages. Main tank Lukas “LullSiSH” Wiklund won’t be playing due to visa issues, which means Chang-hoon “rOar” Gye and Elliot “ELLIVOTE” Vaneryd are guaranteed to be on tank duty all weekend. Washington only has eight players to begin with, so their flexibility is highly limited. If Houston can flex faster than Washington can keep up, this match is a more likely win than Saturday’s.
Prediction: Outlaws 3-1 Justice
Players to Watch: Supports
While Rapel and Jecse are the obvious choices to start on support, Jecse only recently arrived in the US and was able to practice with the team. Depending on his readiness for play, there’s a non-zero chance that Daniel “Boink” Pence, Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty, or both could see some stage time in Philly as well.
Follow Rainee on Twitter @Jezi_Belle for your daily dose of bad puns and emotional over-investment in Overwatch League and its players.
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