With the third season of 2018 North American Contenders only days away, the teams and fans are already brimming with excitement to begin playing again. But, with all the roster chaos that took place after Season 2 (which coincided with the OWL off-season) what are we to make of these teams that are practically rebuilt, in some cases? How will the balance of power shift from Season 2 to Season 3?
To attempt to answer these questions and more, I’ve formed a preseason power ranking for the NA Contenders teams. This list reflects how these teams performed in the previous season and how their additions/departures of the past several weeks have either improved or worsened their team’s chances this season. Let’s see how the teams stacked up:
1. Fusion University
What better place to begin the list than with the defending champs? Fusion University’s display in the Grand Finals of Season 1 against XL2 Academy sent shockwaves throughout Contenders NA. However, it also led to a couple of their major players getting picked up by other teams. Namely, Adam “Beasthalo” Denton and Seung-jun “WhoRU” Lee.
Fusion University has filled those spots and has picked up Simon “snillo” Ekström as a two-way player at the DPS slot. With this buff at the DPS line, the maintaining of most of their Season 2 talent and their proven ability to perform on the biggest stage it seems like Fusion University won’t miss a beat coming into Season 3.
Simply put, it looks like we are in for another season of FU.
2. XL2 Academy
After an impressive regular season finish (17-4 GR, 5-0 MR), XL2 had every opportunity to prove their prowess and take down Fusion University on the big stage. Unfortunately, the Grand Finals matchup we were all hoping to be explosive was nothing but a dud. After their performance in that finals, you better believe XL2 is going to come back hungrier than ever in Season 3. They’ve got something to prove.
The team has shuffled at some positions, most notably at DPS, losing both Yeon-kwan “Nenne” Jeong and Yeon-oh “Fl0w3R” Hwang to NYXL and picking up Andreas “Logix” Berghmans from the Mayhem. They also lost coach ioStux to Toronto Esports (or whatever they call themselves now) and moved Adam to a coaching role in his stead.
At the end of the day, XL2 are likely scrimming against NYXL extensively. Practicing against the best is one of the most proven ways to improve across any sport or esport. I expect XL2 to continue to benefit from this relationship moving into Season 3. Anything but a Grand Finals victory against Fusion University is suboptimal for this team.
3. Team Envy
If this were a high school superlative list, Envy would be a shoo-in for “Most Exciting New Look” and “Most Likely to Have a Player Wear a Kangaroo Onesie on Stage”. Whatever high school awards this team might or might not have won, they look absolutely stacked heading into Season 3, in large part due to some brilliant off-season pickups.
Mads “fischer” Jehg and Ashley “Trill” Powell both had standout World Cup performances and became instant fan-favorites for their countries. They’re not alone though. Envy has also added Hugo “SharP” Sahlberg and Jason “Jaru” White to fill the DPS hole that Talespin leaves as he moves to a coaching role for the team.
These roster shakeups leave Envy with an almost entirely new look heading into Season 3. Without time to prepare, this team may have entered the season in shambles, however, with nearly a month to scrim and synergize, I expect this team to be ready to go week 1. Many of these players have their immediate sights set on the OWL and are one standout season away from getting there. Will this pressure get to these players, or will they shine in the spotlight?
4. Mayhem Academy
After a disappointing 2-3 match record in Season 2, Mayhem Academy decided to take matters into their own hands for Season 3. Their issue last season seemed to be their ability to play good, clean Overwatch for the entirety of a match. One way to fix that? Bring on proven, former OWL players with veteran experience and game sense.
Enter Russell “FCTFCTN” Campbell and Tim “Manneten” Bylund, two new tank players for Mayhem Academy. Each player has had their struggles in non-ideal OWL situations, but things may have just come together for the two of them in a big way. These, along with a couple other signings, make Mayhem Academy a team that now has all the pieces to be a top-tier team. The biggest question mark comes in the support line considering the loss of Hyeon-woo “HaGoPeun” Jo to the Florida Mayhem.
If the OWL experience can translate into a more tightly honed-in skill for this team, the league could be in for a big shocker when Mayhem Academy is knocking on the door in the playoffs of Season 3. Keep an eye on this team.
5. ATL Academy
Comprised formerly of players from Last Night’s Leftovers, Atlanta’s academy team looks to keep rolling after a promising Season 2. With one of the scenes youngest and brightest stars in 14-year-old Kamden “Sugarfree” Hijada, the future looks bright for Atlanta if they can keep this core together.
The reason I have them at #5 overall is less of a knock on this team and more just speaking to how difficult the competition will be in the top half of NA Contenders. Seeing how much better some of these other teams have gotten has me questioning whether ATL Academy has improved at the same rate. So, for now, I have them at #5 with one of the highest ceilings of any of the mid-table teams on this list.
6. Gladiators Legion
“A second place finish in Group A, all the way down to 6th? Are you kidding me?!” cried all of the enraged Gladiators Legion fans. Sadly, what I had mentioned about ATL’s lack of improvement might be even worse for the Legion. However, if this team has one hope, it’s in a player that should absolutely be in the OWL: Byung-ho “Panker” Lee.
Panker is an absolute beast of a main tank and has all the makings of an OWL talent. For one reason or another, he is still with the Legion, which helps their chances greatly this season. After losing Jeffrey “blasé” Tsang to the Boston Uprising, this team’s Achilles heel may very well be their DPS core. We will have to wait and see if their new talent mixed with the best main tank in NA Contenders is a recipe that can lift the Legion above the middle of the table.
7. First Generation
Of all of the teams that were in Trials last season, First Gen is highest on the list. For those who may be confused here, First Gen is the newly rebranded brainchild of GOATS. Honestly, there isn’t much that is too bad or too good to say about this team. Each position has talent that can compete at a high level, but their ceiling is dangerously low.
There is talent on this team, don’t misunderstand me. Nikolai “naGGa” Dereli was one of the brightest stars on a very talented Team Denmark team and, former San Francisco Shock main tank, David “Nomy” Ramirez has veteran experience this team can lean on.
What this team will have to do in order to succeed is to continue to innovate. Their former namesake is partially responsible for forming the meta that we are currently in across all of OW. If their coaches and managers can continue to push this team to experiment and throw in some Chinese Contenders-level wild compositions, perhaps they will be destined for higher than mid-table. Barring that, I see this team remaining in Contenders, but not winning a championship any time soon.
8. Toronto Esports aka Boston Academy
Ah, here we are, the meme of the off-season. All jokes aside, though, I think the events that took place on social media during the off-season may actually hurt this team in the long run. There is almost no way that the players on this team were not affected by the actions of their manager, at the very least in just a loss of focus. Because of that, I have them right about where they were last season.
The two bright spots for this team come in the addition of Ridouan “ioStux” Bouzrou at Head Coach and the British main tank star, Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth. Outside of this, this team did very little to actually improve over the off-season. Instead, becoming the meme of the OW scene.
While this season may not be theirs, ioStux is a proven coach with a knack for finding top-tier talent. Give him a year, and this team should be back on the map.
When you go winless in a Contenders season, your team can do several things in response. One of which is to sign 28 players and staff to your organization. Of these 28, Skyfoxes have landed four former OWL players and several other promising players in the scene. Strength in numbers, I suppose.
Whether or not the Skyfoxes can turn this army into a winning team is yet to be seen. They nearly have enough players to scrim internally (11 players currently listed on Liquipedia) and have players with experience in three different OWL orgs. With all of this, there is a chance that Skyfoxes will go sky-high in the rankings. However, this is a team that will have to prove it in-game, first.
10. NRG Esports
NRG has yet to prove they are a serious team. They have struggled season after season to get out of the middle of the table, finishing 3-2 the past two seasons. With the rest of the competition getting much better, NRG may struggle to keep up this year.
The primary reason for this is due to what they lost this past off-season. Dong-jun “Rascal” Kim was the teams shiniest star this past year and now he has moved on to the San Francisco Shock. This, along with several other changes made, left NRG scrambling at the time if the BEAT Invitational where they severely underperformed.
There is no doubt they will have time to hone their skills as a team and synergize before Season 3. However, when you look at the rest of the field that will be doing the same, NRG may struggle to get their classic 3-2 record this season.
11. Second Wind
Second Wind was one of the hottest teams coming out of Trials recently. Led by coach Thomas “Maid” Mok, Second Wind has a ton of momentum heading into Season 3 of Contenders. The biggest concern for this team will be whether Maid can reign in the new talent. Since their dominant run through trails, the team has lost several key players. Without the same recognition as other Contenders teams, it seems they had to dig a little deeper to replace those players.
Based on what this organization did in Trials last season, they may completely exceed expectations. Sadly, I suspect it will take some growing pains to adjust to the new level of competition, especially considering the rate that NA Contenders is improving as a whole.
Kungarna, similar to First Gen, is the new and improved Phase 2. Michael “MyKL” Padilla, the team’s resident leakboy turned General Manager will be hard at work keeping up with the new level of competition. I think its safe to say, at the very least, that this team will be interesting to watch. Expect wild compositions and drama as flashy as the team’s new branding in Season 3.
As the season progresses, I will continue producing power rankings that demonstrate the movement of teams related to their previous ranking. Hopefully, these will help keep you in the loop on who’s hot in North American Contenders.
As a reminder, NA Contenders kicks back off on Tuesday, November 27th at 6:00 PM CT. You can catch all the games on Twitch and keep up with all the action here, at The Game Haus.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
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