Last weekend marked the return of the Overwatch League, and with it came the first looks at what the pros are running in the current meta. It’s been just two weeks since that patch hit live serves, so the dust is far from settled. More tweaks came through this week, keeping in line with Jeff Kaplan’s and the development team’s more aggressive balancing philosophy. Still, even with only a week’s worth of data, the picture is starting to become clear.
Variety… To An Extent
Starting with the positives, 27 heroes saw non-trivial playtime over opening weekend (sorry Bastion and Roadhog). A number of heroes who had been all but forgotten in 2020 saw some serious action, several damage dealers among them. Eight DPS heroes were played at a rate above 5%. Fans were delighted to see stars pick up their signature heroes, like Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park wreaking havoc on Tracer or Hyojong “Haksal” Kim unfurling Nanoblades galore.
Still, it might be time to pump the brakes on calling this meta particularly diverse. The beginning of the season always prompts a bit of a learning period, when teams really figure out what works on stage. Last year, even with the 3-3 meta already established, Week 1 featured 28 heroes with at least four minutes of time played.
To put that in further context, in 2019 the top six most played heroes from Week 1 accounted for nearly 80% of the total time played. This season, that number was 74%, lower but not dramatically. At the very top, things are perhaps more calcified than expected. The top three heroes (Lucio, Reinhardt and Mei) together swallowed up 44% of the total minutes, up from 43% from the top 3 in 2019.
Of course, the relative chaos of last year’s opening week coalesced into one of the most resilient metas in Overwatch history. That’s not to downplay the variety from Week 1, but don’t be surprised if things stabilize around a few general compositions with adaptation largely depending on maps and teams catering to their personnel.
Reasons for Optimism
First and foremost, fans praying against an established meta can place their hope in the double-pronged approach of faster balance and the introduction of Hero Pools on March 7. Even if none of the top heroes get nerfed in the near future, four of them will be taken off the table each week, forcing teams to switch things up constantly.
One of the biggest complaints last year was the lack of big mechanical plays that came through from superstars around the league. Role Lock opened the door for DPS to make their return last year, but fans really reaped the rewards of that move this past week. McCree was the second most played DPS character at 43%, and his inclusion delivered highlight after highlight. In the backline, Ana, the most mechanical support pick, slotted in second with 63%.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign was the emergence of a middle class of heroes. Six heroes saw between 10% and 50% pick rates, up from just four a year ago. Another five crossed the 5% threshold. Those numbers were the result of several picks and compositions that only appeared for few maps or points. Full-on dive was played a handful of times. Double shield comps had their niche – though those numbers are buoyed by the flex tank-less Paris Eternal. No composition felt so overpowering that it bullied teams away from trying different ideas. One can only hope that continues.
So far, the teams playing have mostly been those in North America. It’ll be some time before most of the Asian teams make their 2020 debuts, but it must be said that they could upend the meta dramatically. Early reports suggest they’re playing a much more dive-heavy style with an emphasis on Sombra play over their Western counterparts. Seeing how that clash of styles plays out will be among the defining storylines moving forward.
For now, though, the league moves on to Philadelphia, where just four teams wait to play their opening matches. None of them are strong candidates to rock the boat drastically, save for the Florida Mayhem. Their Korean roster has been exposed to both sides of the Pacific, and they have the tools to run either style.
Otherwise, things should be fairly standard, with perhaps an uptick in Widowmaker play. Houston, Florida, Washington and Philly can all field star snipers or at least potential star snipers in the case of Jiri “LiNKzr” Masalin. That probably means more D.Va and potentially Winston given the main tanks that will be in attendance.
Overall, the meta isn’t the pure chaos that some anticipated. There are clear trends – Mei is insanely strong and Lucio’s Speedboost is still maybe the most impactful ability in the game. At the same time, there’s a healthy mix of heroes populating the tier below that. The OWL is back, and the meta is shaping up to be an entertaining one as the march toward Hero Pools continues.
Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
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