The Overwatch League returns on Saturday, bringing the first high-level competitive play the esport has seen in over three months. The break since the World Cup naturally breeds uncertainty about what is to come. The rash of recent balance updates clouds that vision even further when it comes to what the product will look like.
Last year, the league battled the perception that the meta had stagnated and there wasn’t much variety in terms of hero picks. This time around, the development team has gotten out in front of any potential discontent around the meta. Faster balance cycles, along with the coming introduction of weekly hero pools, aim to create a meta in constant flux.
With the most recent balance patch, the team has also preempted complaints about the drudgery of the double-shield meta. Nerfs to Orissa and Sigma, in particular, could open the meta up considerably. So what will the pros play when they kick off the season in New York and Dallas this weekend? It’s impossible to say with certainty, but here are a few theories.
Since his release in August, Sigma, alongside Orissa, has dominated the highest levels of competitive Overwatch. Beginning with the OWL playoffs, the double-shield meta has been an oppressive force, inflicting a slower, poke-heavy meta that runs counter to what many fans want out of Overwatch. The most recent patches appear to have finally made some headway in opening things up.
Sigma was on the receiving end of several nerfs that should make him a niche pick moving forward. His partner in crime, Orissa, has been toned down repeatedly over the last couple of months. She won’t be a must-pick by any means, but she still had a place in the meta. Halt remains one of the best abilities in the game for setting up teammates, and professional teams are usually pretty slow to move away from a staple pick like Orissa.
So what will replace double-shield as the new meta? The answer is likely a mishmash of various duos, some map-dependant and others more universal. The most popular is likely to be Reinhardt-D.Va. The backbone of brawl-style compositions, this duo excels at hitting fast and hard, engaging quickly while still providing strong protection for any backline.
The biggest wildcard among the tanks is definitely Wrecking Ball. A long-time niche pick, Ball has the potential to be the strongest tank in the game right now. In the hands of dedicated OWL players, his ability to harass and roam the map can create so much space for a team to operate in.
Overall, expect a bunch of different looks as teams figure things out during the first few weeks. Orissa-Reinhardt double-shield comps have their place, as do dive setups with Wrecking Ball. The big winner here though has to be D.Va. Her new three-second Booster cooldown has made her incredibly mobile, and Defense Matrix is still an insane ability situationally, even after nerfs to its range a while back. D.Va can slot into nearly any team composition and provide immediate value. She should sport the highest pick rate among tanks.
In a mirror of tank balance, the power support pick from the past few months, Baptiste, has been taken down a few notches in the last two patches. Like Orissa, he’s not about to disappear completely any time soon. Immortality field has been one of the strongest abilities in the game since its release, and toning it down hasn’t changed that. Given how good OWL teams are at using map geometry to keep it safe, Baptiste should still see some play, even if he doesn’t dominate.
The biggest beneficiary of Baptiste’s nerfs will be Moira, now the undisputed queen of AoE healing. Even with D.Va gobbling up her orbs, the amount of healing she provides in a teamfight is unmatched right now. Throw in an ult that charges quickly and can win fights, and Moira could be leading the way for the supports.
Her only real challenger is likely Lucio, buoyed by the unique utility that Speedboost brings to the table. Lucio has rarely fallen out of favor at the highest level, and this season should be no exception. Expect to see a lot of Lucio-Moira through the first few weeks.
Other picks are going to be more situational, due to the limitations in the rest of the healing roster. Ana has a hard time keeping pace when most of her kit can be blocked by shields or Defense Matrix, but in the right hands, she can still be viable. Zenyatta lost a lot of value when double-shield went away since he can no longer just sit back and fire away from the relative safety of the backline. Mercy will always be tied at the hip to certain DPS picks – Pharah, Widowmaker, Hanzo, Ashe.
The one real unknown here is what Brigitte’s place might be. Her kit seems like it would lend itself to the brawl comps being run right now, but who does she replace. She can’t provide the healing output of a Moira or Baptiste. Lucio’s speed makes him basically irreplaceable for any team that wants to get aggressive. Still, she might be an option for teams struggling with diving opponents, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see her find a place in the current meta.
Here is where things get really messy. For the first few weeks, until the meta settles, damage picks are going to be all over the place. Teams will be experimenting to figure out what works and what can’t quite cut it. Still, there are a few picks that could rise above the rest.
If brawl compositions are the go-to, Mei and Reaper are going to make their mark. They’ve been the best DPS duo over the last few months, and they haven’t been hit nearly as hard by nerfs as the meta tanks and supports. The thing that separates them from other picks right now is their survivability. Both are incredibly hard to punish thanks to abilities that serve as get out of jail free cards – Wraith Form for Reaper and Cryo Freeze for Mei.
Deviations from the standard will depend on maps and the approach each team wants to take. Snipers, solo or double, lend themselves to poke comps or maps with longer sightlines like Junkertown or Ilios: Ruins. Teams trying to dive should get a lot of use out of Tracer. Pharah will definitely have maps where she can take over a game. McCree will see play, though he might not be too effective without that 250 health buff that briefly hit the PTR.
One sneaky strong pick here could be Sombra. EMP will always be among the strongest ultimates in the game, and OWL teams know how to get the most out of her. She can be effective against a lot of the current meta picks. She’ll have a place, especially if Wrecking Balls start wreaking havoc in the backline.
The start of the season should be fascinating as teams try to quickly get their grasp on the meta. Experimentation will be at a high during the first few weeks, so take everything with a grain of salt. The variety should be way up compared to last season, and that alone is cause for celebration. Teams will also have the chance to craft their own unique identities, especially once the chaos of Hero Pools comes around. For now, let the metagaming begin.
Featured image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
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