Overwatch League playoffs preview: MVP candidates lead contenders, with $4 million in prize money at stakeSeptember 4, 2020
A year ago, a sold-out crowd descended on the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for the Overwatch League Grand Finals.
This year, Grand Finals will look much different and will be held online, as all Overwatch matches have since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the season to transition to an online format.
That meant league officials had to alter the playoff setup on the fly. What they came up with was a play-in style iteration (scheduled for Thursday) for its first- and second-round matches (Friday) followed by double-elimination games. Teams are split into two different brackets – the North American side will feature 13 teams, while the Asia bracket will contain seven squads. The higher seeds (top four in North America, top two in Asia) are given byes into the third round, which will take place between Sept. 5-13.
Teams will be spread out across North America or Asia competing in team facilities (under local health guidelines) or even from their homes.
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The San Francisco Shock celebrate their victory in the 2019 Overwatch League Grand Finals e-sports championship against the Vancouver Titans at Wells Fargo Center. (Photo: Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports)
The last two teams standing in each bracket will advance to Grand Finals (Oct. 8-10). The plan is to have all competing players in Asia, meaning the two North America finalists would travel to Korea, where most teams in the Asia bracket are already located. This is to eliminate latency issues; the league can place an online server reasonably close to competing teams for ping purposes.
“What’s great about the approach we’re taking to the postseason is that everyone’s got a shot,” OWL commissioner Pete Vlastelica told USA TODAY Sports. “What I’m excited about is, kind of like something you see in March Madness, in that teams you didn’t expect to be there in the later rounds suddenly are showing a different gear than what you saw in the regular season. Playoffs bring that out of real competitors. What I’m looking forward to are the players and teams that we’re not talking about right now, but will be in a week or two.”
Can the Shock repeat? Or will Fusion remain on top?
Last year in Philadelphia, the Shock celebrated on the stage after sweeping the Vancouver Titans in four maps.
In 2020, the Philadelphia Fusion beat out the Shock for the top seed in the North American bracket. Paris Eternal and Florida Mayhem round out the top four in the bracket.
“I think the biggest thing for us is we don’t want to get complacent," Shock tank player Matthew "Super" DeLisi, a member of last year's championship squad, said. "We don’t want people to say ‘Oh, this is just a lucky meta (gameplay settings) for them’ or ‘Oh, they can’t do it again.’ I think of it as more of us proving a point. That we can do it again. So that’s what we plan on doing.”
Despite losing 2019 league MVP Jay “Sinatraa” Won, Super said he will give this year’s Shock the edge over last year’s team.
“It was a different game last year. Different meta. Different things going on,” Super said. “I do think that our experience and – over time, we learn more, we get better as players – I guess I’d have to give it to us this year.”
If the North America bracket does come down to Fusion vs. Shock, each roster will boast a pair of MVP candidates; Choi “Choihyobin” Hyo-bin and Park “Viol2t” Min-ki for the Shock, and Kim ”Alarm” Kyeong-bo and Lee “Carpe” Jae-hyeok for the Fusion.
And if the Shock find themselves in an intense duel with another squad, they won’t have the chance to feed off the energy from a crowd like they did in 2019.
“I think everybody in the league prefers playing in front of a live audience,” Super said. “I think it’s a much better experience for the players, for the fans. It just adds the extra competitive environment. I feel like for most players in the league, they would tell you early on when the homestands and the offline play got taken away because of COVID, it was pretty demotivating to a lot of players. But the show must go on, so. The league did a lot of magical stuff to make things work online.”
MVP candidates, teams to watch in Asia bracket
The Shanghai Dragons and Guangzhou Charge are the top two teams in the other bracket. And similarly to the other side, the top two seeds each have two MVP candidates: Nam “Cr0ng” Ki-cheol and Ou “Eileen” Yiliang of the Charge, and Kim “Fleta” Byung-sun and Kang “Void” Jun-woo for the Dragons.
The London Spitfire (No. 7 seed) and New York Excelsior (No. 3 seed) are two non-Asian teams jumping over to that bracket for the playoffs.
Show them the money
All of the MVP candidates mentioned above have a shot at $100,000 if they win the award.
There is $4 million in prize money at stake in the playoffs. Teams that advance to the double-elimination rounds (six) will each receive $75,000, while the third-place teams in each region will take home $250,000.
Fourth place will get $350,000, while third place receives $450,000. Second place will have a consolation prize of $750,000, and the champions will split $1.5 million.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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