Shanghai Dragons Overwatch team in a team huddle raising their arms in the air
Shanghai Dragons Overwatch team in a team huddle raising their arms in the air

Overwatch League 2021 Playoffs preview and predictions

by Jessica Scharnagle

The playoffs are approaching, and Overwatch League teams are getting ready for their matches which are set to start next Tuesday.

Playoffs and grand finals matches were supposed to take place in-person, but a last-minute shift was made due to COVID precautions, and now West Region teams must travel to Hawaii, and some East Region teams are set to travel to a Blizzard studio in Asia in order to take part in the playoffs.

The OWL playoffs take place Sept. 21-24 and can be viewed on OWL’s YouTube Gaming channel, the OWL website and the official OWL app. Matches on Sept. 21-23 begin at 7 p.m. ET, and the matches on Sept. 24-25 begin at 9 p.m. ET. The first match of the playoffs will be between the Justice and the Fuel and the last will be the grand finals match on Sept. 25.

Eight teams will compete for a shot at the title of OWL 2021 champions. Here’s a preview and predictions for all four first-round upper bracket matches.

Photo credit: Overwatch League

Philadelphia Fusion vs. Los Angeles Gladiators

The Fusion have been upholding a long-standing Philly tradition. Normally, the Fusion ride tons of victories on their way to the playoffs and even the grand finals (in 2018), but they choke at the end.

This time, they’ve surprised just about everyone, and perhaps even themselves by blasting through the Hangzhou Spark and Seoul Dynasty in order to qualify for the playoffs. Daniel “FunnyAstro” Hathaway described a more lax attitude that helped them to win.

“I think, going into the weekend, I guess we didn't really expect to win. I think last year when we played a lot of our matches, we came into it with the expectation that we were going to beat everyone, hands down, we were that confident. But this year, I mean, we'd lost twice to Seoul. I think Hangzhou wasn't that scary, but the Seoul match was a little surprising to win like that,” FunnyAstro told Nerd Street in an interview. “One of our main philosophies right now is to say ‘f--- it,’ and go.”

The Fusion are still the underdogs in this matchup, considering the Los Angeles Gladiators have been a solid team all year and are expected to do well going into playoffs. They finished the season just behind the Dallas Fuel, who are considered the best team in the West Region, and they’re also coming off of a massive victory after beating the Chengdu Hunters and claiming the Countdown Cup championship.

Although the Fusion won’t be traveling to participate in the playoffs, they will be disallowed from entering their practice facility while other teams are traveling. FunnyAstro said they are still allowed to play ranked, which he thinks gives them an advantage for their first match.

Photo credit: Overwatch League

San Francisco Shock vs. Shanghai Dragons

If you’re going to watch only one of the quarterfinal matches during the playoffs, this is the one to watch. The San Francisco Shock, who won the last two championships are looking to make it to the grand finals match for the third time and claim a three-peat. They’ll have a heck of a challenge for their first match, since the Shanghai Dragons are one of the scariest teams in the East Region.

The Dragons have won two out of the three tournaments they qualified for this season, making them one of the most successful teams in the OWL. They have a stacked roster, including Kim “Fleta” Byung-sun, who was voted 2020 MVP and was nominated again this year. He even has a stat named after him called the “Fleta Deadlift.”

The Shock, even though they’ve been prominent the last two years, are the underdogs in this match. They didn’t qualify for the playoffs from regular season results, and instead had to qualify via the online play-in matches.

If the Shock beat the Dragons, they’ll have one of the toughest opponents out of the way for their next match, which will be against the Fusion or the Gladiators.

Photo credit: Overwatch League

Washington Justice vs. Dallas Fuel

The Washington Justice got all sorts of flak for their decision to play the Paris Eternal in the play-ins instead of the Boston Uprising, but they laughed their way to the playoffs. They won’t be laughing for long though, since the Dallas Fuel are the best team in the West Region.

The Fuel and the Justice have met twice this season, with one win each. The Justice won against the Fuel early in the season and lost their rematch in July, so this match could be closer than people expect it to be, but just about everyone is betting on the Fuel making it out of this match and moving on in the upper bracket.

Kim “Pine” Do-hyeon is with the team now and has had some time to mesh with them, so he could be somewhat of a secret weapon that the Fuel could pull out if they need him. Their roster is filled with talent alongside Pine, but their DPS weren’t well-versed in hitscan heroes when they were the meta. With Pine, they have that covered now.

The Justice will have some adjusting to do if they want to win against the Fuel. One of the Fuel’s biggest strengths is the ability to adapt quickly in any given situation. If the Justice prepare diligently, they could put up a good fight against the Fuel.

Photo credit: Overwatch League

Atlanta Reign vs. Chengdu Hunters

The Reign and the Hunters are two teams who have been on the upswing lately. The Reign have made the last two tournaments and the Hunters have made all but the June Joust, and they almost won the Countdown Cup.

The only time the two have met in competition this season is at the Countdown Cup in the lower bracket, where the Hunters beat Atlanta 3-0.

A similar result is expected here. The Reign have traveled to Hawaii twice before, so they’ll know what to expect and in terms of logistics in getting to and playing from the island.

The Hunters are also traveling to a Blizzard studio in order to compete, so each team will have to deal with the hassle of traveling. Chengdu aren’t used to this, so there could be some advantage for the Reign in their ability to manage their time practicing.

Although cuts to practice time for the Hunters could mean there’s an advantage for the Reign, the fact that they beat the Reign so easily and so recently indicates they should win this matchup.

Tournament predictions

No question the Shanghai Dragons and the Dallas Fuel are the biggest contenders to go to grand finals this year, and I think it’s a safe bet that those teams will end up there. I think the Fuel will take it all, especially since they finally got a break from traveling in the Countdown Cup. They’ll be refreshed and ready to take on whatever comes their way.

That said, anything could happen in the playoffs. The Fusion have been the underdogs before, and with how they’re treating the playoffs, their performance could surprise everyone. Their victories that got them into the playoffs are not to be taken as a fluke, and the Gladiators would be smart to not underestimate them now.

Lead photo credit: Overwatch League

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