The first weekend of the 2022 Overwatch League season is now over. Fans got their first look at the teams playing the Overwatch 2, including new maps like Circuit Royale, Colosseo, New Queen Street and Midtown. Fans also got their first look at the revamped rosters of many teams and numerous rookies joining the league for the first time. With 13 matches down in the season-opening stage known as the Kickoff Clash, here’s some analysis of what took place, from which teams looked best to how viewership compared to last year to the most popular hero picks.
Shock one of three teams to start 2-0
Three teams kicked off the 2022 Overwatch League season with a pair of wins: the San Francisco Shock, Los Angeles Gladiators and Atlanta Reign. So who’s the best of the trio? All three were playoff teams last year, but while the Gladiators and Reign made a few offseason moves, the San Francisco Shock have a completely different roster this year. With five Overwatch League rookies on the roster it was fair to wonder how good the Shock would be this year, but after a 2-0 start (and 6-0 in maps), this roster is off to a promising start. They did pick up three players from the highly touted O2 Blast Contenders team, so the rookies are certainly talented. The two teams they beat, the Paris Eternal and London Spitfire, don’t have high expectations, so next week’s game against the Houston Outlaws will be a good measuring stick for the Shock.
Houston Outlaws win Battle of Texas decisively
Photo credit: Will English / ESPAT
The Dallas vs. Houston matchups always are fun because of the teams’ regional rivalry. Dallas were the better of the two last year and have come out on top in all but one of their matchups the past two seasons. The Outlaws finally pushed back this weekend with a decisive 3-0 victory. The Fuel figure to be good against this year, but the Outlaws added some key players in the offseason that appear to have made them better including 2021 Rookie of the Year Se-hyun "Pelican" Oh. Both teams ended the weekend 1-1, but Houston’s statement win over their rivals is perhaps a harbinger of good things to come for them this season.
Crowds are great, stream issues … not so much
Going back to the Dallas-Houston matchup, it was played in front of a crowd in San Antonio, which was great to see. Part of the appeal of the Overwatch League was the promise of matches in front of crowds around the country with people rooting for their home teams like in traditional sports. The COVID pandemic and the realities of intercontinental trouble have put a kibosh on the league’s original grand plans, but the possibility of more events with live audiences this season is a good thing. Watching a match on your computer screen but hearing the noise that the crowd makes after every big play just adds an intangible element that’s missing with online matches.
Watching stream issues pop up when you’re watching these matches is definitely not a good thing. It was a common theme throughout the weekend, starting with the first match of the weekend. Technical issues happen across many esports competitions, but perhaps more than any other esport, the Overwatch League needs to keep these to a minimum going forward. The league needs more fans to tune in and is trying to generate more excitement with teams now playing Overwatch 2, but chronic stream issues can put a damper on this excitement.
Viewership peak slightly higher than 2021 opening weekend
So how did the first weekend of the new Overwatch League season go in terms of viewership? The streams reached a peak of 121,000 on Saturday, according to Esports Charts, which is a small increase over the 113,000 that tuned in for the opening weekend of the 2021 season. Frankly, that’s not great. With all the hype over the league now playing Overwatch 2, you’d think there would be enough excitement to perhaps pull in a peak between 150,000 to 200,000 viewers. Sure, the league might achieve a higher peak later in the Kickoff Clash and in subsequent stages of the season and the playoffs, but the opening of the new season or stage of the season tends to bring in higher than usual numbers. The fact that viewership was not much higher than the comparable point from last year is not a good sign.
Common hero picks and unique comps
If you tuned in for even just one Overwatch League match this weekend, you probably saw one or both teams using Ana and Lucio as supports. These two heroes appear to have been the most common picks, not just at support, but across all three hero categories. The Overwatch League has not released official hero pick stats for the 2022 season yet, but just a cursory look over all 13 matches played this weekend shows the popularity of these two. Every other support appears to have seen some action, but Mercy and Moira were rare.
At tank, with Overwatch 2 being 5v5 and teams only able to run one tank now, Winston, Doomfist or Zarya were often the lone tanks. Wrecking Ball was disabled, so definitely no hamsters rolling around the map, but among the rest of the tanks, Orisa did not appear to get picked, and Roadhog was picked maybe only once or twice. D.Va, Reinhardt and Sigma made occasional appearances.
There was more variety among DPS heroes, with Genji, Soldier 76 and Echo being common DPS picks but Widowmaker, Tracer, Mei and Reaper also seeing quite a bit of action. I don’t recall seeing Bastion (who is now a DPS rather than a tank), Torbjorn or Sojourn (the newest hero) getting picked. Hanzo, Cassidy and Symmetra were rare DPS picks.
One of the most unique hero comps was the Houston Outlaws’ use of Ashe, Pharah, D.Va, Ana and Mercy on defense on an escort map. One of the more interesting DPS-tank duos was Mei and Reinhardt. The Florida Mayhem, London Spitfire, Vancouver Titans and Paris Eternal all played this duo at least once, mostly on hybrid maps. The Washington Justice brought out a Junkrat and Cassidy duo once on a control map. Finally, there was one very unique DPS duo that the Florida Mayhem brought out that deserves its own section …
Florida Mayhem pull out crazy play but it's deemed illegal
One of the wildest plays from the weekend happened in the Florida Mayhem’s match against the Paris Eternal on the new escort map Circuit Royale. Florida created a bit of mayhem with their Mei and Symmetra picks to start their attack. Mei put up an ice wall at a distant slanted roof that would have otherwise been inaccessible and Symmetra created a teleport to that location that allowed the whole team to travel to that point and surprise the Eternal. After the map was over, the Overwatch League ruled that what the Mayhem had done was an illegal maneuver and had the two teams replay the Mayhem’s attack on the map.
Although it caused a lot of consternation from fans delighted by the fun play, it was the right call by the league. The Mayhem still won the map and the match, and they seem to have taken the ruling well.
Lead photo credit: Will English / ESPAT