Week 27 of the Overwatch League gets underway this weekend and could be a harbinger of what's to come in the league's postseason.
With the Countdown Cup coming up, our staff took a look at the favorites in each region and the teams most likely to pull off some upsets and made their choice of who will take home the OWL championship later this year.
Which team could play spoiler in North America?
Arda Ocal: The Toronto Defiant, because Toronto is the greatest city in the history of the universe. Thank you for attending my TED talk.
Emily Rand: With Genji still on the table for Countdown Cup, I think we're looking toward a lot of the same teams that did well in Summer Showdown, namely the Paris Eternal and Philadelphia Fusion. The San Francisco Shock have continued to look formidable in July, so this to me is less about who could play spoiler and more about the fact that we have three legitimately strong contenders for this title, as opposed to our thoughts going into Summer Showdown when we (more specifically, I) considered the Shock to still be heavy favorites.
Outside of these three teams, I think the Florida Mayhem are an obvious pick. Toronto is also an interesting one, not for the reasons that Arda mentions but for Brady "Agilities" Girardi's recent Genji performances.
Tyler Erzberger: Although I wouldn't bet against any of the top four teams, I'll go out on a limb and stick up for the Los Angeles Gladiators. They didn't have the best month of play, going just 1-3 in their qualifying matches, but they had one of the toughest schedules, playing against Florida, Paris and Philadelphia with their lone win being a sweep of the pesky Vancouver (Junior Varsity) Titans. They narrowly lost to the Fusion and didn't look completely lost in their other two defeats, so per usual with the Gladiators, I think they can play that dark horse role and win a round or two before getting bopped in the semifinals.
Jacob Wolf: I'm looking at the Fusion, too. As my colleagues mentioned, they had a good Summer Showdown, and earlier in the year they were one of the best teams in North America. I still think they're capable of that level of play. I won't give them great odds, but if I had to put some money on some upsets, it'd be on them.
Which team could play spoiler in Asia?
Ocal: Either the New York Excelsior or Guangzhou Charge could give the Shanghai Dragons a tough time, but I do believe Shanghai make it to the final and get a little Summer Showdown revenge on Guangzhou in the process. Maybe we get another "anything can happen" final on the other side of the bracket, with a Shanghai upset by the Seoul Dynasty, who are looking for revenge after the incredible May Melee final.
Rand: I want to say it's the Chengdu Hunters because I have always loved their style and approach to the game. That being said, the moment I begin to believe in Chengdu is the moment they start to lose. Chengdu have the uncanny ability to lose horrifically or beat some of the most talented teams in the league.
Actually, you know what? I'll go with Chengdu against my better judgment. I don't think they're as good as their record shows, but pesky things like records have never really represented Chengdu's in-game performances accurately. Even if they're out in the first round against the London Spitfire, it will be entertaining.
Erzberger: Give me the Excelsior.
For one of the first times in the team's three-year franchise history, it feels as if no one really believes in them. Since the New York franchise nabbed the LuxuryWatch Blue core from South Korea's Overwatch APEX league in Season 1, NYXL have been front-runners in the Overwatch League, leading all the way up until the playoffs, where they've failed to make a grand final.
Right now, it's all about Shanghai in Asia, and that could be a good thing for New York. In a Genji meta with no pressure to win it all or be the ultimate rival to the Dragons, NYXL can thrive.
Wolf: I'll take the Excelsior also. This team used to be one of the best in all of the Overwatch League, but their 2020 season, as weird as it's been, does not show that repeated success. Instead, the Excelsior seem to be an afterthought. I think that's unfair to them; this team is still plenty capable, and if they were playing in the West, I think they'd be really good. Asia's competition is stiff, but the Excelsior have a shot.
Who's your pick to win the NA region?
Ocal: That's a tough one. I'd love to see Florida get its due, but you can't discount Paris, Philly or San Fran. Give me a run-it-back final of Philly and Paris, with the Fusion getting the dub to cement a nice rivalry.
Rand: This is the Paris Eternal's and DPS superstar Kim "Sp9rk1e" Yeong-han's time. While I think most will identify this as a make-or-break moment for the likes of the Philadelphia Fusion or San Francisco Shock before playoffs begin, I'm picking Paris to take it all.
Erzberger: There's only one team that owns the services of Genji highlight reel superstar Matthew "Super" DeLisi, and that's the defending champions of the San Francisco Shock. They've had a lot of turnover this year and had to even replace their leader, the reigning league MVP in Jay "sinatraa" Won, but as the season gets closer to the finale, I'm not betting against the Shock. Believe in Park "Crusty" Dae-hee.
Wolf: Shock! What a fantastic year for the San Francisco franchise and their second in a row. Sure, Philly and Paris are highly competitive, but when push comes to shove, the Shock get it done. They're reigning champions for a reason.
Who's your pick to win the Asia region?
Ocal: Give me Shanghai and Shanghai only.
Rand: I deliberated a lot about this since I think that, although Shanghai is the favorite, there are a lot of teams -- even ones coming into this winless or 1-2 like the Spitfire, Dynasty, and Excelsior -- who could all take it on a good day. That said, I'm still picking Shanghai. Despite their loss to the Guangzhou Charge in the Summer Showdown final, the Dragons have been the most consistently flexible team all year.
Erzberger: I've literally not picked against the Shanghai Dragons the entire year. Since we started doing these weekly Overwatch previews, every single week I've sung the praises of the Dragons. They're just too mechanically gifted and far too deep to pick against unless they match up with the similarly well-rounded San Francisco Shock.
That's not changing anytime soon. Shanghai is the class of the Overwatch League, and good luck to the North American teams that have to travel to Asia later this year to fight the Dragons for the world championship crown. You're going to need it.
Wolf: I'm picking with the panel and going with Shanghai. It's hard to bet against them when they've been so repeatedly successful in what seems like a step above their very competitive region.
Which region do you see producing the 2020 OWL champion?
Ocal: I'm going with Asia. The region has some of the strongest candidates like Shanghai, Guangzhou and NYXL. It would make for perfect symmetry with Europe taking Season 1 and North America grabbing Season 2, and also complete the ultimate redemption arc for Shanghai. I can see the documentary title now: "Enter the Dragons: How a Team Went From 0-42 to World Champions."
Rand: I think all of the Asian teams right now are generally stronger than the whole of North America, but North America has a definitive top three/four and then some upset potential from middling teams.
It will definitely depend on the meta at the time (as we've seen from the league's continuous experimentation all year), but I think ultimately it will come down to one of San Francisco, Paris or Philadelphia from North America and the Shanghai Dragons alongside probably the Guangzhou Charge. In that event, I oddly enough would bet on the Eternal, Charge or Dragons to take it, so one of those three, which gives the edge to Asia.
Wolf: Asia. While I think the Shock, Eternal and Fusion are ending the season fairly hot, I have way more faith in the Dragons and the upper half of the Asian region.
When I watch the Asian Overwatch League games, the matches seem a lot more deep in terms of play. Teams seem like they're more three-dimensional in play style, and it seems that on any given day, any team can best the other (looking at you, Chengdu). That region looks like it'll produce the champ, even if the Shock look really good.