You do not need to have watched a single match of the 2020 Overwatch League season to follow the playoffs. Playoffs are the playoffs, you already know the stakes, no background information required. The playoffs themselves will provide their own self-contained narrative that newcomers can understand and invest in.
The 2020 Overwatch League playoffs began yesterday with two matches in the North American region and one in the Asian—or APAC—region. Playoff structure is a hybrid of knockout rounds followed by a double-elimination round that will promote the top 2 teams from both regions into one last double-elimination grand finals bracket. The winner will take home $1.5 million of a $4 million pot while every other team that makes it as far as the double elimination round will get a piece of the rest.
New this year is the introduction of a community contest to see who can build the perfect playoff bracket. It’s too late to make your own since the games have already started, but it’s added a fun meta-game for fans to participate in. Whoever can build a perfect bracket, predicting every game correctly, will win $100,000.
The Overwatch League post-season is nothing like the regular season. For the last two years, Blizzard implemented patches and rule-changes right before the post-season that completely dismantled team strategies. Last year’s role-lock change, requiring teams to field two tanks, two DPS, and two supports at all times, completely obliterated the team composition that dominated the league for most of the season. This year, a new patch nerfed shield tanks like Orisa and Sigma, making the popular “double shield” team composition unviable.
While frustrating for players (and a bit unfair too, depending on who you ask) new patches always inject an element of chaos into the playoff season. Strategies and compositions teams spent months perfecting and winning with no longer work, potentially kneecapping dominant teams while giving an opportunity for weaker ones to thrive. That’s already happened, sort of.
The Boston Uprising had a horrible season with only two wins to their name, making it the second-worst performance by a League team ever. (No, I will not name the worst.) The only reason they’re in the playoffs in the first place is a new rule that allows all 20 teams to participate. In the first game of the playoffs Boston was matched up against the Houston Outlaws, another team with an abysmal performance but that at least requires two hands to count their wins. In the regular season, Houston would’ve won this match straight-up. Maybe not by a lot, but they’d win. But the chaotic upheaval of the post-season has already claimed its first victim, with Boston embarrassing Houston 3-1—utterly destroying 94.8% of the community brackets, including mine.
Ask me who’s going to win the whole thing and I’m going to tell you the Shanghai Dragons. After three years, the greatest sports anime protagonist arc is nearing completion. In an inaugural season that ended with 0 wins out of 40 games, the Dragons are now poised to claim the highest prize in the land. I have a standing agreement with myself: If they win—and by the way, they’ve got the highest percentage chance of all the teams to win—I’m getting a tattoo of their logo. I am deadly serious.
I will admit to being worried for my Dragons because they are very big fish in the small APAC pond, only seven teams to North America’s 13. The only intra-region competition they have is in the Guangzhou Charge, who I also have tapped to make it out of the region and into the Grand Finals bracket. Putting the Dragons up against Philadelphia, Paris, and (gulp) San Francisco will test them in ways they have never been tested this whole season. But if my bracket is right (beyond that hiccup with Boston) I’ll get the chance to see them go up against all of those teams in the grand finals bracket, and I believe with all of my heart that they will win.
Knockout rounds continue through the Labor Day holiday weekend, with the double-elimination bracket set to start next week. If you are a newcomer and want to be involved in the Overwatch League (or at least have something to watch while social distancing drones on) the playoffs are the best place to start. They offer the highest quality of matches (even from low-quality teams), and the longer you watch, the more the excitement builds, and the more likely you’ll be to return in 2021 to start this ride from the beginning.