Retrospective: Overwatch League 2019

With the 2019 Overwatch League season having come to a close, it is time for me to look back upon this season and talk about what I enjoyed about this season (and also what I did not). I also want to take a look at the various states of the meta-game throughout the season and also memorable moments throughout the season.

The 2019 season is the first season where I have followed it from start to finish, I got into watching competitive Overwatch nearing the end of the 2018 OWL season (I believe it was the stage 3 playoffs specifically). I will be tying talk of the meta to these time periods as that makes more sense than talking about it in a section of its own.

I will be dividing this post up by preseason, the four stages and ending with the post season.

Glossary of terms

Before I get started I wanted to link to the glossary of terms that Overwatch League provides. This will be helpful in understanding a lot of the professional Overwatch specific terms that I use throughout this post. So here you go (thanks Sideshow!).


The 2019 preseason was an exciting time for Overwatch League fans, myself included. There were eight new expansion teams coming into the league for the 2019 season bringing the total number of teams in the league up to 20 (thanks Wikipedia for this handy information)

The 2019 expansion teams:

Of these 8 teams, I was excited for two teams specifically, the Toronto Defiant and Vancouver Titans. As a Canadian, I was excited to finally get some Canadian representation in the league. Let’s talk about these two expansion teams in a little more detail.

Toronto Defiant

As a Torontonian, this was the team that excited me the most coming into the 2019 season. Finally a home team that I could cheer for! So excited that I even bought some of their preseason merchandise.

Here is an example:

Picture of the initial Toronto Defiant roster. From left to right, top to bottom: Bishop, Asher, Ivy, Envy, ? (I can't read the signature), Jaesun, Yakpung, RoKy, Aid, Neko.
Picture of the initial Toronto Defiant roster.

That picture came as a surprise, it wasn’t part of the order. The photograph really is a snapshot of time because some of the people in this initial roster are no longer with the team by the end of the season.

Vancouver Titans

When news broke that the Vancouver Titans had signed the entirety of the RunAway squad from Korean Contenders (Contenders is Overwatch’s tier 2 league), excitement among competitive Overwatch fans was palpable.

RunAway is a storied team with a journey that is in my honest opinion one of the best esports comeup stories I have heard. The squad had been together for two years at that point and for that reason, this team’s synergy is considered formidable and in many ways something that the other new expansion teams couldn’t replicate right away.

If you want to hear the story of RunAway in its entirety, go check out Akshon Esports’ fantastic video on the subject:

Stage 1

Stage 1 started, perhaps auspiciously on February 14th with a rematch of the 2018 Grand Finals, Philadelphia Fusion vs London Spitfire.

What I really want to talk about though is the rise of a certain meta that remained dominant throughout 3 stages of the 2019 season. The GOATs meta or as it is known non-colloquially, 3-3.

The Rise of GOATs in Overwatch League

Stage 1 saw the introduction of a meta that was by then dominant in the tier 2 Overwatch scene. We saw the use of three GOATs variants throughout this stage and the next two:

  • Reinhardt GOATs – Reinhardt/Zarya/D.Va/Lucio/Zenyatta/Brigitte
  • Winston GOATs – Winston/Zarya/D.Va/Lucio/Zenyatta/Brigitte
  • Sombra GOATs – Reinhardt/Zarya/Sombra/Lucio/Zenyatta/Brigitte

The rise of this particular meant that for a certain period of time, most of the time we did not see DPS centric compositions such as double sniper or dive. This also meant that due to the nature of the 3-3 composition team synergy became more important than ever and the potential for a single player to carry their team in a fight become much reduced. With the exception of the Chengdu Hunters, every other team played 3-3 most of the time.

I am again going to embed another Akshon Esports video explaining the composition, how it works and its origins:

I enjoyed watching 3-3 play at a professional level but I must say that watching a team execute 3-3 badly is one of the worst viewing experiences that one can encounter in Overwatch. This was really exemplified in the match between the Washington Justice and the Florida Mayhem in week 5 of stage 1 which in many ways can be described as a clown fiesta. On the other hands, watching the best 3-3 teams duke it out is one of the most fun things to watch, I will talk more about that when I talk about the stage 1 playoffs.

Memorable moments in Stage 1

I am going to be doing this section for every stage, essentially talking about various moments across the season that stood out to me.

Toronto Defiant reverse sweep the Houston Outlaws

This particular moment was early in stage 1. Toronto Defiant’s first match in the Overwatch League. I had no idea what to expect for this particular team. As the match went on, Houston looked like they were going to get the clean 4-0 win, Toronto looked like a team that was understandably nervous on their very first match, their team synergy not quite in place. But after the half, it felt like Houston let it get away from them, Toronto took two maps and brought the series to a map 5 tiebreaker which they then won.

Shanghai Dragons’ first franchise win

This one was in my honest opinion one of the most emotional moments in the season. Shanghai Dragons vs Boston Uprising.

Shanghai Dragons, a team that did not get a single series win in the inaugural season. Coming into the 2019 season, the spectre of the 0-40 record from the previous season hanging over them. The Dragons had reworked their roster, most of the roster except for Geguri and Diya were new additions. Nonetheless, with the newly traded Gamsu leading the charge against his former team, victory awaited. It felt like this series was destined to be in their favour, the crowd at the Blizzard Arena cheered at every Shanghai fight win, cheers of “LETS GO DRAGONS” can be heard clearly in the recording. With Wolf & Achilios casting this series, the energy was unreal. I feel it rewatching the recordings for this post.

With the help of better team synergy and DDing’s Sombra, the Uprising was put down in a 3-1 victory and the loss streak broken for this much loved franchise.

Los Angeles Valiant go 0-7

Stage 1 was really a tough one for the LA Valiant, from their first match this season against the Hangzhou Spark going to a map 5 tiebreaker which they lost to their last match in stage 1 against the Outlaws, they could not catch a break.

This was a disappointing start to the season for a team that were stage 4 champions in the inaugural season.

Amanda Lee:

On many accounts, these players are matching their peers, and it’s showing in their close scores and comparable stats for damage, healing and eliminations. But as a fan of the team, it hurts to see them on the cusp of winning over and over, and not being able to close out a game. With a few weeks before their next game, I really hope to see the arena in green again as it says “LOS ANGELES WINS” at the end of a series. There’s very clear potential on this team, and I have faith they can finally realize it.

Stage 1 Playoffs

Stage playoffs are definitely the most exciting parts of every stage. They are where huge upsets can happen and where rivalries are formed.

Stage 1 was no different. The following teams made it to the stage 1:

  • Atlanta Reign
  • Boston Uprising
  • New York Excelsior
  • Philadelphia Fusion
  • San Francisco Shock
  • Toronto Defiant
  • Vancouver Titans

Of these two teams there are two memorable events from these playoffs that I would like to talk about.

Seoul Dynasty upset the New York Excelsior

This was the first map in the stage 1 playoffs and oh boy, I was not expecting the upset that happened in this match.

I am going to link this Twitch clip here to see the final moments of the series from Nenne’s perspective.

So in this clip, Nenne uses his Graviton Surge in an attempt to catch Michelle in it and negate his EMP. This is a high risk play as Michelle is not visible and the Graviton Surge is an extremely high value ultimate in the 3-3 meta and New York needed it to win. The risk does not pay off and New York loses the playoffs series and is eliminated.

Vancouver Titans vs San Francisco Shock

This series is hands down one of the best series in this season if not the best.

Vancouver vs San Francisco, two teams battling for the title of stage 1 champion. Both teams equally matched and clashing horns in this GOATs meta. Super vs Bumper in the head-to-head main tank battle. Vancouver setting a attack time record on Rialto, the final map of the series.

It was no surprise that this series went the distance which in the case of a first to 4 series meant seven maps of top quality Overwatch. The series was very back to back, Rialto being the decider map. Vancouver took the stage title and set the stage for a rivalry that would last the entirety of the 2019 season.

Stage 2

In many ways, if you couldn’t quite tell if stage 2 actually started, you could not be blamed. Stage 2 remained mostly the same from a meta perspective and at this point, there was a general tiredness with the state of play.

GOATs stay strong

The season started with 3-3 and with stage 2, teams started perfecting their 3-3 strategies. Good 3-3 teams (SF Shock) became better. Bad 3-3 teams struggled to keep up (Washington Justice, Florida Mayhem).

Memorable moments in Stage 2

This section was hard for me with this stage as a lot of stage 2 was a blur for me but we do have a couple things to talk about.

LA Valiant’s first win of the season

After the absolutely terrible stage 1, LA Valiant get a much needed win in the second week of stage 2 with a win against the Atlanta Reign. After this point in the season the LA Valiant started to improve as they found their footing. I hope Amanda was happy with this particular win.

San Francisco’s Golden Stage

This stage San Francisco perfected their 3-3 play, perhaps motivated by their loss to the Vancouver Titans in stage 1, aiming for that rematch. This meant that San Francisco had a perfect stage, not a single match or map lost, 4-0s all the way.

Stage 2 Playoffs

The following teams made it into stage 2 playoffs:

  • Shanghai Dragons
  • San Francisco Shock
  • Hangzhou Spark
  • London Spitfire
  • New York Excelsior
  • Los Angeles Gladiators
  • Dallas Fuel
  • Vancouver Titans

Shanghai’s first playoffs

A season of firsts for the Shanghai Dragons as they made their first stage playoffs ever. Alas, their opponents were the San Francisco Shock who eliminated them from moving further but the Dragons take a map off the Shock who had a golden stage.

Vancouver Titans vs San Francisco Shock: Revenge of the Shock

In the stage 2 finals we saw a return to the rivalry between the Vancouver Titans and the San Francisco Shock. Both teams looking extremely strong and the Shock especially coming from a perfect stage looked like there was nothing that could stop them. This time around, the match was not as close as the first time around, the Shock looked like they figured out the Titans’ game plan and won the series with a decisive 4-2.

Stage 3

Stage 3 was the start of the change from the 3-3 meta that had dominated the league up to this point. We saw the return of DPS heroes like Pharah, Sombra and Widowmaker.

Remember Sombra?

The Shanghai Dragons brought a new look to stage 3 and just in time as the audience started to really tire of Reinhardt and Winston based 3-3. They made us remember how deadly Sombra could be if used properly. With Diem on the Sombra and DDing on the Pharah, the Dragons threw other teams for a loop and brought themselves to the stage 3 playoffs.

Memorable moments in Stage 3

The main theme of Stage 3 is Sombra, both of my memorable moments from this stage are in part due to the use of Sombra.

Houston upsets SF

This was quite the upset, Houston take San Francisco to a map 5 tiebreaker where Danteh’s Sombra and Muma’s shatters brought Houston to a 3-2 upset win. Danteh in particular proved to be a bright spot for a Houston squad that at times look lost and not particularly well coordinated, I hope the Outlaws keep him around for the 2020 season.

LA Valiant upset Vancouver

This particular match started to show Vancouver’s very real weakness against a strong Sombra based composition. With the help of Shax on the Sombra and Kariv firing on all cylinders on his Ana, the LA Valiant brought the Titans to their knees with a 3-1 win.

Stage 3 Playoffs

The following teams made it into the Stage 3 playoffs:

  • Houston Outlaws
  • Vancouver Titans
  • Shanghai Dragons
  • New York Excelsior
  • Seoul Dynasty
  • San Francisco Shock
  • Los Angeles Valiant
  • Hangzhou Spark

Shanghai Dragons vs the San Francisco Shock: Rise of the Dragons

Stage 3 playoffs continued to change things up as the Vancouver Titans fell to the Dragons and set us up for a fantastic playoffs finals match between the Dragons and the Shock. This one was another map 7 barn burner as the Dragons won the first three maps and then the Shock brought it back for 3 maps in a row. The last map of this set, Dorado, showcased everything that the Dragons had to offer. This was a fantastic way to end stage 3.

Stage 4

Stage 4 was where everything changed. The arrival of 2-2-2 role lock meant that 3-3 compositions were no longer playable and teams had to start adapting to this new meta.

Locked and Loaded

Two tanks, two DPS, and two supports. This was the new reality for Overwatch going forward. Some had doubted that Blizzard would apply such a large meta change right before the season came to a end but well, here we are.

Stage 4 saw the rise of the Roadhog/Orisa based compositions, also colloquially known as the Pulled Pork composition. You use the Orisa’s Halt ability and then combine that with a Hook. Teams started running a Mei in one of the two DPS slots to act as a counter to this. Mei can use her ice wall ability to block the Halt/Hook combo from completing.

Memorable moments in Stage 4

Stage 4 saw the return of solo DPS carries from teams that were previously struggling with their team work.

The Great OWL Pause of 2019

This was arguably one of the funniest moments in Overwatch League this year. A nearly hour long pause caused by technical issue in a Dallas vs Guangzhou match.

Well, by the end, I think everyone was getting a bit loopy:

Liz Richardson:

After the pause reached the 45-minute mark, producers opted to begin the Watchpoint Post-Show early. This included game reviews and a Hanzo showdown between caster Brennon Hook and Washington Justice DPS Corey “Corey” Nigra. Instead of having a virtual Hanzo battle, the two were given foam bows and arrows to shoot at targets.

Corey frags on Hanzo

Speaking of funny moments, I’m very glad they let Soe shitpost on the Overwatch League YouTube channel.

Let’s talk about Corey of the Washington Justice for a moment. This man’s time to shine definitely came in stage 4. In a decisive and dominant series against the Vancouver Titans, Corey led the Washington Justice to a 4-0 victory. Yes, those Titans, your stage 1 champions looked absolutely lost in that series, they did not know how to deal with Corey just hitting heads.

A little late to get into stage playoffs but the Justice showed that with Stratus and Corey playing in their element, they had a DPS duo they could build a team around for 2020.

No Stage Playoffs here

Well folks, we have reached the post season, stage 4 didn’t have playoffs, instead we transitioned straight into the postseason, so let’s go there!


If y’all thought we were done with meta changes, well, Blizzard wasn’t and the new tank hero Sigma was introduced into the post season and we have ourselves a new meta.

Shields for days

Sigma introduced another shield which in combination with Orisa’s static shield ability led to a meta known as double shield or as I like to call it: Shieldwatch. It involved around getting one hit picks with Doomfist, shield dancing, waiting for your Sigma to build their Graviton Flux ultimate, using your Lucio ultimate to counter their flux, you probably see where this is going. On the DPS front, it was usually, Reaper/Doomfist or Mei/Reaper leading some to call this the return of the Beyblade meta.

Personally, this meta is the most annoying of the metas to play but its not as annoying to actually watch as the spectator cam is often on the DPS players trying to go for picks in the enemy backline (usually Doomfist or Reaper).

God playing against Doomfist fucking sucks but I am not going to get into that here, let’s move on.


This year’s playoffs format included a play-in tournament to decide who secured the last two spots in the playoffs.

The following teams were in the play-in tournament

  • Guangzhou Charge
  • Chengdu Hunters
  • Philadelphia Fusion
  • Shanghai Dragons
  • London Spitfire
  • Seoul Dynasty

The play-in tournament was a single elimination bracket, anyone who lost a series was out of the playoffs.

The two teams I would have loved to see in the season playoffs (Shanghai Dragons and Guangzhou Charge) were eliminated. Philadelphia Fusion was also eliminated here thus removing the chances of a London vs Philadelphia grand finals rematch (thank god for that honestly). The two teams to make it out of the play-in tournament were the London Spitfire and the Seoul Dynasty.


First off, let’s set started with a link to the playoffs bracket here (thanks slmnio!).

The format of the 2019 season playoffs were a double elimination bracket, if a team lost a series, they would move down to the losers bracket where if they lost again, they were out (with the exception of the grand finals which are single elimination). This is a very exciting format for me as it makes it so that teams that lose in the winners bracket could potentially make a run for the grand finals through the losers bracket.

So the following teams were in the 2019 season playoffs:

  • Vancouver Titans
  • Seoul Dynasty
  • Hangzhou Spark
  • Los Angeles Gladiators
  • New York Excelsior
  • London Spitfire
  • San Francisco Shock
  • Atlanta Reign

Memorable moments in stage playoffs

The stage playoffs were as you expect high stakes matches for every team involved, emotions ran high and led to some tense series and heartbreaking moments, let’s talk about some of these.

The San Francisco Shock step off the payload

In a gruelling series against the Atlanta Reign, the San Francisco Shock brought the series to the tiebreaker map 7 and then stepped off the payload for a moment which led them to lose the series 4-3. Words do not do this moment justice so here is some video footage of Moth’s reaction to the moment. Heartbreaking.

With that Atlanta knocked SF down into the loser’s bracket.

Ryujehong’s heartfelt apology to Seoul Dynasty fans

Seoul Dynasty were knocked out of the winners bracket by the Titans and they didn’t have a better time in the losers bracket where they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Hangzhou Spark. In a post-match interview, Ryujehong of the Seoul Dynasty was in tears and apologized profusely to fans for their performance and promising to do better in the future. Moments like these show how much players care about all of this. Here’s to a better 2020 for you Ryujehong <3.

Vancouver cruise through the winners bracket

The Titans for the most part cruised through the winners bracket without much of a sweat. The only time they looked challenged was the match against the New York Excelsior which came to a map 7 tiebreaker. The Titans looked like their stage 1 selves, unbeatable and when challenged they were able to clutch it out.

Moth’s revenge

The San Francisco Shock now motivated by their loss to the Atlanta Reign and their desire to reach the grand finals, crushed all of their opponents in the losers bracket. All of these were definitive 4-0 wins. Moth would have his revenge and the stage was set for a Shock vs Titans grand finals.

Grand Finals

Here we are, grand finals in Philadelphia. San Francisco Shock vs Vancouver Titans. The rivalry from throughout the 2019 would culminate here in last best of four match to determine who would be crowned league champions.

Zedd was the musical performance at this year’s event and I will definitely say it was a better time to watch (via live stream) than last year’s DJ Khaled fiasco. Zedd played one of my most favourite tracks of his, Clarity so I was happy with it.

As for the series itself, honestly, I was disappointed. I was expecting a closer match, a 7 map affair with each team going back and forth between maps. Instead we got a 4-0 stomp by the San Francisco Shock who outplayed the Titans in basically every way. It just looked like the Titans could not figure out a way to counter what the Shock were doing.

So our league champions for the 2019: the San Francisco Shock. I have been very impressed with their excellent performance throughout the season. The depth of their roster is fantastic and their ability to adapt to changing metas meant that they almost always ahead of other teams. Huge respect to their head coach Crusty who no doubt was instrumental in building this championship calibre team.

Also their comms. are great:

Concluding thoughts and the future

Overall, I would say that this season was a enjoyable ride. At times the meta did indeed get stale but with good commentators like Wolf & Achilios present this year even the stalest of metas can feel fresh and exciting.

Going forward into the 2020 season, the league format is shifting to localized matches with a lot of travel for team which is very exciting for me as I get to attend home games for the Toronto Defiant with other Defiant fans. I am worried about how the amount of travel will affect teams throughout the season but other than that, I am looking forward to seeing how localization will change Overwatch League.

The off season trades/pickups/releases that are happening right now are all very exciting as well, I won’t elaborate on those here as this post has gotten pretty damn long already.

Last but definitely not least, I would like to thank all the good folk on the fediverse who have put up with my incessant OWL posting and an even bigger thank you to the few folk on there who I chat with about OWL regularly, y’all know who you are.