The Overwatch League 2021 Playoffs

As the end of the 2021 OWL season crept ever closer, I felt a sense of fatigue coming on. This feeling has been especially present over the last two years of the league as it went entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I would describe the feeling as a sense of excitement exhaustion. I have without fail watched every OWL game since 2019, either live or in VOD format. It is not that I didn’t enjoy Overwatch esports anymore, I do and I will continue to enjoy this game but with the external stresses of the last two years, I am starting to feel like a lithium-ion battery that just can’t hold as much of a charge anymore.

With all that in mind, I decided to take two weeks off from work so I could feel properly rested for the playoffs and enjoy them to the fullest extent possible. After all these were going to be the last matches played on Overwatch 1 and that is something special. We get the last hurrah for the much despised 2CP map type and these were the last matches played in the 6v6 format. Overwatch 2 is going to be 5v5 and the 2CP map type will be removed.

Let’s get into it.

The Format

The 2021 playoffs like all tournaments this season was a double elimination bracket. All matches leading to the Grand Finals were first to 3 series with loser of a map picking the next one. The higher seed got first map pick. The Grand Finals was a first to 4 series.

I have always greatly enjoyed the double elimination bracket format, I especially love it when a team that gets sent to the loser’s bracket early makes a run the entire way up to the Grand Finals.

The Contenders

Here are the eight teams that participated in the 2021 playoffs:

  • Shanghai Dragons
  • Dallas Fuel
  • Chengdu Hunters
  • Los Angeles Gladiators
  • Atlanta Reign
  • San Francisco Shock
  • Philadelphia Fusion
  • Washington Justice

I have listed the teams here in seed order with Shanghai being the number one seed and the Washington Justice being the number 8 seed.

The Games

For all y’all visual folks, here is the bracket in visual format.

Day one of the playoffs kicked off with four winners bracket matches:

  • San Francisco Shock vs Shanghai Dragons – much to everyone’s surprise the Dragons picked the SF Shock as their opponent after the playins. After this match it became clear why the Dragons picked this opponent. A 3-0 statement victory from the Dragons to send the Shock straight down to the loser’s bracket. The Dragons are not here to mess around.
  • Philadelphia Fusion vs Los Angeles Gladiators – with the Gladiators coming off the back of a Countdown Cup tournament victory, this matchup felt like a formality for them. The Fusion got handed a 3-1 loss by the boys in purple and down to the losers bracket they went.
  • Washington Justice vs Dallas Fuel – the Justice continued to disappoint as a team as the Dallas Fuel barely broke a sweat with a 3-1 victory here to send the Justice down to the losers bracket
  • Atlanta Reign vs Chengdu Hunters – this was the closest match on the first day of playoffs, the Chengdu Hunters barely edged out a 3-2 victory which sent the Atlanta Reign down to the losers bracket

Day two of the play offs began with two losers bracket matches:

  • Philadelphia Fusion vs San Francisco Shock – this match was closer than I expected but at the end of it the San Francisco Shock stayed in the playoffs with a 3-2 victory. The Fusion were now eliminated after a less than stellar season to say the least.
  • Washington Justice vs Atlanta Reign – the Reign after having come off a close loss to the Hunters were feeling angry as they stomped the Justice and ended their miserable season with a 3-0 victory. This was the beginning of Atlanta’s reign of terror in the losers bracket.

Meanwhile in the winners bracket:

  • Shanghai Dragons vs Los Angeles Gladiators – the Dragons continued to look indomitable as they sent the Gladiators down to the losers bracket with a 3-1 victory. The Gladiators team are no slouches so this really demonstrated just how good the Dragons were. The Gladiators were going down into the losers bracket to face off a resurgent Atlanta Reign
  • Chengdu Hunters vs Dallas Fuel – despite the best efforts of the Hunters’ DPS duo of Leave and Jinmu, the Dallas Fuel continued to surge forward with a 3-0 victory. The Hunters were going down to the losers bracket to face off a dangerous and desperate San Francisco Shock.

Day three began with losers bracket matches again:

  • Atlanta Reign vs Los Angeles Gladiators – this is the match where my predicted bracket fell apart, I had predicted a Gladiators win in this series and it /almost/ was. The 3-2 loss here for the Gladiators here felt disheartening after seeing this team do so well in the previous tournament. Atlanta’s reign of terror would continue and the Gladiators are out of the playoffs.
  • San Francisco Shock vs Chengdu Hunters – another close match where it felt the Shock barely hung on to their hopes of a threepeat. The Chengdu Hunters lost 3-2 in this series and I can’t be too sad about this loss. As far as exits from the playoffs go, this one didn’t feel too bad personally.

Back in the winners bracket we were down to one winners bracket match:

  • Shanghai Dragons vs Dallas Fuel – considering that these were the top two seeds going into the playoffs I expected this match to be a much closer affair than it was. The Dragons continued to barely break a sweat as the sent the Fuel down to losers bracket with a 3-1 victory. The Dragons are in the Grand Finals.

Day four of the playoffs would determine the two teams that would be in the Grand Finals. We have two losers bracket matches here:

  • Atlanta Reign vs San Francisco Shock – Both of these teams emerged from their previous matches with 3-2 victories but the Shock definitely felt like the weaker team and the match proved that. The Reign crushed the Shock’s hopes of a Grand Finals threepeat with a 3-1 victory. Unlike the last two years, the San Francisco Shock were not going to be playing in the Grand Finals. To me it felt like the Reign had toppled the reign of a weakened king, one that struggled with inconsistence performance all season.
  • Atlanta Reign vs Dallas Fuel – The Reign had one last opponent before their run through the losers bracket would be completed and with the momentum of their previous victories behind them they defeated the Dallas Fuel 3-1 and advanced to face off the Shanghai Dragons in the Grand Finals. The Fuel has had a tremendous season and I don’t think this exit from the playoffs is anything to be ashamed off.

Grand Finals

Going into this grand finals matchup of the Atlanta Reign vs the Shanghai Dragons, I did not know what to expect. Both teams had made dominant runs throughout the playoffs and both teams look incredibly strong and confident in their play. Would it be a brutal map 7 affair? Would it be a one sided 4-0 victory? I simply had no idea how this would play out. Of course as a Dragons fan for years I wanted the Dragons to win the grand finals and complete their redemption arc. From going 0-40 in the inaugural season to winning the grand finals would be an incredible story to wrap up the last season of OWL played on Overwatch 1.

From the beginning of the series, the Dragons had the upper hand, in every team fight, the Dragons looked likely to win, even when they were down a player. But it was only the first map and as the higher seed it was their map pick. They still had three more maps to win and Atlanta could have turned the tables on their map picks. On the second map of Hanamura, it became clear to me that the Dragons were a cut above the Reign as they used the Reign own’s brawl strategy against them to win the map. The last 2CP of OWL had come to a close, huzzah!

The Reign now down 2-0 picked King’s Row as their third map. This proved to be the closest map by far with a fantastic performance from the Reign squad in overtime but ultimately the Dragons continued to absolutely crush it and even the best overtime push by the Reign was not enough to hold the Dragons back as they again won the map.

The Reign were now down 3-0 and facing match point. At this point this map felt like an inevitability and a formality for the Dragons to close out the series. Indeed, with yet another confident performance for the Dragons, the series was closed out with a 4-0 victory.

This grand finals series was as one sided as a series like this could get, even the ‘close’ map of King’s Row wasn’t all that close. At all times it felt like the Dragons didn’t even break a sweat as all their players confidently dismantled the Reign no matter what strategy they tried. The Dragons were just the better team in every aspect of the game in this match.

I am happy that the Dragons won the Grand Finals! The redemption arc narrative was complete, from a 0-40 season to a championship winning season, this team had come a long way. A perfect sendoff to competitive Overwatch 1.

The Future: Overwatch 2

On the day of the grand finals we got some peeks into what Overwatch 2 was going to look like. We saw reworks of Sombra and Bastion along with a Overwatch 2 show match between OW pros.

Its hard to say how the game feels to play without having played it myself but I continue to be optimistic about Overwatch 2 and the Overwatch competitive scene going forward. I am looking forward to what OW2 esports is going to look like in 2022 and I am looking forward to playing OW2 myself.

For now however my excitement battery has run out and I’m going to be using the off season to recharge and rekindle my excitement for Overwatch esports. This blog will be on hiatus until the 2022 season. Thank you for reading and I will see y’all in 2022.