The Florida Mayhem have been crowned the 2023 Overwatch League grand champions. Their 4–0 victory over the Houston Outlaws disappointingly closed out what is likely the league’s last season as it currently exists.
But while the grand finals were a bit of a dud, the playoffs overall reminded me of how much I love this esport, its community, and its capacity to tell amazing stories.
Season six of the Overwatch League just could not hold me. Maybe it’s the fact that this season was the second to be played on Overwatch 2, a game that has itself failed to capture my attention because of some of the decisions made by its developers like canceling the highly anticipated “hero mode” and putting the equally anticipated story content behind a paywall. It could have been the season’s somewhat confusing structure. Or it could have been because of years of diminishing emotional returns exacerbated by reporting that overwhelmingly hinted that the league was not long for this world. For season six, it seemed like my heart just accepted what my mind would not acknowledge — the league is dying, it hasn’t been as exciting since its days as a weekly live event, and it’s best to just let it go.
But I have been present for every grand finals and, ho-hum season or not, I was going to be present for this one. My team, the Shanghai Dragons, did not make the playoffs, but I’m a fan of good Overwatch no matter who is playing, so I tuned in in hopes of getting just that.
And oh boy, for a moment, I got some good-ass Overwatch from two unlikely teams: the London Spitfire and the Hangzhou Spark.
Though the Spitfire won the OWL’s very first grand championship in 2018, they never quite returned to that level of quality. For a couple of seasons, including this one finishing at 7–9, they were in the lower tier of teams. But an explosive late-season performance earned them a spot in the play-in games, where they tore through the losers bracket to just make the playoffs. The Spitfire were a bit of a meme team. They played with unconventional hero compositions that could catch teams off guard but likely wouldn’t hold up when facing stronger teams.
The Hangzhou Spark had a better season, coming into the playoffs as the top team in the Eastern region. But being best in the East didn’t mean much. The Overwatch League has been split into East and West regions since the covid-19 pandemic. The last two years, and this year in particular, the Eastern region, composed of the OWL’s Asia-based teams, has been regarded as somewhat of a joke. The region is smaller, with half the number of teams as the Western region. When the two regions united for the Midseason Madness tournament, the two Eastern teams that qualified (which included the Spark) were bounced out in the second round. The East was regarded as less competitive than the West, and any time teams from the two regions met, Eastern teams would generally underperform. So despite the fact that the Spark were the best team in the East, like the Spitfire, they weren’t expected to go far.
These two teams, each with unlikely backgrounds, managed to take down the team that everyone thought would win it all. This year was all about the Atlanta Reign. They went 14–2 in the regular season and were the winners of the Midseason Madness tournament. For the first two months of the regular season, they went undefeated, and at season’s end, they were the odds-on favorite to win it all. Even I predicted their eventual triumph in the playoffs. They seemed too dominant to fail.
But they did fail, in spectacular fashion, getting bounced out by two teams on nobody’s, not even my, radar. First, the Hangzhou Spark — a team that cannot legally play Overwatch in their country — sent the Reign down to the lower bracket in spectacular nail-biting fashion with a reverse sweep. (If you have a hard time conceptualizing what a reverse sweep is, it’s the same as winning after being down 28–3.) Then, in the losers bracket, the Reign were once again defeated, this time by the Spitfire — a team that, in the regular season, had half as many wins and four times as many losses as their opponent. And they swept them 3–0. Imagine if it were the Chicago Bears that went 70–20 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and you have an idea of how massive that win is.
The season’s writers — as the popular community meme goes — were out of their minds when they penned the playoff script. Though neither team made it to the final dance, their triumphs over the Reign were the best part of the playoffs. These two teams gave me an incredible gift. At a time when my faith in the OWL was at an all-time low, the London Spitfire and the Hangzhou Spark reminded me one final beautiful time of the incredible storytelling ability of Overwatch esports.
As for the actual grand final match itself, there’s not much really to say about it. The Florida Mayhem stomped the Houston Outlaws in a 4–0 beating that was depressing to watch.
But strangely, I don’t mind that.
To be clear, I would have loved a more exciting final game to watch. It would have been nice to end the season, and what’s shaping up to be the league overall, on a high note. However, the 2023 Overwatch League Grand Finals ended the only way it really should have: disappointingly. I don’t say that because I’m not a fan of the teams that participated. I don’t even mean it pejoratively. In six grand finals, all but one of them were beatings, and four of those five beatings — including the first way back in 2018 — were shutouts.
But I have never loved the OWL because of which team won or lost. As I said before, I have only loved this league because of the stories it told.
And I love it when a story rhymes.
Source: The Verge