The Stage One Finals Will Not Be All Korean Rosters

Last night was the second to last day for Stage One of the Overwatch League(OWL).  With the way the OWL is set up each stage will end with a seated playoff.  The top three teams from that stage will compete in a seated playoff for prize money, $100,000 first place and $25,000 to second place.  The teams in the league have been far closer in skill than anyone intended and throughout the first stage there have been several upsets.  One of the biggest happened last night when despite a win the Seoul Dynasty was eliminated from the stage one finals by map wins.  What no one should overlook here is that whatever team wins tonight, the finals will not be all Korean teams.

All Korean?  

All Korean teams?  The other top teams all season were the NYXL and the London Spitfire, isn’t that the US and UK?  Well it’s important to note that those teams are all made up of Korean rosters.  NYXL, whose owner also is the COO of the New York Mets, has some powerhouse Korean players like Saebyeolbe and Pine.  It’s the same on the London team.  Profit and Birdring are impressive players while the Cloud9 owned team is composed of the top two rosters, GC Busan and KongDoo from the South Korean APEX tournament Series.  

The discussion for why Korean teams consistently excel in esports is one for another time, but Korea has produced dominant players in the digital space for as long as there have been esports.  Many of the top names in Overwatch now are Korean.  In esports where fans watch a multitude of titles but with almost no regular leagues it’s the players not the teams that the longtime fans follow. Because of their dominace, many of those players are Korean.   

The Problem

The Overwatch League is seeking to do something different.  By design the league is setting permanent, city-based teams.   The OWL wants to create fans of the teams, not just the players.  In fact, in order for the OWL to succeed they NEED to create fans of the teams.  Since poor performance by a team won’t remove them from future seasons of competition they want these new teams to create an identity.  These teams seek this identity with the cities or regions they represent.  That means that they also need to shake some of the Korean dominance history.  

The rosters in the Overwatch league are largely international, appropriate for an international league, and uncommon in traditional sports leagues.  After all what NFL team is composed only of players from the city they represent?  That said, longtime esports fans and newcomers alike were quick to recognize that there were not one, but three all Korean rosters.  Fans also noticed that after a few matches the top three seeds were these Korean rosters.  Would this league just be the Korean rosters with the western rosters playing catch-up?  There was a real possibility the the Stage One Finals would be all Korean teams.

 Why This Is Important

However, with the Shock taking two maps off of Seoul’s win yesterday they are removed from Stage One Finals contention.  It’s a little sad since the team did win the match.  What’s important isn’t that the Seoul lost, but that even if London or NYXL takes it all today, the finals for the first stage, in the first season of a new league that could still fail wasn’t all Korean teams and that’s good.  The OWL could still fail the way that Championship Gaming Series (CGS) or Cyber X-Games did.  Were the perception to become that western teams couldn’t compete with all Korean rosters then fans and perspective players in the rest of the world could move onto other games.    

Whoever wins, the competition tonight isn’t just going to be between what many longtime fans see as Korean teams and that’s good.  It’s healthy for the league to have not only good competition, but for the entire league’s representation to be a part of it.  And these teams are all much closer in skill than any of the numbers say.  Each team has earned where it’s position on the table is and all of them are improving as they play more with each other.  Seoul certainly isn’t out though.  There’s still a lot of Overwatch yet to be played this season.  Also, the Dynasty stands to benefit the most from the new patch next stage.  The Finals start at 5 PM PST with the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams facing off against each other.  Then at 7 PM PST the winner will face the 1st ranked team for a shot at $100,000.