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With the playoffs right around the corner, our Overwatch League writing team discussed plenty of questions surrounding the upcoming matches in the Overwatch League 2021 playoffs.

Which match on the first day might lead to the biggest upset?

Michael Czarnowski: The way I see it, if the Washington Justice upset the Dallas Fuel here, everything we know is different. I would say the same rules apply to the Shanghai Dragons/San Francisco Shock match, but the Shock are known for post-season success. If Washington pulls out this win against Dallas, I truly don’t know who’s going to be in the grand finals.

Aron Garst: The matchup between Washington and Dallas may be the second seed against the eighth seed, but I think the biggest upset would be the Shock over Shanghai. Everyone has been saying what a “chad” move it was for Head Coach Moon Byung-chul to pick the two-time championship-winning squad, but most “chads” I know are douchebags. Shanghai has been dominating the league all year and there is little doubt they will come into the playoffs spitting hot fire.

San Francisco hasn’t looked the best for most of the year, but they’ve always been a threat. Them coming in and knocking out the no. 1 seed would be huge, even if it’s not the most unexpected.

Overwatch League power rankings
Going into the 2021 season, the San Francisco Shock were the team to beat, but their performance has been lacking for most of the year. | Photo by Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Jason Krell: Aron is exactly right. The only truly spicy upset would be the Shock; the once best team in the league, surprising everyone by chucking the Dragons into the lower bracket. Shanghai would be fine, but what a statement that would be from San Francisco. Many people, myself included, aren’t expecting much from them during the playoffs, but the best way to change that would be by winning their first match.

As for Dallas potentially losing…I don’t see it as much of a possibility. While I know Washington went on a hot streak to reach this point, that will only add fuel to Dallas’ fire. Plus, the narrative just isn’t as satisfying.

Bonnie Qu: Any of these upsets could actually happen, but the one I feel would be most surprising is Washington beating Dallas. Sure, Washington has been performing well and Dallas had a dip in performance during the Countdown Cup, but that feels the most improbable to me. If Washington beat Dallas, then they might just make it to the finals. Yeah, I said it.

What is the juiciest matchup in the first round of the tournament?

Overwatch League Hawaii
Atlanta Reign team photo. | Provided by Overwatch League

Czarnowski: I think Moon and the Dragons against the Shock for two reasons. The rivalry, in recent seasons, between Shanghai and San Francisco has been palpable, but why not also prove yourself while knocking down a rival? This is a high-risk high-reward choice for the Dragons. They probably feel confident they can plow through the losers bracket if they lose to Shock, much like they did against Dallas in the June Joust.

Still, the fact that they chose the Shock over teams like Washington and even Philadelphia surprises me. This might backfire and cost them a championship, or this might be their best warmup possible.

Garst: It’s easily Atlanta vs. Chengdu. These teams have been through so much in 2021 but they’ve never actually seen it through. I desperately want both teams to succeed, though there is no way they can both win. If the meta is as open as it could be without hero bans, we could see some fun compositions from both teams, too.

Krell: This is a hard choice, but I think I will have to agree with Aron once again. The Hunters crushed the Reign last time they met, but that was without Oh “Pelican” Se-hyun. While it seems unlikely that a single player could make such a big difference, Pelican is that important to this roster. Additionally, these two teams probably have the smallest gap in skill, which means it is most likely to produce a competitive series.

The only other teams that are close (in terms of seeding) are the Los Angeles Gladiators and the Philadelphia Fusion. But, while there is something interesting about two teams who haven’t played each other all season, I expect that one to go pretty much by the book.

Qu: I’m really, really looking forward to Shock vs. Dragons. Moon “Moon” Byung-chul, the head coach of the Dragons, has gone on record as saying that revenge was part of the reason they picked the Shock. On the other side, the Shock are looking to prove that they’re still the team that won two championships back to back. Both of these teams have a lot on the line when it comes to this match and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

What’s the craziest thing you want to see happen in these playoffs?

Fearless, who currently plays for the Dallas Fuel, wore the colors of the Shanghai Dragons in the inaugural season of Overwatch.
Fearless, now on the Dallas Fuel, playing for the Shanghai Dragons. | Provided by Overwatch League

Czarnowski: I want to see someone play Bastion. It probably won’t happen but the rumor of these playoffs is that each team has their own view on what’s good right now. So, like the Shock in 2019, just throw out the surprise Bastion and force enemies to adjust.

Garst: I want to see an in-game fist fight between Lee “Fearless” Eui-Seok and Kim “Mag” Tae-Seong. No guns. No teammates. Winner takes all.

Two tanks tussling through town.

Krell: I am an old enough Overwatch League viewer to remember watching the Great Bamboozle live in all its glory. It was the best kind of moment: chaotic, flashy and unexpected. That’s the sort of energy I’d want to bring to the final major event played on Overwatch. But, this time, I want the play to actually mean something.

When the Gladiators pulled this one over on the Spitfire, it looked as if it would seal the eventual Season 1 champions’ fate. As we know, London recovered well enough to reverse sweep; as if LA had used up every ounce of their remaining skill just to take Point A on King’s Row.

So, this time, I want 2021’s Great Bamboozle equivalent to happen in the grand finals or during Map 5 in the last seconds of a match. And hey, if the Gladiators are the ones to pull it off again, all the better (for the sake of continuity and certainly no other reason).

Qu: I want Lee “Leejaegon” Jae-gon of the Shanghai Dragons to play Lúcio again and break his own record for most environmental kills on a single map. It’s the only thing I want in this entire world. Would there be a more perfect send-off to the original Overwatch?

Who is your favorite to win it all?

The Hunters before the season began. | Provided by Chengdu Hunters

Garst: It’s a tough choice, but I’m leaning toward someone new. Someone that hasn’t won one of the four international tournaments throughout the season. The Gladiators look unstoppable, but I think their Countdown Cup grand final opponent will take the revenge-fueled energy from that loss, combine it with their taste for wacky compositions and then win it all.

The Chengdu Hunters, alongside the Dragons, are the strongest team in the East Division. Now is the time to prove that.

Czarnowski: I completely agree with Aron that a new team should win this championship (sorry Shock fans), but a regular-season tournament winner would still count. Honestly, it’s hard not to look at Chengdu and Shanghai as the top teams, but I think everyone is underrating the Dallas Fuel the same way we did during the May Melee. I think the Fuel’s cycle of misery was broken then and it will culminate in victory this postseason. Get the protagonist of the Overwatch League a championship ring, Fuel.

Krell: I will take the heavy and painful burden of being the Gladiator believer among us. While the team is well known for disappointing people, such as myself, at crucial moments like these, their Countdown Cup victory may have actually snapped their seemingly perpetual bad playoffs vibes.

At the very least, it gives them the most significant momentum going into the playoffs. Plus, even if their wins aren’t always dominant, they can scrap with the best of them no matter the circumstances. When everyone left is a heavy hitter, that’s important.

Additionally, consider the fact that the Gladiators can still let their mental falter for a single series if it means redoubling their efforts and making a heroic lower bracket run. That might be necessary, too, considering their second round opponent will likely be the Shanghai Dragons. However, that bit of a buffer will give the entire organization the opportunity they need to zero back in on their ultimate goal and do what no one thinks they can: win it all.

Qu: You guys are trying too hard to be subversive. I’m putting my money on the Shanghai Dragons. In my heart, I know that things never work out like they should in the Overwatch League, and there’s a high likelihood they end up disappointing. But what the hell? The Dragons have given us some of the best, most exhilarating matches of the season. They have a resilience and a well-roundedness that you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other team. I think they can do it this time and turn their legacy around once and for all.

If you had to point out one player who has to step up for their team to win the championship, who would that be?

The Washington Justice turned their season around when they signed Decay
Decay, who now plays for the Washington Justice. | Photo by Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Czarnowski: If there’s one team that needs a true hyper-carry performance to win it all, it’s the Justice and Jang “Decay” Gui-un. Much like their run in 2020, the acquisition of Decay changed the Justice’s future singlehandedly. He needs to repeat the run he made last year to help the Justice reach the top.

The team around him is fundamentally better than 2020, so his back doesn’t have to be as sore this time around, but they only squeaked into this postseason by beating the Houston Outlaws. Now, Decay must maintain good teamwork with his new squad to have a chance at that championship.

Garst: I think Indie “SPACE” Halpern will need to wear a number of hats if the Gladiators hope to go all the way. They’re a squad full of young faces, with rookies like Kim “skewed” Min-seok and Kim “MuZe” Young-hun who need a calm veteran presence to help see them through the toughest stretch of the season. Grant “Moth” Espe has been riding the bench lately and there is only so much he can do. SPACE will need to step up both in and out of the game to help his team win.

Krell: While my first instinct was to, once again, agree with Aron, I’m actually going to give this to Fearless instead. Dallas clearly took a breather during the last tournament of the regular season and will likely come out swinging once the playoffs start. But it’s hard to say how prepared they’ll be.

This is a team that lost plenty of regular season games to questionable opponents, after all. Yet, whenever Fearless turns it on, whenever he gets in his opponents’ face and makes room for the rest of his teammates, Dallas performs at a scary level. And, if everyone is able to focus Fearless down before fights really get started, I imagine the Fuel will look a bit depleted when they’d need to step on the gas.

Qu: This is an interesting question, as it implies that there is a team who doesn’t seem like they could go all the way but would be a clear favorite to win the whole thing if just one player stepped it up.

As luck would have it, I do believe that team exists and their name is the Chengdu Hunters. The Hunters are so good this year but they’ve never quite been the best. I think for that to happen, one of their damage dealers (who isn’t named Huang “Leave” Xin) needs to step it up massively. It’s their only weak point; they have a rock solid tankline, a ferocious backline and a hyper-carry damage dealer in Leave. If Yi “JinMu” Hu, Lei “Jimmy” Yujia or Zhong “TAROCOOK1E” Yunlong can step up and match Leave’s standard, there’s no telling what the Hunters could do.