Two months ago, the London Spitfire lit up Barclays Center in Brooklyn by becoming the inaugural Overwatch League champion. Since then, we've had World Cup qualifiers acting as quasi-tryouts for the league, eight -- yes, eight -- new franchises announced for the 2019 season, including a trio of Chinese teams that ensures that at least one team from China will win a match in the second season.
This means we're essentially entering a whole new world in the league come the beginning of next year. While the original 12 get an advantage in being able to pick up options from any of their players on the main or minor league roster, the expansion franchises get first pick when it comes to the minor league players not tied to an Overwatch League franchise.
In the deep sea of players available, mostly originating from the mecca of esports, South Korea, there is a good chance one of the expansion franchises might pull a Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2019 and go from nothing to the final in a single season.
Rumors abound about which expansion teams will sign which players before the Oct. 8 deadline when the original 12 can start signing new players. In the meantime, I'm here to give some fantasy lineups that we could (but most likely won't) see for the coming year.
Hey, if any of the new general managers are reading this right now, maybe they'll take a tip or two.
Most of the chatter around the Chinese teams indicates two of the teams will more likely than not be all-South Korean squads, and instead a few Chinese players will likely be intermixed with those players. There is also the possibility of an all-Chinese "super team" of sorts being built by League of Legends giant Royal Never Give Up.
If you're an Overwatch fan and don't know much about League, then just think of RNG as the opposite Shanghai Dragons. RNG has been crafting one of the best teams in all of League of Legends over the game's eight-year history, and its team goes into the upcoming League world championship in South Korea as a frontrunner. If RNG is really getting into Overwatch, it can only mean good things for Chinese Overwatch.
Let's cut to the chase: One of these teams should just sign Team China from the Overwatch World Cup. With Shanghai appearing to be focusing more on becoming a South Korean-focused squad in 2019, the possibility of picking up Ma "Lateyoung" Tianbin, Shanghai's off-tank in Contenders, is on the table. Huang "leave" Xin, the multitalented prodigy returning from his sabbatical, is a must-have for RNG in its pursuits of creating a strong squad, and pairing leave with his World Cup teammates of Cai "Krystal" Shilong and Zheng "Shy" Yangjie would create a top-flight DPS trio who are flexible in their hero pools and roles on the team.
I'm fine with two of the teams going all-South Korean. South Korea has far and away the best minor league system, and if these teams want to be profitable off the bat, they need to win. I mean, look at China's Contenders series, the best team is an all-South Korean squad. But RNG was the first big organization in China to pretty much put its foot down and say it wanted to develop an all-Chinese team in League of Legends, even if it meant that the short-term results wouldn't be so hot.
In doing so, RNG has focused more on developing a team that can all communicate seamlessly, and even in the face of League teams with more talent, RNG has prevailed with its all-Chinese lineup. I hope it can do the same in Overwatch because if it can, the game might grow in a country that loves its esports.
P.S.: Name that team Royalty, please. It goes along with RNG running the team, and it creates an instant rivalry with the Seoul Dynasty, which is owned by Gen.G, one of the other top teams in League of Legends. How cool would that be?
Give me the XL civil war. Give it to me, Overwatch League. D.C. is already set up beautifully to have a major rivalry with New York due to proximity, but what could really make this rivalry the best in the league is how the D.C. team might be constructed. Already, the team has gone out and signed two of XL's members from the 2018 season, substitute main tank Song "Janus" Joon-hwa and coach Kim "WizardHyeong" Hyeong-seok, who was credited with much of the success from New York's monstrous first season (playoffs excluded).
Why can't this get even more fun? New York is going to have to make some decisions when it comes to its DPS line. Two if its minor league players, Jeong "Nenne" Yeon-kwan and Hwang "nanohaha" Yeon-oh, are ready to move up into the main team, and the Excelsior already has three elite DPS players on the roster. There were already points last season where fans wondered if the "Big Boss" himself, Kim "Pine" Do-hyeon, was being underutilized by the team.
Now, with a long offseason ahead of us, it could be the time when Pine decides it's time to step away from being the closer and become the face of a franchise.
I want to see Pine in Washington with Janus, WizardHyeong and possibly even a player like Hong "ArK" Yeon-joon. If New York wants to narrow down its DPS lineup even further, we could see the team decide between two players who would fill the same role on the roster, nanohana and Kim "Libero" Hae-seong, a player who the team picked up in the wake of nanohana being ineligible for the first year of Overwatch League because of his age.
Back then, it seemed like a no-brainer that if push came to shove, nanohana would be on New York in 2019. He was arguably the best player in the world coming off the 2017 World Cup when he was the ace of the South Korean squad that won it all. His partnership with NYXL captain Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol was legendary on Luxury Watch Blue and on Team South Korea.
Since going down to the minor leagues in his wait to move up to Overwatch League, though, nanohaha's stock has taken a hit, but the ceiling of being the best player in the league is still there for the 18-year-old.
The pieces are there to make something special between D.C. and New York, and I want it.
Give the people what they want, Vancouver. The champion of South Korea Contenders, RunAway, is not affiliated to any franchise in Overwatch League. The roster is there for the taking. And although I've been told that teams have inquired about certain players, RunAway seems steadfast in keeping the team and infrastructure together.
RunAway is a special team in the hearts of fans across the world who have followed the Overwatch scene since its inception. The team has always been an underdog, scrapping from the bottom against the giants of the South Korean scene. As an amateur team with little backing, it fought its way to numerous finals, finally winning a league for the first time with its most recent victory over Kongdoo Panthera in the Contenders final.
That win felt like the moment where RunAway could finally take its next step as a team from the minors to playing against the very best in Los Angeles come the new year.
As reported by ESPN's own Jacob Wolf, the franchise is owned by Canucks Sports & Entertainment chairman's Francesco Aquilini's Aquilini Investment Group. This team is an extension of the Vancouver Canucks, possibly the hockey franchise who can most identify with the scrappiness of South Korea's RunAway. Vancouver has time and time again failed to win the Stanley Cup, and the city literally rioted when the Canucks lost in the league final to the Boston Bruins in 2011. Vancouver is passionate about its teams, to say the least and regardless if the roster is South Korean or Canadian, Vancouver would adopt RunAway as its own.
Also, the 12th-largest running event in the entire world, the Vancouver Sun Run, just so happens to be in Vancouver. It's meant to be. Let's start printing those Vancouver Runner Choi "JJANU" Hyeon-Woo jerseys and call it day. Oh, and Vancouver has got to keep the pink. No teal, dark blue, red, whatever. Pink. That's not up for debate.
To the dismay of all European Overwatch fans everywhere, there was only one expansion team from the region for the 2019 season with Paris.
I really want this team to realize the position its in. The only other club in Europe, London, is an all-South Korean team and isn't straying from that philosophy after winning the championship last year. This gives Paris the chance to become the team of Europe. And no, I'm not saying London isn't really European because its players all from South Korea, but I mean that Paris could establish itself as the pipeline players from European Contenders use to make its way up into Overwatch League.
If Paris handles this correctly, it could set itself up as the franchise that promising rookies from Europe look to sign with in the offseason.
In a perfect world, the Paris team would have the trio of ace DPS Terence "SoOn" Tarlier, D.Va bomb expert Gael "Poko" Gouzerc and star flex support Benjamin "uNKOE" Chevasson as the core of the franchise for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Valiant would never let its All-Star DPS player go, Philly just made the league final in large part to Poko's clutch D.Va ultimates and Dallas seems to want to build around the French support as one of its cornerstones.
Luckily for Paris, there is a slew of European talent out there that should be free for the taking. Russia's George "ShaDowBurn" Gushcha would be a huge acquisition for the team, and teaming him up with a quality hit-scan DPS like Tuomo "Davin" Leppänen of Finland or World Cup standout Johannes "Shax" Nielsen from Denmark would work well.
Another Russia centerpiece, Denis "Tonic" Rulyov, could make for a great main tank player, and there are even homegrown options like Benjamin "BenBest" Dieulafait if the organization wants a French star on the team.
European Contenders might be the most overlooked of all the major Contenders regions. Don't let that continue, Paris. Become the resistance against relying on simply signing the best South Korean players and hoping you might have the infrastructure to make it work. London did it because it is run by Cloud9, one of the most well-run organizations in all of esports.
Create the European super team, Paris. It's your destiny.