The 2021 season of the Overwatch League kicked off with a bang on Friday as the defending champion San Francisco Shock and the Houston Outlaws prevailed in action-packed matches.
In a dominant display, San Francisco defeated the Los Angeles Gladiators 3-1 in all-California battle. The Outlaws won the Battle for Texas in dramatic fashion, taking out the new-look Dallas Fuel 3-2.
After a wild offseason, the Gladiators emerged with a stacked roster poised to knock the Shock off their place on top of the North American standings. Despite signing former Shock support Grant "moth" Espe, Los Angeles fell well short of San Francisco.
The Gladiators took Game 1 on Ilios despite Shock support Brice "FDGod" Monscavoir picking up a whopping five environmental kills as Lucio on Ilios-Well. The Shock bounced back in Game 2, crushing the Gladiators' defense on Eichenwalde 4-3 with a Mei-led Rush composition, tying the series at 1-1 going into the break.
Both teams got creative with their rosters in Game 3, but San Francisco's decision to put top-ranked flex support player Minki "Viol2t" Park on DPS turned out to be the winning choice. Viol2t dominated as McCree, picking up 28 final blows, more than any Los Angeles DPS player in the entire match.
By the time Game 4 on Hanamura came around, the Gladiators were reeling. Behind strong play from newly acquired DPS Charlie "nero" Zwarg's Mei and Pharah, the Shock won 2-1 to seal the series win.
While the Gladiators are a strong team (on paper) and are projected to finish in the top three of their region (in theory), they simply had the misfortune of running into a buzzsaw in the Shock.
Both Houston and Dallas revamped their rosters over the offseason, with a majority of the community expecting the Fuel to contend for a top spot in the region this season. However, the Fuel's plans took an unexpected turn a few days ago with the sudden retirement of star DPS Ki-hyo "Xzi" Jung due to injury.
Houston took Game 1 behind franchise player DPS Dante "Danteh" Cruz's Sombra, winning Busan 2-1. Dallas was quick to respond in Game 2, though, with a strong showing en route to a 3-2 victory on King's Row. The Fuel's offense was fast and hard-hitting and Dallas' defense didn't give an inch, leading to a 1-1 tie going into the first break.
On Havana, Danteh's Sombra once again sealed the win for the Outlaws with a massive EMP on the final point to give Houston a 3-2 map win. Dallas responded with a hard-fought win on Volskaya Industries, taking the map 4-3 to level the series again.
In a series-deciding Game 5 on Ilios, both teams went back-and-forth taking control and being assertive. In the end, though, the Outlaws' rookie tank line of main tank Myung-heum "JJANGGU" Cho and offtank Min-jun "PIGGY" Shin shined, locking up the frontlines and leading the Outlaws to a 2-0 map win.
Week 1 continues Saturday with seven matches:
Guangzhou Charge vs. Shanghai Dragons
Los Angeles Valiant vs. Chengdu Hunters
Philadelphia Fusion vs. Seoul Dynasty (twice)
Toronto Defiant vs. Vancouver Titans
Atlanta Reign vs. Florida Mayhem
Dallas Fuel vs. Los Angeles Gladiators
Overwatch League standings, with win-loss record and map differential
1. San Francisco Shock (West), 1-0, 2
2. Houston Outlaws (West), 1-0, 1
T3. Philadelphia Fusion (East), 0-0, even
T3. Chengdu Hunters (East), 0-0, even
T3. Hangzhou Spark (East), 0-0, even
T3. Paris Eternal (West), 0-0, even
T3. Toronto Defiant (West), 0-0, even
T3. Vancouver Titans (West), 0-0, even
T3. Washington Justice (West), 0-0, even
T3. Boston Uprising (West), 0-0, even
T3. Atlanta Reign (West), 0-0, even
T3. Guangzhou Charge (East), 0-0, even
T3. New York Excelsior (East), 0-0, even
T3. Los Angeles Valiant (East), 0-0, even
T3. Florida Mayhem (West), 0-0, even
T3. Shanghai Dragons (East), 0-0, even
T3. Seoul Dynasty (East), 0-0, even
T3. London Spitfire (West), 0-0, even
19. Dallas Fuel (West), 0-1, -1
20. Los Angeles Gladiators (West), 0-1, -2
--Field Level Media