The biggest trends and changes in Overwatch League Season 1

The Los Angeles Valiant celebrate a Stage 4 finals victory over the New York Excelsior on Sunday at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California. Robert Paul/Provided by Blizzard Entertainment

Regular-season matches for the inaugural Overwatch League season have concluded, and the playoff field is set. Here we will break down the biggest stories of the first season of the OWL.

Mercy dominates Stage 1, gets nerfed

Through Stage 1, the dive composition was the most commonly used strategy. Four mobile characters backed by Zenyatta's Orb of Discord and Mercy's healing would aggressively move into enemy territory and target a specific character on the opponent's team. With primary tanks D.Va and Winston providing better mobility than other tank options, they could do damage, target individual opponents and protect their own teammates in a teamfight.

The main key to this strategy in Stage 1 was Mercy's ultimate: Valkyrie. At the time, Valkyrie allowed for instant resurrections, gave Mercy a speed boost to her Guardian Angel ability and allowed for a bonus resurrection charge for even more healing. This let Mercy leap into a team fight with her ultimate and resurrect her allies at great speed. In a teamfight against a Valkyrie, you might have ended up needing to kill multiple opponents twice.

Through Stage 1, Mercy was selected more than 96 percent of the time, more than 7 percentage points above the next most selected hero (D.Va at 89.3 percent). Blizzard ultimately identified that Mercy's ability was too powerful, and in a patch on Jan. 30, they significantly debuffed the ability. Resurrection was no longer instant, bonus charges were removed, her speed bonus gained for Guardian Angel was cut in half, and the duration of the ultimate was dropped from 20 seconds to 15. When the changes went into effect for Stage 2, Mercy's usage dropped way off.

Mercy's limitations in Stage 2 became one of the biggest storylines of the season, paving the way for changes in the game and showcasing the necessary versatility that teams would need if they wanted to stay consistent.

Seoul falls short

Before the start of the OWL Season 1, the majority of the Seoul Dynasty played for Lunatic-Hai, the team that won OGN Overwatch APEX Seasons 2 and 3, the then-premier league for professional Overwatch play. Expectations were set high for Seoul and captain Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong, one of the consensus top players in the world.

The Dynasty opened Stage 1 with a 7-3 record in a four-way tied for second place. Stage 2 was much of the same, as the team missed the playoff field through tiebreakers after another 7-3 finish. At third place in the overall standings, making the playoffs appeared to be a formality at that point, but a major drop-off in the second half, especially from Seoul's star, hurt the Dynasty.

Compared to more traditional sports, Seoul's run is much akin to the 2014-15 Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA. Both teams came in with high expectations after performing extremely well in previous seasons.

The Thunder had at least one playoff series win in four consecutive seasons and had a .708 win percentage over those four years. OKC featured Kevin Durant, at the time a five-time All Star and league MVP. He was touted as one of the best in the sport. Things might have gone differently for the Thunder if Durant played the whole season: He ended up playing in just 27 games due to injury.

Seoul's superstar, meanwhile, was ryujehong. He won the fan vote for MVP of Overwatch APEX Seasons 2 and 3. He also won both the 2016 and 2017 Overwatch World Cup with South Korea. His overall play took a hit in the second half of the OWL season.

The result was the same for both teams: Each missed the playoffs. In ryujehong's case, things might have gone differently had he been able to use his best character, Ana. During both of Lunatic-Hai's title runs, Ana was by far ryujehong's highest-rated character, according to Winston's Lab. In OWL Season 1, he logged just 49 minutes on her, his fifth-most for any character. Due to Seoul's inconsistency, ryujehong ended up playing at least 10 minutes on 11 characters this season and logged at least some amount of time on 19 characters.

Shanghai finishes 0-40

The Shanghai Dragons finished the inaugural Overwatch League season 0-40, seven games worse than any other team and 34 games worse than league No. 1 seed New York Excelsior. Shanghai's map differential, maps won minus maps lost, was -120, 42 maps worse than any other team.

No one anticipated the Dragons being world-beaters, but losing every single match was unexpected. The team failed to put up a fight in most of its matches, too. On average, Shanghai lost its games by three maps. With a max of four, that's impressive. The Dragons bear some similarity to recent winless teams in the NFL.

The Dragons lost 4-0 a league-high 21 times, more than half the matches the team played this season. Shanghai was also the only team to have a match in which it didn't register a point, in a loss to the London Spitfire on Feb. 3.

Shanghai got close to a win twice: On Feb. 7 against the Fuel and June 6 against the Mayhem, the Dragons forced a fifth-map tiebreaker. Shanghai tied both of those Game 5 rounds 1-1 before losing the final point.

Season 1 quick hitters

  • Widowmaker was an important DPS hero throughout the inaugural season. She was the only DPS hero picked at least 25 percent of the time in each stage and had the second-highest overall pick rate among DPS. Widowmaker holds the highest single-team win rate (when only one team plays the hero) in OWL at 59 percent.

  • The Boston Uprising completed the first undefeated stage of OWL by going 10-0 in Stage 3. The LA Valiant had a chance to be the second before falling to the Dallas Fuel in its 10th game of Stage 4.

  • Lúcio saw the biggest bump in usage among support characters after Stage 1 (up 16 percentage points).

  • The New York Excelsior featured the only two players in the league with a total player rating over 1200, regardless of character, per Winston's Lab: Bang "JJoNak" Seong-hyun (1,255) and Hong "ArK" Yeon-joon (1,209).

  • Boston had the best record in five-map matches, with a 10-3 record (.769 win percentage).

  • The LA Gladiators completed three reverse-sweeps in stage play, the most of any team.

  • The Excelsior was 29-0 in matches when it won the Escort Map.