With success comes expansion. After an inaugural season that exceeded expectations by most measurements, the Overwatch League announced eight new franchises that will join the existing 12. This means a possible 96 new roster spots to be filled. The new teams have an exclusive free-agent signing window that began last week and lasts through Oct. 7, where they have the first look at recently-released free-agent players from Season 1 Overwatch League rosters.
There are a myriad of players, known and unknown, available on Contenders and academy teams who will end up in the Overwatch League. Recent Overwatch World Cup stages have allowed Overwatch League bench players, current free agents and, most importantly, Contenders and amateur talent to showcase their skills on a larger stage.
Here is a cursory look at a few of the top free agents available, some of whom have already been snapped up by eager expansion teams.
Topping the list of released Overwatch League free agents was former Luxury Watch Blue and New York Excelsior main tank Song "Janus" Joon-hwa. Despite strong performances with LW Blue in OGN APEX, Janus' aggressive, flanking playstyle didn't suit NYXL as the team settled into a different style. NYXL still has its primary starter, Kim "Mano" Dong-gyu, and Janus quickly became one of the larger free-agent names available when the team announced his departure on Aug. 31. Janus was signed along with former NYXL head coach Kim "WizardHyeong" Hyeong-seok to the Washington, D.C., expansion team on Tuesday.
Like LW Blue and NYXL, the shadow of the old Lunatic Hai lineup loomed over Seoul Dynasty for most of the season, especially when the South Korean team failed to make it to the playoffs. This offseason, Seoul released two members of the Lunatic Hai core in main tank Gong "Miro" Jin-hyeok and flex player Mun "Gido" Gi-do, along with former LW Red DPS Choi "Wekeed" Seok-woo, marking the true end of the old Lunatic Hai. Miro's departure wasn't wholly unexpected -- former Los Angeles Gladiators main tank Baek "Fissure" Chan-hyung's transfer to Seoul was one of the offseason's first major moves -- and Miro would make an excellent pickup for any team. Unfortunately for the expansion teams, Miro announced that he will look to streaming for the time being, although didn't rule out returning to competitive play.
With Janus and Miro off the market, eyes should turn to former Houston Outlaws main tank Russell "FCTFCTN" Campbell, who was released last Sunday. FCTFCTN's position on the Outlaws was a bit similar to Janus on NXYL, where his lack of starting time had more to do with the team's synergy around and the talent of Austin "Muma" Wilmot than any lack of skill from FCTFCTN. Although there are a lot of main tanks available from Contenders teams, FCTFCTN should also be considered for any expansion team looking to fill that role.
The two teams that released the most free agents unsurprisingly had some of the worst records. The winless Shanghai Dragons and the 7-33 Florida Mayhem flooded the free-agency pool with a surprising amount of talent that doesn't reflect the teams' respective failures.
At the Overwatch World Cup Incheon qualifier, former Mayhem flex player Joonas "zappis" Alakurtti reminded audiences that he is still a formidable DPS player after his performance for Team Finland, and fellow ex-Mayhem teammate Tim "Manneten" Bylund will have the chance to do the same at the upcoming Bangkok qualifier, especially after his consistent play on Day 1. The release of DPS player Andreas "Logix" Berghmans came as a surprise to some -- although he didn't start regularly, he performed well when he did -- and he should find a home for Season 2.
Chon "Ado" Gi-hyeon was a standout DPS player at times while on the Shanghai Dragons, and should look better with a more well-coordinated team. Also from the Dragons, teams could look to pick up Kim "Daemin" Dae-min, who didn't start for the team much but is still talented. Despite criticism from the general community on his positioning and lack of coordination on the Dragons, support player He "Sky" Junjian is someone that the new Chinese expansion teams in Chengdu, Hangzhou and Guangzhou could be considering, especially if he performs well for Team China in Bangkok.
Yet another reminder that the World Cup stages aren't simply scouting showcases for Contenders talent was the performance of Team Russia at Incheon, South Korea, which turned out to be a chance for both of the team's starting DPS players, Stanislav "Mistakes" Danilov and George "ShaDowBurn" Gushcha. Mistakes was released by the Boston Uprising and ShaDowBurn by the Philadelphia Fusion earlier this month. ShaDowBurn rarely started for the Fusion due to the DPS prowess of Josh "Eqo" Corona, but would make a strong projectile DPS option for most teams. Mistakes not only started for Boston, but changed his hero pool to fit the team in its time of need, helping lead the Uprising to an undefeated regular season in Stage 3. Now he has the chance to find a roster that will also allow him to play heroes with which he's more familiar, which will only make him a stronger addition to a team.
While it's fun to speculate about up-and-coming talent that made a splash on a World Cup stage, current contenders staples, or whether Runaway will be signed as a team in its entirety, there's no shortage of proven talent in the free-agent pool.