The Overwatch League playoffs are already underway, but it’s not too late to catch the first live grand finals event in two years on Friday, November 4th, broadcast on YouTube. (Get the full playoff schedule here.) We don’t know yet which two teams will be competing in the final match, and any attempt to predict the participants is an act of monumental hubris.
Depending on your perspective, the Overwatch League has this either frustrating or exciting tradition of introducing balance patches right before the playoffs. When that happens, the game’s strategies, known as metas, that have been solidified over the last few weeks of the season are tossed out, and teams have to adapt quickly to a new style of play.
For this year’s playoffs, Overwatch 2’s newest hero Kiriko was added, and her presence has been a predictable shock to the system, pun very much intended. Her ultimate ability, Kitsune Rush, has had such a dramatic impact on the way the game is played, reducing cooldowns and increasing fire rates, that slower heroes like Reaper and, shockingly, Roadhog are seeing playtime. Her introduction has made it so that teams that have been solidly mediocre are now favored to win it all, while teams that have only known success are fighting for their tournament lives in the playoff’s losers bracket.
This happened to my Shanghai Dragons. They, like the two-time Overwatch League champions San Francisco Shock, were unable to adapt to the new Kiriko world order and were sent to the losers bracket, where they lost again, exiting the tournament. I’m sad, but don’t mourn for me. With the Dragons out, I am now freed from the burdens of fandom, able to simply enjoy matches without the stress of worrying if my team is good enough to beat whoever I’m watching.
I’m excited for the final match of the playoffs because this might be the first year we get a grand final that’s not a total blowout. In the four previous years, only one final wasn’t a complete sweep, and even then, it wasn’t the closest of matches. Adding to that excitement is the fact that these finals will be broadcast live from the Anaheim Convention Center, the home of BlizzCon, for the first live finals since 2019.
Watching competitive Overwatch live is a completely different animal from watching at home. Even the League’s biggest skeptics fall prey to the excited roar of the crowd. The energy and hype are unreal, and even if you watch from home, you can’t help feeling the tug of, “Okay, I get it now.”
In grand finals of years past, Blizzard invited musical acts like Zedd and Questlove to perform the esports equivalent of a half-time show. There hasn’t been (and likely won’t be) a super special guest this year, but who knows, maybe DJ Khaled will return for another unforgettable, highly memeable appearance.
The Overwatch League season 5 playoffs have been a shitshow, and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. Prediction brackets have been broken and grand finals favorites have been unceremoniously bounced from the competition in the early rounds. The best days of the competition are ahead, culminating in a grand finals on Friday that will undoubtedly be one of the wildest matches you don’t want to miss.