After eight months of regular season matches and one crazy weekend of play-ins, the remaining Overwatch League teams are making their final preparations for a series of double-elimination playoffs that will see the OWL 2019 champions scoop a $1.1m prize in Philadelphia on Sunday, September 29th.
The Season 2 Grand Finals will be the culmination of a playoff series that begins in the Blizzard arena on Thursday, September 5th and runs for four nights per week until our final pairing is decided on September 15th.
What is the format for the Overwatch League Playoffs?
Unlike last week's Play-In qualifiers, this year's Playoffs are a double-elimination contest, with eight teams competing for Grand Finals places.
The double-elimination format - which is being introduced to Overwatch League for the first time - means that any team that loses a playoff match will drop into the "losers' bracket" where they will contest against other losing teams for a chance to redeem themselves and make way to the Grand Finals. You can follow our Overwatch League 2019 playoff bracket updates.
Each match is in the 'First-to-4' format, with the higher seed team choosing the first map. The loser of each subsequent map has the right to choose the following map. Each map can only be played once per match… at least until Blizzard breaks Numbani again.
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Which heroes will be played?
If you are new to the Overwatch League, then you couldn't have picked a better time to start watching. The 'meta' - that is, the team composition and style of play which is considered to be the most effective - is in a state of flux unlike anything seen since the game first launched.
In fact, the kindest way to describe the Overwatch meta at the moment might be to say it is fundamentally, gloriously broken. The recent rule change that forced all teams to adhere to a "2-2-2" team formation comprising two tank heroes, two damage-dealing heroes and two support heroes has completely disrupted how the game was played in Season 2 and has opened the door for a number of heroes who were previously considered unviable at this level.
Throughout Season 2, Blizzard constantly buffed heroes in the hopes of organically shifting play away from the largely unpopular GOATS meta. Having stepped in and culled GOATS, what remains is a pool of heroes who are significantly overpowered and a game which is wildly unbalanced. Over the past few weeks, OWL teams have been finding new and unexpected compositions including "snow blossom" (Mei/Reaper pairing), "hackfist" (Sombra/Doomfist) and - most recently - a Pharah/Doomfist DPS combination which has been devastating against "boots on the ground" compositions.
We have even seen Ashe and some Symmetra picks which have looked formidable against shield defences. Orisa, Moira, Hanzo, Symmetra, Reaper and Hog are all viable picks in the current meta, with Pharmacy and Dva-less comps starting to appear for the first time in a long, long season.
The playoffs also see the introduction of the game's newest hero, Sigma. This shoeless tank hero outputs a surprising amount of damage and has an incredibly flexible shield ability. Before the playoffs began, many analysts were predicting the dawn of a tedious Sigma/Orisa bunker meta which would result in double-shield defences. Instead, Overwatch fans were treated to memorable DPS play including some wildly flanking Reaper tactics, some astonishing Pharah kills and some Doomfist play that proves the best way to counter an enemy shield is to punch right through it.
Our previous experience suggests that the meta will eventually settle into a composition of deep-health heroes and low-risk gameplay, but for now at least, fans are in for a treat.
Which players should we look out for?
While the play-in process has robbed us of the opportunity to see outstanding talents like DDing, JinMu and nero in play-off action, the eight remaining teams are loaded with some of the best talent in the league.
Foremost among these is Spitfire's Profit, whose stunning DPS performance lit up last year's Grand Finals and caused many to proclaim him the greatest to ever play the game. Others to watch out for in the DPS category include Decay and Surefour of the Gladiators, Haksal, Architect, Erster and Fleta as well as MVP candidate Sinatraa and NYXL's bright late-season hope, Fl0w3r.
Among the tank players, guxue, Smurf, Mano, Gesture and Marve1 will all be hoping to compete with Bumper for best playoff tank performance, and Twilight, SLIME, Moth, iDK, Bdosin and BigGoose will be hoping to dethrone JJoNak as the Overwatch League's most renowned support player. Off-tank mains should look no further than ChoiHyoBin, Fury, or MekO to see Overwatch teamplay at its finest.
Which teams are favourites to win Overwatch League 2019?
After a long, arduous season, the sudden lurch in the meta has turned the league on its head, so it really can't be overstated: any of the eight teams could win this thing.
Rumours persist that Spitfire are putting together amazing performances in their practice sessions, but their difficulty getting past Dragons in their play-in match suggest they are still some distance from retaining their title. In a similar vein, NYXL bring so much potential to the playoffs that it's tempting - although probably foolish - to overlook their mental frailty. Spark and Gladiators are both teams that could put together a championship winning run, but both have vulnerabilities in their lineup that are likely to be exposed by more balanced teams. Though Dynasty appear to have found some form in their convincing play-in victory, their patchy Stage 4 performances make them unlikely champions.
Somewhat predictably then, conventional wisdom points to either Shock or Titans being crowned as champions in September. While Titans looked supremely invincible early in the season, the change to 2-2-2 has moved them slightly outside their comfort picks. In contrast, the move towards DPS meta seems to have played into the hands of the Shock and on current form, the team from San Francisco should be seen as outright favourites.
Which teams could cause an upset?
If momentum is as much a factor in 2019 as it was last year, then Atlanta Reign should be considered strong contenders. Coming in to the playoffs after a seven match win streak, Babybay, Erster, frd and Dogman all seem to have found dominant form. Critics will question the calibre of some of their recent opposition and it remains to be seen whether they can retain their 'upstart' mentality under the pressure of elimination playoffs.
If history has taught us anything, it's that our eventual champions are likely to emerge from our lower seeded teams… so, could we actually be crowning London as champions again? In the current meta, it may depend how well they can rain rockets down and keep shields up.
Whatever happens, you can follow all the latest Overwatch League streams, stats and odds right here.
Pictures: Overwatch League/Blizzard