Washington Justice’s roster strategy is not unique to sports- but will it work in OWL?

Plenty of people have pointed out that the Justice roster is lacking one particular thing- OWL experience. Tons of pundits have doubts that Washington will be much of a threat during this season of OWL, and many continue to blame a lack of consistent experience to draw numbers or expectations from. Perhaps this is just because of the current meta of the game along with the state of esports, in that most teams attempt to build rosters around those expected to be in the greatest echelon or superstar status before even being risked a slot upon, but many teams have consisted of stars that have ultimately failed to get the prize at the end. The question is: will Washington’s strategy work or not?

Two big negatives for the Justice are apparent from the start: they do, concretely, lack OWL experience on the player and coach level. Only WizardHyeong has OWL coaching experience thus far- everyone else has only reached as far as Contenders until now with one coach not even having any degree of Overwatch coaching experience at all. To top off that fact, the Justice has what is likely the most grueling Stage One schedule of any team in the league. In week one, they square off against New York Excelsior, in what should be an interesting setup with Janus and Wizard coming up against their old teammates. In week two, they face the reigning OWL Champs, the London Spitfire, who don’t appear to be letting anyone else have a chance at destroying their possibility of two championships in a row. Week three doesn’t get any easier as the Justice face the Philadelphia Fusion… the runner-up of the championship last year, and who seem intent to finish the job they started. Three days later, they face the San Francisco Shock, whom multiple members could not advance with last season. In week four, the dominant Seoul Dynasty come up against the Justice. Then, Washington ends the stage in week five with a two-day header: against another expansion team, the Paris Eternal, before a final match against the likely-abysmal Florida Mayhem.

Looking at that wall, it might appear to be insurmountable for the Justice to be powerhouse players, but the roster doesn’t suggest they are looking to blatantly overpower their enemies- instead, it suggests that the strong leaders of the team help bolster the younger squad- most of whom are no older than 18 or 19- to become champions. In fact, investing in Wizard and Avalla might have been two of the best moves the Justice could make, as Wizard has a reputation of focusing on communications between players and other coaches, where Avalla can help the development of the lesser players into OWL level play. Multiple teams last season had some of the highest ranked players in Overwatch, only to falter mightily during the season- including the Shanghai Dragons. However, these teams tended to suffer from a number of components, including communication issues and bad coaching.

Let’s look at the worst team in the League last year: the Shanghai Dragons. Throughout the entire season, communication issues and corporate mandates for communications interrupted their best players (alongside the ridiculous training schedule). It kept multiple teammates from being able to coordinate effectively, and it actively kept players from being able to make routine plays, and sometimes interrupted them entirely. Information from the top down was not relayed effectively. Players had trouble simply talking to one another as some members were from different countries. To their credit, they attempted to rework their roster to include better talent during the season, but the communication issues remained until it was too late. Additionally, it came to light (multiple times) that the Dragons had one of the worst training schedules any professional team could endure. Routine 12 hour scrim days, what seems to be a negative approach from higher-up management, the whole nine yards of mistakes were present in the team’s development. Their schedule- and season- ended up a nightmare.

The Justice, on the other hand, have WizardHyeong and Avalla- both known for effective communications for their teams. Avalla also has a reputation for being one of the largest analytics-focused coaches from Contenders, and seeing raw data to be a tool to push player progress forward. Having someone focused on continual improvement alongside someone who is already able to push players to their ultimate limits is a great strategy for coordinating winning teams. Multiple other teams in the League cannot boast that. It should also be known that the Justice may not have had the exact budget issues some rumor about, but rather, they were intent to examine every candidate under a microscope looking for the correct developmental pieces instead of investing solely in superstars. After all, the Justice tried out over 150 different players before settling on the current roster. That number is exhaustive among both traditional sports and modern esports.

In this parallel, I’d like to examine what I feel is the closest traditional sports models to Overwatch League: hockey. The NHL is a grueling league, playing 82 games in the regular season before jumping into an extensive playoff period. Players play extremely physically, multiple times a week, and all under a salary cap. Teams go out of their way to lock up quality players and coaches, but there is no way to get a perfect roster through “natural” methods- there has to be a cut somewhere, and nobody can be on a constant hot streak. So, what do you do? You examine prospects and rookies. Hockey is a game of “organized chaos”- it’s the only real way to generate a good offense, by causing the opposition to force themselves out of position through a coordinated effort and open a shooting lane to get the puck through. Yes, there are some players who are exceedingly good at finding small opportunities almost regardless of situation (Alex Ovechkin, Patrik Laine, Steven Stamkos, etc.) but these players are the superstars. You cannot solely rely on superstars to win it all for you in a team effort. Instead, you surround those stars with pieces that fit their style, that can be coached into better positioning, that can be pushed to their limits and make them perform good enough to give you the W. You can’t rely on one line- there are three more forward lines that need to contribute, and not all specifically in the same way. Team based models rely on a degree of chemistry between players alongside strategy and coordination that highlights their strengths.

This is the type of philosophy I believe the Justice are utilizing going into this OWL season. Whether or not the Justice see those results is unknown, but that’s partially the point and one of the problems with the large number of expansion OWL had this offseason- there are so many new variables that the entire League is complete chaos at the moment. Nobody knows just how good many of these teams are going to be this season- there’s literally no way to know, and there are so many new matchups that dawned basically overnight. It’s literally a new League, and only time will tell if the Justice roster is up to the task, or if the team’s chemistry will be enough to take them the whole way. The team is betting that it will be.

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