A surprise-filled Stage 1 of the Overwatch League’s second season is in the books, setting the table for what appears to be an intriguing second leg. That’s particularly true in light of the stunning news out of Atlanta this week.

In the opening stage, an expansion team prevailed in the playoffs. Shanghai ended its sorrow-filled losing streak, while a favorite from Season 1 followed the Dragons down into their winless depths, as the Los Angeles Valiant became the second team in OWL history to go through Stage 1 without getting a win. Meanwhile, while favorites NYXL continued their regular season excellence, the defending champs, the London Spitfire, sputtered out of the gate and missed the playoffs.

Where’s that leave the league going forward? Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest takeaways from Stage 1 with Stage 2 set to begin April 4.

A quick note first, the following analysis is intended for those familiar with “Overwatch” and the OWL. If you want to learn more before getting into the more granular points below, read this first to get a grasp of the basics.

1) Dafran’s reign is ended

In a stunning announcement, the Atlanta Reign’s star player, Daniel “Dafran” Francesca, announced he was retiring from the OWL so that he can return to “comfy streamer life.” He’ll still be streaming under the Reign’s brand, but he won’t be playing for them when Stage 2 begins.

He thanked the Reign in his statement, saying, “I want to say big thank you to the Atlanta Reign for giving me an opportunity in the OWL. Professional gaming was always the biggest dream of mine since I was very young and you gave me a shot. Sadly it is not anymore. I would rather be a streamer at this point in life and chill.”

This is a huge blow to the Reign. “Dafran” is one of the best DPS players in all of professional Overwatch. In Stage 1, he was ninth in damage dealt per 10 minutes, 12th in final blows per 10 minutes and fourth in eliminations per 10 minutes. He was an absolute force and helped lead Atlanta to a 4-3 record and a spot in the Stage 1 playoffs. Atlanta should still be pretty competitive in its Stage 2 matches, but it’s incredibly unlikely that the Reign will be able to replace that production.

2) Remember the Titans ... and the rest of the new kids

The Vancouver Titans were one of the most talked-about teams coming into the OWL season. With a cohesive roster that had already played together and won Korean Contenders division, the only question was whether or not they could do it on the big stage.

The Titans captured the top overall seed in the Stage 1 playoffs after going 7-0 and winning 24 of the 30 maps they played. Vancouver then went on an absolute tear in the Stage 1 playoffs, emerging as the Stage 1 champions, and winners of the $200,000 bonus, after an epic best-of-seven match against the San Francisco Shock last Sunday.

Vancouver had three players in the top 15 in deaths per 10 minutes, meaning that their players stayed alive longer (on average) than almost everyone else. That’s a huge component of holding and capturing points, as well as winning team fights.

When you look at eliminations per 10 minutes, no one came close to matching the Titans. Three of the top four and four of the top 15 players in the league in that stat are repping the green and blue.

The OWL doesn’t give out stage MVP awards, but if they did, you could argue that nobody outplayed Vancouver’s Min-soo “SeoMinSoo” Seo in Stage 1. He ranked third in damage dealt per 10 minutes, sixth in final blows per 10 minutes, third in eliminations per 10 minutes, and 10th in deaths per 10 minutes. He might not be a bona fide OWL superstar just yet, but if he puts that kind of performance together again, he definitely will be.

Vancouver certainly doesn’t face an easy schedule in Stage 2. The Titans have four matches against playoff teams: Toronto, Boston and two matches against the Seoul Dynasty. They’ll also take on Dallas, a team that barely missed out on making the Stage 1 playoffs.

In all, three expansion teams (Vancouver, Toronto Defiant and the Reign) finished in the top five of the Stage 1 standings and made the eight-team stage playoffs. Another four of the expansion teams were within a game of reaching the playoffs.

When the OWL expanded to 20 teams in the offseason, one of the big questions was whether or not the product would be watered down and whether the new franchises would be able to hang with the original 12. That question has been answered emphatically. The new teams are not only able to compete, they’re able to win.

3) Don’t count out the old guard

NYXL barely utilized one of its best players, Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park. He played a grand total of 13 minutes and 33 seconds in Stage 1. Despite that, the Excelsior still went undefeated in stage play before getting knocked out in the playoffs by the Seoul Dynasty. NYXL is still one of, if not the, deepest and most talented team in all of Overwatch.

After failing to make the playoffs at the end of OWL’s inaugural season, the Dynasty and Shock proved their doubters wrong by making it to the semifinals of the Stage 1 playoffs. And as noted, the Shock would advance and push the Titans to the brink in the final.

San Francisco was easily the best team in Stage 1 when it came to healing. The Shock had players ranked first, third and seventh in healing per 10 minutes. They also had the OWL’s top damage dealer per 10 minutes in Jay “sinatraa” Won. Put those two things together, and that’s a recipe for success.

The Philadelphia Fusion, last year’s OWL runners-up, went 5-2 and made a run to the Stage 1 semis as well. Unfortunately for Philly, they’ll face an absolutely brutal schedule in Stage 2. The Fusion open with NYXL and then face Florida before taking on Toronto and London. That’s a tough four-game stretch by most standards, but then they have to face New York AGAIN before wrapping up Stage 2 play against Houston and San Francisco. As talented as the Fusion are, that schedule might be too much to overcome.

4) L.A. Valiant make history for the wrong reasons

Last season, only one team ended Stage 1 play without a win. That team was the Shanghai Dragons. Now the Valiant have equaled the ignominious feat.

Heads rolled as general manager Mike Schwartz fired head coach Moon “Moon” Byung-chul. It’s an incredible free-fall from last season when the Valiant when 27-13 and won the Pacific Division.

After capturing the No. 2 overall seed in the OWL’s inaugural season, you would think that the organization and the team would have stayed the course. However, the Valiant jettisoned four players and many key coaches, including interim head coach Julien "daemoN" Ducros. Many ended up joining the new Paris Eternal expansion franchise.

The Valiant are definitely not the first team to make a coaching change, but instability appears to be the norm as opposed to the exception.

5) Enter the Dragons

The Dragons were a laughingstock after going 0-40 in the OWL’s inaugural season and setting a professional sports record for futility. That all changed after the Dragons broke through for their first franchise win against Boston.

The Dragons then demolished the Chengdu Hunters before falling to Dallas in back-to-back matches. Shanghai then went toe-to-toe with the London Spitfire, the defending OWL champions and finished Stage 1 with a 3-4 record.

Min-seong "diem" Bae was sensational for the Dragons over the course of their seven games. He was third in final blows per 10 minutes at 7.72, 17th in damage dealt per 10 minutes, and 13th in eliminations per 10 minutes with just over 20. That’s an incredibly high level of play. Is it sustainable? We’ll have to see.

An underrated player for the Dragons in Stage 1 was support player Seong-hyeon "Luffy" Yang. He played Zenyatta almost exclusively and managed to rank 25th in healing per 10 minutes while also making it inside the top 70 in both damage dealt and eliminations per 10 minutes.

6) Failure to launch

The Spitfire got off to a horrible start in Stage 1, dropping their first two matches and nearly fell to 0-3 after needing a reverse sweep to beat the Washington Justice.

When your two best players, who happen to be DPS players, Joon-yeong "Profit" Park and Ji-hyeok "birdring" Kim, are ranked 22nd and 24th in damage dealt per 10 minutes, that’s a serious problem. When your tank, Jae-hee "Gesture" Hong, is dying nearly six times per 10 minutes, a mark that puts him in 128th place in the league, that’s a serious problem.

The center did not hold for the Spitfire in Stage 1. In a meta where GOATS was so incredibly prevalent, they made too many mistakes. They needed better support play and better tank play and they simply didn’t get it.

7) Any given Sunday

One overarching theme from Stage 1 was parity.

The Seoul Dynasty made it into the Stage 1 playoffs by winning their final two matches against Washington and London by a combined score of 6-1. During Stage 1 play, Seoul lost to Boston. Boston, as I mentioned earlier, lost to Shanghai. Seoul then ousted NYXL in the Stage 1 playoffs. The Florida Mayhem finished Stage 1 play with only one win. Who did they beat? The eventual third-seeded Philadelphia Fusion.

If you want to win in the OWL, you better show up ready to play. London needed everything to go right for them in order to complete its reverse sweep of Washington.

With five teams going 4-3 and eight teams going 3-4, perhaps we’ll continue to see greater parity across the league. The competition for playoff spots will continue to be fierce.

8) The GOATS

The three tank three support composition known as GOATS dominated Stage 1 play. Many fans complained it was boring and limited teams’ creativity because they were playing a more conservative style.

I think a good analogy for GOATS is back when football teams ran the wishbone, wing-T offense and other power running systems. Mistakes like missed tackles are usually punished with big gains for the other team and mistakes like missed blocks are usually punished by a loss of yardage or little to no gain.

Patience, discipline and execution are rewarded when using GOATS. Knowing the perfect moment to strike is critical, as is building up ultimates to use in tandem with teammates.

I think we’ll see continue to see a large majority of teams run the GOATS composition until we get the OWL equivalent of the forward pass. Perhaps the new patch will spice things up and encourage teams to experiment and open it up a little more.

9) Bienvenue Baptiste!

The newest Overwatch hero is a support character by the name of Baptiste who will be playable in Stage 2. One OWL GM said Baptiste’s immortality field ability, which prevents allies from dying, “could be a game-changer.”

10) One giant leap for esports

News broke earlier this week that the owners of the Philadelphia Fusion will be spending $50 million to create the very first video gaming arena in the U.S. The 3,500-seat arena will be located in South Philly and will open in 2021.

This is huge news for the OWL and esports in general. It proves that owners are willing to spend to support their teams and that there is fertile ground for esports and gaming arenas throughout the country. As the league’s teams relocate to their local markets for 2020, it will be interesting to see if any other franchises follow suit.

Noah Niederhoffer is a freelance writer who produces national radio shows at SiriusXM and develops, produces and launches podcasts in addition to covering sports and politics. He’s an Atlanta native and a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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