The fourth season of the Overwatch League came to a close Saturday night. The future of the league started during the halftime show.

Midway through the Overwatch League Grand Finals between the Atlanta Reign and the Shanghai Dragons, 10 players from other teams competed in an exhibition on “Overwatch 2,” the long-awaited sequel to the popular fantasy team shooter developed by Blizzard Entertainment.

Until recently, fans and teams have been stitching together hopes and rumors for “Overwatch 2.” Staff and players believe the sequel will inject new life into the five-year-old game. After playing it, Indy “Space” Halpern, a player for the Los Angeles Gladiators who participated in the prerecorded halftime show, said “the whole game” is going to change. This does not appear to be an overstatement. Teams will be playing with one less tank player and the game’s balance will be in flux as heroes change to have completely different abilities.

On Saturday, Blizzard revealed they reconfigured how Sombra, a character known for flanking her opponents, hacks the enemy team. Her cyberwarfare is far less debilitating but easier to unleash, and she’ll be able to deal more damage to the enemies she hacks. Similarly, Bastion, a gentle robot that wears a rotary gun as a backpack, will be able to launch artillery strikes, fire tactical grenades and even drive around while in his trademark sentry mode.

The 10-minute “Overwatch 2” showmatch featured a new mode, Push, on a map set in Rome. With just one tank role, the fighting is aggressive and fast-paced. Players appeared to spread out a bit more. At one point during the preshow, Halpern compared “Overwatch 2” to “Call of Duty,” explaining that the matches just had “a lot of action, nonstop.”

Washington Justice’s Gui-Un “Decay” Jang, another player who tested “Overwatch 2,” told The Post that, as of right now, the sequel “will entirely rely” on individual mechanics and not on teamwork.

“The DPS role is really important in Overwatch 2,” Jang said, as interpreted by Haeni Kim, the Justice’s player manager. Jang added that he believes the sequel is still a work in progress.

In a postgame news conference, Brad Rajani, the head coach for the Atlanta Reign, said he’s worried “Overwatch 2” won’t have as much “strategic depth” to the game since teams will have one less tank role on the field. Tanks are larger characters that often stand on the front lines of a battle; they draw enemy fire, lay down shields to provide cover and create space for the rest of their team to attack.

“I really do feel that having two tanks in the game added a lot of strategic depth,” Rajani said. “But I’m going to hold back real judgment until I get to see the game up close because, you know, people worked very hard on this.”

“Maybe it’ll just be different, not worse,” Rajani added.

After the halftime spectacle was over, the Shanghai Dragons went on to sweep the Atlanta Reign 4-0, winning the $1.5 million prize in a dominant performance. It has been a long journey to the top for the Dragons. In the first season of the Overwatch League, they lost 40 matches in a row. Now, they’re the hallmark example of the “dive” meta, a team composition built for charging past the opposing team’s defensive lines.

Shanghai charged into Atlanta on Saturday, forcing their way past the Reign, a surprise finalist that ousted the favored Dallas Fuel in the semifinals. Kim “Fleta” Byung-Sun, Lee “Lip” Jae-Won — the game’s player of the match — and Kang “Void” Jun-Woo all had standout moments. At certain points, the Atlanta Reign seemed to gain the upper hand amid the chaos of a team fight, but it was never enough to turn the momentum in the series.

On the first two maps, Ilios and Hanamura, Shanghai snagged early eliminations, making it difficult for Atlanta to get momentum. Down 2-0, the Reign selected King’s Row — their best map of the season. Atlanta’s Kai “Kai” Collins and “Lip” traded eliminations as the bow-wielding Hanzo, but “Lip’s” aim and “Void’s” control of King Row’s back alleys while playing Sigma proved to be too much for the Reign. The series soon ended in Havana, with “Lip” firing on all cylinders as Widowmaker and “Fleta” flanking the Reign as Echo.

After the match, Rajani said Shanghai was the team to beat heading into the playoffs.

“They’re just too versatile. They’re just too good. I don’t know what else to say,” Rajani said. “They would have done that to just about any team.”

Shanghai and Atlanta competed against each other from thousands of miles away. For the past two years, the Overwatch League has been forced to navigate the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic, upending ambitious plans to host in-person competitions in cities across three continents. It’s the second year in a row that the Overwatch League finals weren’t played in front of fans — one of several issues negatively impacting the league.

Recently, Activision Blizzard, the company behind “Overwatch” and one of the largest video game publishers in the world, has been embroiled in a lawsuit that alleges widespread, gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. Now, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the company as well. Last week, the executive producer for “Overwatch” left without providing a reason.

Amid its issues, many in the league have pinned their hopes to the release of “Overwatch 2,” hoping the new game can reignite excitement. The game does not yet have a release date, but the next season of the Overwatch League will be played on an “early build” of the game.

Back in May, when Blizzard first revealed that “Overwatch 2” will be played with teams of five, Aaron Keller, the sequel’s game director, told fans they decided to remove one of the tank positions in the sequel to reduce some of the chaos when two teams smash together in a fight.

“Sometimes, it’s just hard to track what 11 other players are doing on the battlefield,” Keller said, explaining their decision on a live stream showcasing some PVP elements of “Overwatch 2.” “Removing [one tank role] simplifies everything. And it allows players to understand everything that’s happening around them.”

Keller said the development team knows the change will “have a really big impact” on how the tank position operates. Blizzard experimented with a number of different 5v5 team compositions. When both teams select two tanks with massive shields, a common meta in the game, fights can feel like they’re wrapped in bubble wrap; players keep firing away but nobody is taking any damage.

“Tanks can be problematic,” Keller said, adding that now “each player has the opportunity to have a larger individual impact on their team.”

In all likelihood, the Shanghai Dragons’s win is the last time the league will ever compete on the original “Overwatch” game. Overwatch League Vice President Jon Spector said there’s a chance that teams could play exhibition matches on “Overwatch” in the offseason for the sake of nostalgia — but there are no real plans. And, come what may, it means saying goodbye to a version of the game that’s fueled four competitive seasons of the league. As the fourth season comes to an end, the halftime show displayed a bit of what’s to come.

“It’s an early taste of, hopefully, a really exciting future of Overwatch,” Spector told The Post. “It’s going to be awesome to showcase the best players in the world on all of this fun new content and have Overwatch League really be a place where players of all skill levels want to learn.”

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