It’s been over 220 days since the last official Overwatch League match and, predictably, fans are ready to get back into the action this week. The league’s fifth season begins on May 5 at 2pm CT, ushering in a new era on the Overwatch 2 beta client and injecting life back into the esport’s devotees.
Though some things have stayed the same—like all of the Overwatch League’s players across 20 teams aching to get back onto the battlefield—individual matches will look very different than they did in 2021.
Whether you’ve been following the (occasionally questionable) offseason posts of Overwatch League teams on a daily basis or you’re a new fan joining in on the fun after trying the beta, we can give you a head start on understanding the next era of the league.
Here are five big things to keep in mind before teams throw down on May 5.
Welcome to five-vs-five competition
If you watched the Shanghai Dragons win the 2021 Overwatch League championship and then peaced out for the entire offseason, you may be hit with a few surprises on opening day.
Every match will now have 10 players on the field in five-vs-five competition—instead of the previous six-vs-six—thanks to the massive competitive overhaul of Overwatch 2. An entire tank slot has been deleted, which means every team will be rolling into battle with a single tank, two supports, and two damage dealers.
Viewers can expect faster, more fluid fights during matches and fewer awkward moments watching teams shoot at shields for what feels like 10 minutes.
We have shiny new toys
The switch to Overwatch 2 means that the league gets to play with all of the sequel’s sparkly new additions.
Sojourn, the first new hero added to the game in over two years, will be a big highlight for opening weekend. A powerful damage dealer with a railgun that gains energy on consistent hits, Sojourn will be deadly in the hands of the Overwatch League’s talented hitscan players.
A new game mode, Push, will make its competitive debut in the league on May 5. The fast-paced mode, in which teams have to escort a friendly robot across the map, is effectively replacing the Assault game mode. We are all better off never having to sit through a 30-minute game of Hanamura ever again.
Four new maps will also be included in the fifth season. Two Push maps—Colosseo and New Queen Street—are expansive and offer endless opportunities for professional players to stage attacks. Midtown, Overwatch’s spin on New York City, will be added to the Hybrid map pool and ritzy, glamorous Circuit Royal will spice up the Escort selection.
Beyond the obvious new additions, keep an eye out for the hero reworks and rebalancing that pro players will use to their advantage. Orisa, once a stationary shield tank, has been transformed into a “war horse” with a hell of a javelin throw. Former damage hero Doomfist is now a tank himself, ready to absorb damage and deal it back to enemies. Bastion and Sombra have large reworks while other heroes, like Soldier: 76 and Lúcio, have benefitted from the game’s overall changes.
Live events are (mostly) back
Last year, the Overwatch League had to host high-stakes tournament brackets across the Pacific, shuttling West Region teams to Hawaii to compete on lower ping with their East Region counterparts. No live audiences have been present for full games in North America since early 2020.
This season promises a hopeful return to live events, with the Houston Outlaws and Dallas Fuel hosting a Battle for Texas kickoff on May 6. The Dallas Fuel and Toronto Defiant will be hosting the Kickoff Clash and Summer Showdown tournament regional LANs, respectively, and the league will go global for the Midseason Madness tournament. The latter, if COVID doesn’t throw any new complications into the mix, would be the biggest global event in the league’s history.
Most games will still be held online, but the promise of live events at the end of each tournament cycle motivates both players and fans to stick around for something more vibrant than a celebration in front of a green screen.
Updated rosters and new players to root for
Upon entering a new era of Overwatch, most teams not named the Shanghai Dragons decided to take their rosters in different directions. The Atlanta Reign, 2021’s runners-up, will be rolling into battle with rookie support players and a feisty new DPS line. A force to be reckoned with last year, the Los Angeles Gladiators have enlisted one of VALORANT’s biggest stars going into 2022.
Even legacy teams like the New York Excelsior and San Francisco Shock, two-time OWL champions, will be heading into the fifth season with an entirely new look. Fans will likely find themselves drawn to the league’s many rookies, who have all the hunger in the world and everything to prove during opening week.
No matter how badly armchair analysts want to think their power rankings and pick ‘ems are bulletproof, there’s one truth about the fifth Overwatch League season that we all secretly know: it’ll be the most unpredictable yet.
Operating on an early build of Overwatch 2, teams will likely be subject to more balance changes than ever before as developers work to fix issues as they arise. Different heroes will rise up in power over the course of the season and teams will be forced to adapt. While some teams are battle-tested and likely to do well, like the Dragons and the Dallas Fuel, one wrench in a strategy may spell disaster for some rosters.
More unpredictability is a double-edged sword. Fans will get to see wild upsets, chaotic games, and the true definition of adaptability as the season goes on. Long gone are the days of Shanghai or Shock universally destroying opponents. On the other hand, unfortunate bugs and technical difficulties that come with a beta build may put a blip in that excitement.
At the very least, we’re sure that boredom won’t be one of those issues.
The fifth season of the Overwatch League begins at 2pm CT on May 5 when the Los Angeles Gladiators take on the New York Excelsior. Games in the East Region are delayed by two weeks due to COVID-19 complications, so they’ll begin on May 20.