Some Overwatch League (OWL) professional players are looking at the Houston Outlaws as the next up-and-coming team to beat heading into Season 4.
This revelation may come as a surprise to longtime fans of the League--and with good reason. As a group, the Outlaws have been hard-pressed to reach the final five since their formation in 2017. The closest they've come to the Championship was during the Inaugural season where they finished seventh, beat out by the Philadelphia Fusion.
Regardless, their fellow competitors appear to be watching their progress with interest.
OWL Houston Outlaws Could Be the Team to Beat
Atlanta Reign DPS Kai "Kai" Collins noted the team was performing well in practice during the off-season. While the primarily online matches and unusually long break due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have affected all players to some degree, one could almost assume the Outlaws used this time to showcase their improved talent.
"Just playing against them in scrims, they seem to be doing better than expected. They should definitely be rated higher than they are," he said.
"It’s going to be fun to watch." Vancouver Titans' DPS Jiri "LiNkzr" Masalin added.
A portion of the recognition comes directly from the transformation the team has seen over the past few seasons. In 2020, alone, the Outlaws suffered an intense series of hemorrhages—including several players, managers, and coaches. In the midst of the chaos, Off-Tank Matt "coolmatt" Iorio retired and stepped into a manager role, but the losses didn't truly stop until mid-October when San Francisco Shock coach Jaewon "Junkbuck" Choi joined the team.
Since then, Houston has steadily rebuilt its roster to include names like former Los Angeles Valiant Flex DPS Kyle "KSF" Frandanisa and rookie Min-jun "PIGGY" Shin—who was also named as a player to keep an eye on.
Los Angeles Gladiators' Off-Tank Indy "SPACE" Halpern said, "Outlaws is nasty. That’s a completely different team. I mean, look at Shanghai. They’re one of the best teams in the league now and I think Outlaws has that potential."
Another portion could be attributed to the return of veteran player Jacob "JAKE" Lyon. He originally retired from both the Outlaws and the OWL in 2019 in the interest of his own happiness and growth. However, after spending a year off the field, JAKE seemed eager to get back in the game.
"It’s still what I want to do and still where I want to be," he said, "We’ll be the best we’ve ever been. Will that be enough to win the League? We don’t know. For me, this feels like… totally different [on this team]."
JAKE attributed his—and, perhaps, his team's—improved confidence to their general manager and co-coaches. Both coolmatt and Junkbuck have prior experience in-game with coolmatt having previously been a player and Junkbuck coaching the Shock to victory in the 2020 Grand Finals.
When asked if he thought the Outlaws would win the League this season, Jake smiled and said, "That's the plan."
The Houston Outlaws had their first match April 16 against the Dallas Fuel.