Considering the Overwatch League will be swapping over to Overwatch 2’s five vs. five competitive setup when it resumes in April, most fans were mentally prepared for a destructive, chaotic offseason. Many players have retired, and dozens have entered the free agency pool, hoping to find a new home in 2022.
Every drop or signing is exciting, but some roster changes were much more unexpected than others. Certain acquisitions have a chance to completely upend a team’s trajectory for the next season. Here are some of the biggest roster changes to hit the 2021 offseason and why they matter so much.
San Francisco Shock cleans house
After a disappointing season, it’s normal for underperforming teams to drop a majority of their players—the Vancouver Titans and Toronto Defiant are good examples this year—but it’s extremely rare for successful teams to do so.
The San Francisco Shock ended the 2021 season with an admirable 12-4 record, but change was inevitable for a team not used to anything but championship titles. On Oct. 9, the Shock dropped seven players in a single day, a move unexpected by even the team’s most vocal critics.
After off-tank Choi “ChoiHyoBin” Hyo-bin retired the following week, San Francisco was left with only steadfast main tank Matthew “super” DeLisi and flex support Park “Viol2t” Min-ki on the roster. Though the team has since added rookie talent in the form of O2 Blast’s best, the complete destruction of a veteran-heavy, beloved roster was a wild way to begin the Overwatch League offseason.
JJoNak joins Seoul
For four years, the New York Excelsior and flex support Bang “JJoNak” Sung-hyeon were inseparable in the minds of fans. In some ways, JJoNak represented the legacy of success the NYXL once had and always chased. After a brutal season, the 2018 MVP parted ways with the Excelsior and brought an end to one of the most iconic eras in the league.
Luckily for JJoNak, the Seoul Dynasty is looking to assemble the Avengers of veteran talent in 2022. The team picked him up to play alongside legends of the game like longtime DPS Park “Profit” Joon-yeong and former San Francisco Shock tank Yoo “smurf” Myeong-hwan.
While it’ll be incredibly strange to see JJoNak wearing anything but blue stripes, fans are looking forward to the chaos he’ll be able to cause on behalf of the Dynasty.
Pelican heads to Houston
DPS Oh “Pelican” Se-hyun had a remarkable year, giving his all to the Atlanta Reign even through medical issues and difficult metas. He was later named 2021’s Rookie of the Year, and his star continued shining as he fought hard from across the ocean during Grand Finals matches.
Though he was an integral part of the Reign’s success last season, Pelican surprised everyone by heading to the Houston Outlaws after the team made a cash trade with Atlanta. Houston made impressive strides after picking up lesser-known talents last year, like off-tank Shin “PIGGY” Min-jun, but Pelican’s acquisition is the first time the team has paid top dollar for proven results.
Houston later picked up former Atlanta Reign flex support Kim “Ir1s” Seung-hyun, solidifying the team’s side quest in acquiring some of the best parts of the Reign’s second-place roster.
American Tornado’s backline hits Atlanta
While Houston was busy picking up the scattered parts of the 2021 Atlanta Reign, the latter team’s management was looking toward the Overwatch Contenders scene. Players from American Tornado, one of North America’s most successful Contenders teams, would finally be eligible to play in the league in 2022 and had become the hottest commodities of the offseason.
Atlanta went for the team’s backline, signing main support Christian “Ojee” Han and flex support Benjamin “UltraViolet” David. Contenders fans have been looking forward to the duo’s entry into the Overwatch League for years, and the Atlanta Reign was happy to facilitate it.
After picking up another Contenders standout in Lee “Venom” Dong-keun, formerly known as Sigma, the Reign bolstered its roster of veterans with San Francisco Shock’s Charlie “nero” Zwarg. If Atlanta’s coaches can handle the talent they’ve acquired, the team’s healthy mix of new and experienced players could be impressive.
London Spitfire picks up Poko
While this isn’t the most monumental pickup in terms of gameplay, it was certainly one of the more surprising signings of the offseason. Gael “Poko” Gouzerch had been a Philadelphia Fusion staple for four years, known for his epic D.Va bombs, but the team let him go at the end of the 2021 season.
Most fans expected the Frenchman to head to his home team of the Paris Eternal, but the London Spitfire swooped in to give Poko a new adventure. Not only is this an interesting signing because of the ongoing feud between English and French fans, but Poko was a part of the Philadelphia Fusion roster that played against—and lost to—the London Spitfire in the inaugural season Grand Finals. How the tables have turned.