When Overwatch League started, the two biggest concerns fans had were what the local teams would be named, and where their favorite players would land. Though once OpTic Gaming unveiled the Houston Outlaws, there was little doubt that they would be America's team: put together by General Manager Matt "Flame" Rodriguez, the core of the Outlaws was composed of former Team USA members from the 2017 Overwatch World Cup - Jake "JAKE" Lyon, Shane "Rawkus" Flaherty, and Matt "CoolMatt" Iorio.
OpTic's black and lime colors were an instant hit all around, and the now-iconic Outlaws logo was one of the best in the league. With a horde of new and old fans behind them, the Outlaws were set to take the stage.
It was a slow start for the Outlaws right out of the gate, dropping both of their preseason matches against the Dallas Fuel and Seoul Dynasty. Despite the losses, many Dynasty players praised the Houston lineup, saying that they were the team to look out for once the regular season started. Je-Hong "Ryujehong" Ryu specifically cited JAKE as the player he was most excited to face in several press conferences.
Indeed, the cerebral DPS star played a huge part in getting the Outlaws back on course. "Jakerat," as he become known due to his overwhelming style of play on Junkrat, punished the opposition at every turn. The Outlaws posted four straight 4-0 victories between weeks two and three of the first stage, going on to best the London Spitfire for a 7-3 record and being the first Western team to make an appearance in the stage finals. Even though they lost, they made a statement - Korean teams were beatable, and Houston could stand up to Dallas.
The Outlaws began to skid after the long-awaited Mercy nerfs went live for Overwatch League. The team's resident Mercy specialist, Christopher "Bani" Benell, started sharing play time with Daniel "Boink" Pence while they tried different compositions in the new meta. Jake’s Tracer play was another issue for the Outlaws that was frequently scrutinized. Though it was very good at times and he did show improvement, his inconsistency sometimes put the team in difficult situations.
Control (King of the Hill) maps also weren't doing the Outlaws any favors. The team vented their frustrations about KotH maps to the press a time or two, as they were seemingly unable to solve the puzzle. Main tank Austin "Muma" Wilmot was particularly exasperated with his and the team's performance, though he remained one of the league's most effective tanks.
One huge bright spot for the Outlaws through their struggles was Finland's Gift to Esports himself, Jiri "LiNkzr" Masalin. A DPS generalist like JAKE, LiNkzr frequently pulled off heroic Widowmaker shots with the best of them. His Widow was downright horrifying at times, lending to the prevailing idea that he was the best counter-sniper in the league. Now that Mercy couldn't burn through Resurrections, having such a potent Widowmaker made each kill more significant and helped keep the Outlaws in crucial fights.
The Outlaws are in a great position to improve in the standings now that Brigitte is in the mix. She has opened up multiple tank and DPS combinations that flexible teams will use to their advantage, as shown by Alexandre "SPREE" Vanhomwegen's Zarya finally having a chance to shine in the new meta and provide massive Graviton setups for JAKE's Pharah, as we've already seen. After a recent 4-0 loss to the San Francisco Shock and some time in the dugout, they're looking to bounce back against the Shanghai Dragons and Florida Mayhem to keep their momentum going strong for the rest of the season.
With only four games separating seven teams in the overall standings, the Outlaws have a very good chance of once again making a statement and securing one of six coveted playoff spots. This means that they need to figure out teams that they've struggled against in the past, such as the Philadelphia Fusion and Los Angeles Valiant. If JAKE and LiNkzr are able to stay consistent and come up in clutch situations, the Outlaws have a good chance at converting some of these former losses to wins.
No other team in Overwatch League has quite embodied the spirit of competition quite as well as the Houston Outlaws. From amazing plays on the field to mythical levels of fan popularity, the Outlaws still have everything it takes to be America's team. Other lineups are finding their strength late in the season, making the home stretch one of the most difficult runs to date. As we saw in Stage One, the Outlaws are capable of total domination in the face of overwhelming odds. There is no reason to think they can't do it again.