Esports Report

This week in Houston eSports: Updates on Clutch Gaming and the Outlaws

Clutch Gaming had a big week. Twitter

While Overwatch League was on a break between stages, Clutch Gaming took an enormous step forward with another 2-0 week including a dominant performance against reigning NALCS champions Team Solo Mid. The Outlaws signed tank player FCTFCTN (Russell Campbell) and now boast having most of the players that represented America in the Overwatch World Cup on their roster.

Clutch Gaming (6-4; Tied for 3rd Place)

This week Clutch Gaming continued to improve with strong performances against both Flyquest and TSM. In their game against Flyquest, the game was very even for around the first 20 minutes before a strong team fight victory led to an advantage for CG that they snowballed into a victory with a 10-2 kill advantage and only losing two towers the entire match. Sunday’s victory over TSM was even more impressive when Clutch won a team fight around 15 minutes and used that lead to methodically control the map and easily win the game, ultimately giving up only one kill and losing just one tower. The wins propelled Clutch Gaming into a tie with Liquid for 3rd Place. CG looks like a solid playoff contender and the team continues to outperform their preseason expectations, especially Solo in the top lane. Febiven continues to perform at an elite level against the stronger mid lane matchups in the NALCS versus the players he opposed in Europe.   

Predictions (4-2)

This week Clutch takes on Counter Logic Gaming and Cloud 9. Clutch should be able to defeat CLG, who are on a four game losing streak. Cloud 9 will be a much tougher team to beat, and Clutch are predicted to be defeated by the current second place team, leaving their record at a respectable 7-5 with six games remaining in the Spring Split.

Houston Outlaws (7-3) Second Place

The Outlaws big news this week was adding depth at the tank position, and now eleven of their twelve roster slots are filled. The Outlaws enter Stage Two with high expectations of remaining not just near the top, but taking over the top spot, buoyed by their +17 plus/minus when factoring in individual maps won within matches. The other important piece of information is that Stage two will be played on a new patch and the “Mercy Meta” where Mercy was basically required as one of the support players at all times is now over after significant nerfs to the hero. It will be interesting to see how the support meta evolves and if this has any impact on other aspects of team composition.

Predictions (4-0)

This week the Outlaws face rematches from their week 5 schedule. They begin with the first match of the day on Thursday against the London Spitfire who they have now played against for two of their last three matches. (1-1) The Outlaws have a great shot at getting their revenge so I’m going to predict a very closely fought 3-2 victory. Their second game of the week is against the Boston Mayhem around 5 PM on Saturday. After winning an incredibly close five game series two weeks ago, the Outlaws will have a more convincing 3-1 victory over a very talented Mayhem lineup. The 2-0 week leaves the Outlaws at 9-3 overall and a +20 map score.

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The Rockets got a steal at No. 3 overall. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

With the Astros absorbing their worst loss of the season Thursday night at the Yankees, here's to the Rockets! Wait, what? It's only educated guess work, but in landing Jabari Smith out of Auburn the Rockets had a spectacular night. Heaven knows they have had very few of those the last two years. After having to settle for the third pick in the NBA Draft despite being the worst team in the league again, in Smith the Rockets got the best player in the Draft. Of course Smith could be an epic flop, it’s very inexact science. But Orlando taking Paolo Banchero from Duke first then Oklahoma City selecting Gonzaga beanpole Chet Holmgren second left the "surest thing" two-way player on the board. Through most of the run-up to the draft the six-foot-10 inch Banchero was most commonly projected to the Rockets. It's not as if he would have been a bad choice as a player. Banchero certainly could turn out to be the best player in this draft class. But his game is skewed toward his offensive skills, his fit in Houston would have been quite questionable. The also 6-10 Smith has shown the vastly better outside shooting ability, and is indisputably more athletic and better equipped to defend at a higher level and with more versatility. Jabari Smith is not going to be Kevin Durant or Kevin Garnett. Let's at least call it extreeeeemely unlikely given very few in the history of the planet come close to those guys, still, envisioning Smith providing some KD and KG level moments on both ends of the floor is pretty, pretty, pretty good.

The Rockets' defense was an absolute joke last season. Little to no improvement was shown as the death march of 2021-22 dragged on and on and on to its 20-62 finish. Frankly if Head Coach Stephen Silas can't demand/develop vastly improved D this coming season he'll deserve and need to be fired. The Rockets love Alperen Sengun, and his rookie season offense showed both flair and promise. Defensively he was one of many parts of the joke. Just 20 years old late next month so some improvement should come, but Sengun is slow. Quick twitch muscles, slow. Lateral movement, slow. He’s not long, not a leaper, not thick. Sengun will be hard-pressed to become an average defender. In today's game he's the kind of big who quality small-ball opponents play off the court. Banchero would have been a lousy defensive pairing with Sengun. Smith-Sengun has a chance. Smith as a small-ball center has potential. Christian Wood was a dog, not in a good way. Smith’s character grades are very high.

The seven-foot 194 pound Holmgren has a fascinating array of skills. He could be Rudy Gobert defensively with way better offense, or a skinny guy who can’t hack it physically. Had the Thunder taken Smith at two, Holmgren to the Rockets would have been interesting. Getting Smith to pair with Jalen Green as the tent poles of the Rockets’ still long way to go reconstruction is more encouraging. With due respect to all the other first round picks added in 2021 and 2022, what Green and Smith become individually and as a tandem is what will foremost determine how long the Rockets remain horrible. It could go pretty well for the duo and the Rockets could still be awful for multiple more years. A third consecutive losing season is virtual certainty. By the end of it though at least a few meaningful rays of light at the end of the tunnel need to be peeking through.

As for the other two first rounders added Thursday night, both are interesting darts at the board. Tari Eason out of LSU brings defensive chops and size (six-foot-eight) for his position, a combo that exactly zero returning Rockets have. Jae’Sean Tate plays really hard, but he’s a six-four forward. All their Josh Christophers, Garrison Matthewses, Kenyon Martin Jrs., and David Nwabas add up to very little.

No one smart really believes in Kevin Porter Jr. as a long term winning point guard growth stock. TyTy Washington should get some rookie run at the point. He’s the only non-worthless to the team ex-Kentucky point guard on the Rockets’ roster. Yes, John Wall and his 47.3 million dollar salary are still on the roster.

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