It has been only been a few months since the Overwatch League concluded but 2020 is bringing in some major changes for the relatively young esport. Year over year Blizzard has innovated with the League, and 2020 will have the most significant changes yet.
The Overwatch League is going global with matches taking place in 19 cities around the globe over seven months, an unprecedented feat for esports. Opening week starts on February 8th hosted by the Excelsior in New York and the Fuel in Dallas, Texas. This year matches will only take place on Saturdays and Sundays, but the League’s new format means that matches will be happening in two different locations on the same day. Teams will no longer be playing four maps per match purely for stage differentials, but rather a first to three series starting with a Control map. The time difference will confuse some fans initially and what we may see is fans only tuning into matches where their teams are competing.
Right after last years’ All-Star event, I put out an article explaining why the “divisions” that the Overwatch League set up didn’t mean much in the current competitive structure. It helped divide up teams for the All-Stars event, but not much else. Activision Blizzard took a page out of the NFL handbook to address this issue, and now the Overwatch League is home to two conferences, the Pacific and Atlantic Conference, each with their own two divisions.
The Atlantic Conference has the North Division which includes the Toronto Defiant, New York Excelsior, Boston Uprising, London Spitfire, and Paris Eternal. Along with a South Division home to the Philadelphia Fusion, Washington Justice, Houston Outlaws, Atlanta Reign, and Florida Mayhem.
— Overwatch League (@overwatchleague) January 3, 2020
The Pacific Conference is where the real heat is at as the East division goes up against the West, each stacked with their powerhouses. The East boasts a majority of the Asiatic teams including Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, Shanghai Dragons, and the Seoul Dynasty. The West is gearing up to be a titan of a division pitting the Vancouver Titans, San Francisco Shock, L.A. Valiant, L.A Gladiators, and Dallas Fuel against each other.
This new divided format not only works in favor of keeping travel within the same regions of the world but also providing more structure to how the playoffs will occur now that stages no longer exist. There isn’t much information on how the playoffs will be rolled out quite yet, but if its anything like the mid-season tournament I’m liking it already. The mid-season tournament will coincide with the All-Stars tournament and will bring in four teams to show what they’re made of. The top team from each conference will be invited to the tournament and two wildcard teams will be chosen with no limitation to conference or division. Having a tournament to go alongside the All-Stars event was a brilliant idea considering that Stage playoffs are no longer around to give a taste of what the top teams have to offer.
Despite stage playoffs going away the All-Stars event, however, is going nowhere. Sure this event is kind of fun to watch and brings some fresh memes to Reddit, but for the players, it’s either an added vacation or added burden. They improved the format of the event last year but it provided little value to the League and most players would probably prefer a longer break.
Thanks for all your wishes. I put everything I had into developing Overwatch as an esport since I signed my first contract in 2016. It definitely hurts to leave.
— MonteCristo (@MonteCristo) December 31, 2019
This year, the Overwatch League has more moving pieces than ever before, and they should be commended for their work so far. Activision Blizzard and their team have worked hard to put Overwatch League to par with tradition sports but on a global level. Unfortunately, there was one more major Overwatch League change before 2019 ended. Long-time esports caster and analyst Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles announced on Twitter in a series of posts that he will be leaving his position with the Overwatch Lague before 2020’s beginning. For many esports fans, Monte has been a positive figure in everything from League of Legends to Overwatch League, and now with he is leaving Overwatch to pursue other endeavors.
Teams are now going to be traveling across the globe weekly which adds more stress than players have had to deal with in the past. The management structure and style of Overwatch League teams will directly impact their success, and sometimes skill will not be enough if players don’t possess mental fortitude. Accessibility is one of the more attractive features of esports and video games as a form of entertainment. The Overwatch League had impressive viewership numbers in 2019 but that could change soon. Matches begin at the optimal time for each location meaning that Overwatch League is no longer a consistent four-day weekly event. It makes sense to host the matches at appropriate times relative to the homestand locations, but viewership could suffer slightly. The matches have been condensed down to only Saturdays and Sundays making it a bit easier to watch rather than the back to back four-day match fest four days of previous seasons.