The stability of the Overwatch League is coming into question as controversy emerges before the League begins its largest season to date. The Overwatch League had a phenomenal 2018 and 2019 season, but in the wake of their newest homestand format, things have gotten rocky.
Back in May of 2019, Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer announced that he would be departing his position to take on a new role at Epic Games, presumably to help bolster the Fortnite esports scene. Since then though, the Overwatch League has been in a storm of trouble between financial questionability, casters and analysts leaving, and the intense travel schedule planned for players this season.
The departure of Nate Nanzer from OWL led to irreconcilable creative and philosophical differences between myself and the league’s current leadership, and all parties will be better served by parting ways. (2/12)
— MonteCristo (@MonteCristo) December 31, 2019
At the time of Nanzer’s departure, no one knew the impact that he truly had on the entirety of the league, but months later it is being felt in waves. Right before the new year rang in long-time talent and caster, Christopher 'Montecristo' Mykles, announced that he would not be casting the most recent season of OWL. He cited that creative differences between him and upper management were the main reason for the cause of his departure, most issues arising after Nanzer’s leave.
This change was sad for many, but the community had no idea that this was going to be a common theme in 2020. No more than a few weeks later, the Overwatch League has lost not one, not two, but five members of their talent team. January isn’t even over yet and things are not looking good for the Overwatch League’s third season considering the scale they have promised fans.
The famous Monte and DoA duo did not remain broken up for long with Erik "DoA" Lonnquist announcing his departure in early January. This was quickly followed by Chris Puckett, Malik Forte, and Auguste "Semmler" Massonat all announced that they would be leaving the League. Monte cited creative differences with the League as his departure, Semmler is returning to Counter-Strike, and the others gave vague “looking forward to bigger things” statements about their exit from the League.
I'm baaaaaaaack https://t.co/aoF2e1ejxE
— Semmler (@OnFireSemmler) January 16, 2020
If the mass exodus didn’t make fans nervous enough about the future of the League, Dexerto released a report after interviewing former employees of the Overwatch League. Most of the sources were left anonymous but their sources indicate that things got really bad when Nate Nanzer left his position with the league and this falls in line with the reason for Monte leaving. Apparently, the league commissioner went above and beyond to communicate the needs and concerns of the talent team to the executive members of Activision Blizzard and the Overwatch League.
Dexerto quoted one of the members of the talent pool explaining, “Since losing Nate, the broadcast team lost its advocate, and a lot of problems that had been patched up in the past suddenly didn’t have solutions anymore.”
That isn’t even where the story gets juicy, later on in the report we find out that the talent pool was asked to take pay cuts. That’s right, after two booming seasons, the talent team was asked to take a 30% pay cut and certain members weren’t getting paid nearly as much as others. They stated, “When we realized how little some of the talents were being paid we actually agreed it would be better for some talent to forgo pay increases and instead make sure those on the lower end of the scale were properly compensated. With that, going into season two, most people had approximately a 5% pay increase, but it was hard-fought.”
The Dexerto report calls into question the financial integrity of the League and that Blizzard attempted to justify the wage cuts due to the decreased number of broadcast days. Traveling will be just as wearisome for the talent as it will be for the players at times, and despite the fewer days on camera, they don’t have the luxury of going to the same arena at the same time every week. There is a blatant disregard for the talent from executives both in the pay and respect departments but many want to know what is the League’s solution amongst the allegations.
Activision Blizzard Esports President & CEO Pete Vlastelica did an interview with Sports Business Journal in an attempt to gain some good PR amongst the criticism they are currently facing. Moreso with the loss of talent, Vlastelica attempts to paint a very different picture from that of the departed. He stated that “What (the departures) signify is that we’re putting together the best possible pool of talent that we think fits what our audience is looking for and our vision for the product we’re building. We’re bringing in people who we think know the game as well as anyone out there or better than anybody out there.”
So now Pete Vlastelica is just lying.
All the casters who left OWL had been asked to return to the League, so it wasn’t “the property’s decision” as he suggests here.https://t.co/yIBBodVtb3
— MonteCristo (@MonteCristo) January 16, 2020
Let’s be honest though, if he thinks you’re going to get better talent than MonteCristo, DoA, and Semmler, then the League is in a bad mindset. Even worse for the League is that Monte called out Vlastelica on Twitter explicitly stating “So now Pete Vlastelica is just lying.” The final topping on the cake is that in a statement to Kotaku, Malik Forte is directly quoted in saying, “I can speak for myself and say that, after years of being a part of this community – traveling the world, interacting with fans, making shoulder content, advertisements that ran on national television, and lots of hard work – I was expecting a little more than what was proposed for 2020. I guess they didn’t think I was worth what I asked for, so we never reached a number that made sense for me to continue on.”
Amidst all of this, the Overwatch League has yet to sign a media rights deal yet, leaving even more room for raised eyebrows. For the last two years, the Overwatch League has broadcasted on Twitch and a few various television channels such as ABC and DisneyXD, but there has yet to be an announcement about who will obtain rights to the seemingly unstable esports league. Vlastelica made a pre-announcement in his interview claiming the delay in announcing the media rights deal was due to the increase in bidders, possibly Mixer moving in on Twitch’s previous $45 million contract.
Many including myself want to see the Overwatch League succeed, but Activision Blizzard is making it hard to maintain faith. In just two weeks the Overwatch League will begin with Andrew “ZP” Rush confirmed as a caster for the 2020 season, newcomers to the talent team, Jacob “Jake” Lyon, and Scott “Custa” Kennedy, former Overwatch League players.