ESTNN's Video Editor, Malik Shelp, addresses some issues he's seen with the divisions in the professional Overwatch League.
The Overwatch All Stars event ended a few weeks ago, and we got two sick new skins for Lucio and Mercy out of it. That said, the All-Stars event got me thinking.
Why is it that we don't hear about the divisions more? I wanted to address this thought within the Overwatch League and put it the way that it really is – divisions don't matter, but they should. If you're not familiar with the structure of the Overwatch League, let me break it down for you.
Who's In Each the Division?
The Overwatch League is split into two divisions, the Atlantic Division and the Pacific Division.
Divisions only matter in the All-Star Weekend
For the Overwatch All-Stars weekend, fans voted for their favorite players in each role to represent their respective divisions. The result is two All-Star teams that are handpicked by the fans and ready to face off in a variety of arcade game modes and a standard bracket competition.
The Atlantic Division was represented by Poko and Carpe from the Philadelphia Fusion, Ark from the Washington Justice, Pine and JJonank from the New York Excelsior, and Fusions from the Boston Uprising. In the Pacific Division, we saw Ameng, Jinmu, and Yvetal from the Chengdu Hunters, Fleta, and Ryujehong from the Seoul Dynasty, and Guxue from the Hangzhou Spark.
This All-Star event was certainly as entertaining as it was last year, but let's talk about how divisions affect the Overwatch League right now. You would think that teams play other teams within their divisions, and then the best teams from each division play each other in playoffs right? After all, that’s how it works in traditional sports. Well, that’s not how it works in the Overwatch League.
Why Divisions Don't Matter Right Now
Blizzard has set up the Overwatch League so that teams can play each other regardless of A. which division they’re in and B. regardless of the team’s respective rankings. It is a team's ranking and map score that determines whether or not they will compete in the playoffs. This is different from traditional sports and disregards the idea of divisions completely.
Before I dive in, I want to explain how vital it is to pay attention to the design of traditional sports, and how the Overwatch League can use these tried and true ideas to be successful. It is obvious that Blizzard is gearing up to make Overwatch a mainstream sport. Additionally, it is also clear that they have been influenced by traditional North American sports.
Overwatch League Needs to Borrow More from Mainstream Sports
In the NFL there are two main conferences, the NFC and the AFC. During the normal season, teams within the NFC play NFC teams, and AFC teams play AFC teams until one team from each division is on top. From here, these two top teams will go against each other at the Superbowl for the title of champion. While there are inter-conference matchups, winning your division (the NFC North, for example) is key to making it to the playoffs. This is an effective model simply because it helps develop rivalries inside and outside of each division. If your team gets a chance to compete in the Superbowl, then that's a big deal. When teams are able to come back year after year as the New England Patriots do, legacies (and villains) begin to emerge.
Real Divisions Build Real Rivalries
A few months ago, fans got to see the Dallas Fuel Homestand event. The event proved that a Battle for Texas can be just as fiery as a Battle for LA. It is rivalries like this that will make Overwatch League stronger and here is where I will make a very controversial statement.
Overwatch League needs to reshuffle the divisions before they start doing the home and away schedules. Blizzard announced that the 2020 home game schedule would see teams traveling to the home cities of teams within their division. To ease up some of the financial and physical restraint of extended and consistent travel, shaping divisions around a geographical radius would make more sense.
Make the "Battle For" Actually Matter
First things first, put the California teams in the same division, the Texas teams in the same division, the Chinese teams in the same division, and the Canadian teams in the same division. Having players fly back and forth from China or Korea every other week could get exhausting for players and expensive for the teams. There are 13 NA teams and 7 teams spread across the EU and Asian regions, so Blizzard could even add more non-NA teams to the Overwatch League to balance it out.
With the current divisions, we won't see a Battle for Texas or a Battle for Canada actually matter (other than for bragging rights) unless they reshape the divisions or make new homestand events. Additionally, unlike League of Legends, there are no residency requirements for the Overwatch League. Since players can be drafted to any team regardless of nationality, there are fewer restrictions than what we see in traditional sports (and even other esports).
Shake up those Divisions
As of right now, there are only two Atlantic Division teams in the Top 10. Shaking up the divisions could force teams to reset for the contention for the top. By shaping the divisions by the geographical location and general ranking while also adding new teams means that Blizzard will have the structure for them to come in and compete with teams in their general area. It is through this process that you develop a hierarchy within the League.
A minor note: NYXL's Contenders team, XL2 Academy, is now only accepting players who are from New York. Due to the skill gap between certain regions of the world, I doubt we will see someone drafted to play for their home team, but it is an admirable idea of a hometown hero rising through the Path to Pro series. This is just another point where Overwatch can set up legacies and create a loyal fan base.
The difficulty appears, however when we make teams play within their division during the season, as some teams may never matchup against one another. The simple solution is to host an off-weekend, similar to the All-Stars weekend, where teams, regardless of division, come and fight in competitive and arcade style modes. This solves the dilemma that problem and improves Overwatch as a spectator sport. When Blizzard gives the teams the chance to play low stakes matches with new compositions, the game becomes even more interesting and gives us a break from the normal compositions we’re used to.
I want these divisions to have their own distinctive brands and personalities, all the while developing rivalries between each other. The only way this can happen is if Blizzard makes these rivalries actually mean something.
Images VIA: Robert Paul for the Overwatch League, List courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment