After two successful opening years in operation, the Overwatch World League (OWL) faces its biggest test yet in the 2020 season, and that doesn’t include the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on the schedule of games.
In 2020, the OWL will see games move from a central hub in Los Angeles, to specialist venues in the home cities of the teams competing in the event. This is the very first time that a major esports league has followed the example of sports such as the NFL or NBA, where teams will play a city-based home/away format.
Ambitious New Structure
There’s no doubt that the Coronavirus outbreak in China, which is home to three teams in the OWL, has impacted this first season of home/away fixtures. This has facilitated a major rearrangement of games, with all fixtures scheduled to take place in China in February and March postponed, with rearranged games to be played in South Korea at the end of March.
With streaming of the game switching from Twitch to Google (viewed on the Overwatch League YouTube Channel), in what could be a make-or-break season for the series, to add further complications, the new season of Overwatch Contenders is also now underway with a series of start dates for seven regions of action all over the globe.
The action kicks off in Australia on 23rd Feb, the Pacific region on the 24th Feb, South America on 29th Feb, Europe and North American on 3rd March, China on the 10th March and lastly, South Korea on the 11th March. Together with a new ecosystem, which will hopefully make the progression through the contender system more uniform across all regions, it is hoped that the Contenders league will provide plenty of quality players for the top-level OWL in future seasons.
When you consider what is happening in the OWL in terms of the tournament organization and, the new ecosystem for Overwatch Contenders and the new broadcasting partnership, it is fair to say that this ambitious new structure for the series will either make or break it.
Key Factors for OWL and Esports Industry to Consider
While much has rightly been made of the potential demands on individual players, in terms of the number of games and more pertinently, the traveling they face, there are also wider implications at stake for the future of the OWL and also for future esports tournaments.
Whether this new structure world for the OWL could shape the future of top esports tournaments events for years to come. If this City-based format works and proves popular with fans, as it seems to have done in the opening weeks in Dallas and New York, then it is not unreasonable to expect other top esports tournaments to follow suit with a similar setup.
Indeed, the new Call of Duty League is already being set up along just such lines.
While the steps taken to mitigate travel and burnout for players are eye-catching, it will effectively be the appeal of the tournament to fans online and, crucially, within the 20 host cities that will decide whether the whole OWL set up is a winner. There’s no doubt that, Coronavirus apart, it has been a promising start already.
However, it will only be at the end of season 3 and when the state of the teams and players can be assessed, that we can judge whether the new OWL scheduling and structure is one that could shape the future of esports tournaments for years to come.
Images courtesy of the Overwatch League