Blizzard Entertainment has revealed the Overwatch League 2021 season changes and what fans can expect from this year's remote competition.

12:48, 15 Jan 2021

Get ready for an overhaul of how the professional Overwatch scene is played, as Blizzard Entertainment has just announced the Overwatch League 2021 season changes. Off the back of a surprisingly bountiful year for esports in 2020, the global coronavirus pandemic isn't stopping the Overwatch League (OWL) powering forward this year. OWL 2021 kicks off in April as 20 teams from around the globe battle to become the masters of Blizzard's hero shooter.

The online BlizzCon is coming next month and will feature an OWL champion event with San Francisco Shock vs. the World. Alongside this, there's expected to be a huge announcement on Overwatch 2, meaning Blizzard's world is continuing to grow. With the dawning of a new age, there are obviously some changes on the horizon. Based on the feedback from fans, players, and those at the top, the changes are coming thick and fast. 

 

Overwatch League 2021 season changes: What's new?

Going in-depth about what's new in 2021, Jon Spector, Vice President of Overwatch esports, took to YouTube and detailed the upcoming divisions. At the top of the agenda, OWL 20121 will separate the Eastern and Western teams until the playoff stage of the competition. Spector added that OWL 2021 will keep the four-tournament format of 2020, with things coming to a close in September.

Namely, division names have been altered to reflect regional competitions. The North American and APAC regions will be renamed as West and East for 2021. Competing in OWL 2021 will once again be online thanks to COVID-19, which has also forced a few teams to move divisions. The usually international East region is adding two US teams as the Los Angeles Valiant and Philadelphia Fusion will now fall under the East umbrella.

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We recently spoke to Overwatch Esports Vice President, Jon Spector, to discuss the changes, which you can read here

Discussing the changes, Blizzard said, "To take full advantage of what was learned last season, we’ve made several changes that will improve the quality of competition and the fan experience for this coming season". For the first time ever, OWL will start with remote play.

The COVID-19 challenges have also led to Blizzard working on a tool for cross-region play. Blizzard teased "a new system that establishes minimum latency connections so that teams anywhere in the world can scrimmage against one another or conduct practices if players are apart". 

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Overwatch League 2021 season changes: What else do we know?

OWL first hit the scene in 2018 and has already grown massively in just a few years. 2020 was supposed to be a milestone as Blizzard wanted to shift the league to a home-and-away format where teams would play out of venues in their home cities. It's a model similar to traditional sports, however, everything was disrupted by COVID-19. For the time being, OWL's grand plans to tour the globe are put on hold. With no sign of coronavirus going anywhere, it makes sense that we stick with an online OWL to play safe. Only recently, we've seen pro-League of Legends teams be decimated by an outbreak of coronavirus. 

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Elshere, Blizzard is hyping the second year of partnership with YouTube. The move from Twitch to YouTube was a point of contention in 2020, but now that the dust has settled, it's full-steam ahead. Discussing what's next with YouTube, Blizzard said, "For our fans, we’re working very closely with YouTube as we enter the second year of our partnership. There are a lot of things in the works that we can’t reveal yet, but we can say that we’re going to level up the quality of our match streams, add more value to watching live matches, and improve the discoverability of live Overwatch content.

"We’re also making improvements to our match broadcasts with a new and improved virtual set, a freshly redesigned graphics package, and changes to our show format that place even more emphasis on match play. We’ll have more to share on this later in the offseason". 

The million-dollar question is when/if we'll return to live matches. Answering the question on everyone's lips, Blizzard isn't ruling it out - it just doesn't sound like it'll be soon. Expanding on the state of live games, Blizzard concluded: "While we cannot predict the future, we hope to welcome fans back to live events if health and safety conditions improve in 2021, but that might not happen, and it might not be at every location where teams compete. Our top priority remains to keep our players, fans, and staff safe". 

The latest update comes just after Activision announced sister league, the Call of Duty League (CDL) will launch in February. So there we have it, that's what's new and not-so-new with the Overwatch League in 2021. We can smell the virtual gunpowder from here.

 

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Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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