All signs point to this offseason being the most chaotic we will ever see.
The 2020 Overwatch League season will come to a climactic end in just a few short weeks, however, preparation has already begun for most of the league when looking ahead to the 2021 season. With the constraints that the COVID-19 global pandemic has placed on the Overwatch League be it economic, systematic or some mixture of both, the knock-on effects will be felt throughout the entire league, perhaps for years to come. On top of that, the league has seen constant format changes that have come off the back of COVID-19 and with Overwatch’s upcoming sequel in the works people have a healthy dose of speculation as to what the league is going to look like in the coming year.
All that to say Overwatch, the game and the esports, is in an odd twilight, one that will undoubtedly impact the offseason. Failing fast is the name of the game from now on, and you’re already seeing movements that highlight just how ruthless the 2020 offseason will be.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly hit the bottom line for many Overwatch League franchises. This is going to show itself in roster downscaling both in size and perhaps in the ability to keep star players. Let’s be honest for a moment; the future of the league and its direction is unclear. We don’t know if any homestands will happen next year or if the league will remain online. Evening looking at another Activision Blizzard esport, the Esports Observer has published a report that the Call of Duty league is looking at a “bubble-like” system where the league is played from one hermetically sealed location. That very well could be on the horizon for the Overwatch League as well, and we could easily see the league return to its roots in that way. With all of these questions, you’ve got to wonder what’s going on at the top?
The investors were looking at a global league that would have home games and true international competition, are they more gunshy now with how limited travel will become? Is there any that shifted during the 2020 season? We saw the split of North America and Asia as well as monthly tournaments introduced, did the Overwatch League brass and the ownership groups enjoy anything about that? To top it all off, what’s to come of the league’s revenue share? ESPN published a report in 2017 that Overwatch League franchises were not guaranteed revenue sharing until after 2021.
With all that has gone on, has this changed? All of these questions lead us to a much more pragmatic approach to the 2021 season both in terms of roster building and overall franchise direction. In theory, this all could be a net positive for one branch of the Overwatch tree that has needed some love for quite some time.
Overwatch Contenders has been in need of some love for some time. It has always been a proving ground for those extremely talented young players who aim to cut their teeth in hopes to make it big. That said, it hasn't stopped some of the best prospects from competing. With the introduction of the "Worst Generation", the name given to 2020's class of impressively strong rookie players, it should not be a surprise to you when you see some of the biggest franchises in the league make plays for young talent.
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Looking at someone like Lee "ANS" Seonchang or Niclas "sHockWave" Jensen in the offseason might have you scratching your head, but now they've become mainstays of the league. Overwatch and its amateur leagues seem to always hold a stable of strong contenders ready to enter the league, and 2021 will be no different. For a game that seems to always be in flux, this talent churn from the amateur divisions on the biggest stage in Overwatch seems to remain constant, and the more that franchises get wise to this idea, the more eyes that will find their way to Overwatch Contenders.
With all of this in mind, there is a real possibility that the teams that have historically been at the bottom could end up outbidding those that have been at the top. The power dynamic could easily flip on its head as it did with the Shanghai Dragons and the Florida Mayhem, two organisation that have gone through a massive overhaul and are now two of the top teams in the league. Just looking at the outline currently, we have a team like the Vancouver Titans who are in a position to improve on their mid-season scramble. We have a team like the Dallas Fuel, who have historically underperformed when compared to the level of talent on the roster. They’re in for a massive rework that could actually propel them forward for once.
We don’t have a historical record for what a global pandemic does to an esports league. We don’t have any idea how all of these knock-on effects, be it COVID even looking ahead to Overwatch 2, will affect the league moving forward. So a word to the wise; be patient, expect the unexpected, and brace for some turbulence, 2020 isn’t over yet. All signs point to this offseason being the strangest and most chaotic offseason we will ever see in Overwatch League’s lifetime.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment