It’s been an interesting couple weeks for the Overwatch League, but not for the usual reasons. Instead of the quiet undercurrent of hype that always precedes a new stage, there was nothing but confusion. What patch would Stage 4 be played on? Will the changes to Brigitte and Hanzo show up on stage? Do the players even know the answer to those questions? While players and teams reached the same page eventually, the week before Stage 4 was filled with conflicting reports.
A deafening silence
At the end of Stage 3, teams were told that they would play Stage 4 on a modified version of the May 3rd patch, 1.23. Said patch included Brigitte, the early nerfs to her Shield Bash, and Hanzo’s ability rework. Patch 1.22, its immediate predecessor, omitted Hanzo’s face-lift and the early tweaks to Brigitte. By noon on Monday, May 14, teams were told that they would be notified of the League’s official ruling regarding Stage 4’s patch. The deadline passed without any updates.
How can teams scrim effectively if they’re potentially working with the wrong version of two crucial heroes? How can coaches prepare their playbooks for the stage without such information? There are a lot of moving parts there, and the lack of communication from Blizzard – up until Commissioner Nate Nanzer’s statement on Tuesday the 15th – has been troubling.
The Overwatch League’s lack of transparency extends outside the game, as well. The League’s core rule book, a comprehensive outline of all behavior and conduct standards for all OWL players and personnel, was only released in its entirety via a leak from storied esports journalist Richard Lewis. Many have lambasted league officials for the lengths required to gain access to the document. That’s not even mentioning player salaries- a major talking point in traditional sports leagues. Details regarding players’ contracts and pay dynamics have yet to see the light of day, though they are still a major point of contention for fans and journalists alike. The League seems content to keep the details of player salaries a closely guarded secret, though they surely won’t stay hidden forever.
that’s need-to-know info, thank you
This isn’t the first time that the League has struggled with transparency, nor has it been the last. Contenders teams that have to play back through Trials were informed on the 23rd that they must play their Trials matches on the current OWL patch, according to Last Night’s Leftovers support player Alex “Ajax” Jackson. Ajax explained the main problem with decision in a thread on his Twitter.
“No one has practiced this patch in over a month. The game has changed so much since then…We have only 3 people we can scrim now. Only people that got relegated to Trials have this patch with tournament realm client. Open teams don’t have it yet. We can only scrim 3 teams… the same teams we don’t want to show strats to.”
I reached out to Ajax for a little more insight. The picture he painted me was not pretty.
“[Open Division] teams are playing on live for qualifications to trials. They don’t get access to 1.22 until they qualify for Trials. Trials teams were just informed about the patch a few days ago, so we aren’t getting that much of advantage. [LNL] and Bye Week have only had 1 day of practice on the old patch because of the fact we only have 2 teams to scrim, because Grizzlys Esports only scrims EU. [On top of that,] we are in PIT and BEAT, and both of those tournies are on live patch.”
A lack of good scrim time and teams to practice against isn’t just frustrating for the teams, either. This inconsistency will no doubt result in lower quality matches- something Contenders’ already low view count can scarcely afford. To up their numbers and turn a profit, Contenders should be running a patch everyone can practice and be competitive on. Until then, all they’ll find is a group of frustrated players.
In the face of said confusion and frustration, Blizzard at last provided some context in a statement made via the Path to Pro Twitter on the 25th.
For some, the clarification is too little, too late. Dusttin “Dogman” Bowerman, another aspiring T2 player, has even made a petition to have Blizzard reverse these changes for Trials teams. With their entire livelihood on the line, these aspiring OWL players can’t afford to deal with the stumbling blocks Blizzard has placed at their feet.
nothing to it but to do it
For OWL enthusiasts, there’s a certain degree of detachment between them and these inconsistencies. For the players themselves, there’s not much to do but play the hand they’ve been dealt. Many teams had already been practicing on 1.22 in anticipation of Nanzer’s statement, and while there are plenty of people who don’t like the idea of playing on an old patch again, others welcomed the stability.
In a recent tweet, Nikola “sleepy” Andrews expressed his content with the patch announcement.
“I’m glad stage 4 will be on the old patch,” the tweet reads. “As much as it sucks for it to not be the same patch on live, do you guys really think hanzo isn’t going to get nerfed [sic] VERY soon?”.
League officials seem to have agreed with sleepy. Concerns regarding tournament stability (including a major bug affecting the ability to pause certain game modes) and in-game balance concerns were factors cited in Nanzer’s statement, and seemed to be all the justification the League needed to keep Stage 4 on 1.22. Even so, fans on Twitter and Reddit came forward with their doubts about the decision, citing flagging viewership in Stage 3 and the irrelevancy of an old patch compared to the live version of the game. There was even an online petition with over 9000 signatures imploring Blizzard to bring patch 1.23 to Stage 4.
Of course, two weeks of playtime has shown us that this wasn’t too big of a deal. We’ve seen an impressive variety of heroes and strategies in league games this stage, and that’s made for some pretty entertaining matches. Even so, Blizzard’s inconsistent communications remain, casting a shadow over what would otherwise be a spectacular stage of play.
It’s clear that the fans have certain expectations from the Overwatch League and its organizers. In many ways, the league has exceeded its earliest expectations tremendously – the success and profitability of the enterprise has been unprecedented, and it doesn’t seem like that’s slowing down anytime soon. In other ways, though, the league still has a long way to go.
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Featured Photo Courtesy of the Overwatch League