On Thursday, Blizzard Entertainment announced a new direction for Overwatch Contenders, their global Tier 2 competition. In a preview of the 2020 calendar, Blizzard outlined the changes and revealed a fresh format. Gone is the traditional round-robin league format. In its place comes a “bi-weekly tournament series”. For a full explanation of how the new system will function, check out Blizzard’s official announcement. So what does all this mean for the future of Contenders?
More Games? More Games
First things first, for anyone wondering what these changes will do for the total amount of Overwatch, have no fear. In 2019, Contenders seasons featured 28 regular-season games and five or six playoff matches. All of that typically took place over seven weeks of round-robin play with maybe a week or two of playoffs.
In 2020, a Contenders season will be composed of four single-elimination tournaments, each will have 11 matches. For those keeping score, that’s 44 Contenders matches even before considering the double-elimination playoff tournament to end the season. That’s another 14 high-stakes matches to wrap up each season.
On top of that, Contenders Trials will be expanding into its own bi-weekly tournaments. With so much crossover between Contenders, Trials and Open Division this year – more on that later – Contenders Trials will be a more consistent source of Tier 2 action. All in all, the new system will lead to far more opportunities for players to show their stuff.
Widening the Path to Pro
The new system also looks to promote more movement between the different levels of official competition. At the beginning of each season, Open Division will give any team an opportunity to earn a place in Contenders Trials. A strong performance there will secure their spot in Contenders. Throughout the season teams will move between Trials and Contenders, giving them chances to prove themselves consistently.
A second Open Division at the halfway mark of the season solves one of the biggest issues with the current system. With just two Open Divisions per year, opportunities for new teams to make their names were limited. Those chances will be doubled in 2020, so expect to see some new faces as the Path to Pro becomes more accessible.
Quality of Life Upgrade
One of the biggest complaints about the current Contenders format was that the regular season didn’t feel essential a lot of the time. When six of the eight teams in a region make the playoffs, the regular season loses some of its importance. For the most part, Contenders lacked any sense of urgency.
Beyond those structural issues, the quality of matches sometimes suffered from wildly differing team power levels. Contenders has always been a hodgepodge of Academy teams, endemic organizations and unsigned teams just trying to survive. Each of those cases comes with vastly different resources. The result was a significant number of one-sided matches.
With the shift to shorter, more frequent tournaments, Contenders should see a huge increase of average match quality. Single elimination brackets during the regular season mean that every match has real stakes. The format inherently filters out the weakest teams first, leaving only the best to vie for a title each week. Frequent iteration will be vital for teams that want to find consistent success.
Overall, the new format represents a new vision for Contenders, one that better captures the spirit of the Path to Pro. The pipeline from Open Division to Contenders is more direct than ever. The shift to a tournament structure will reflect the volatility of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 scenes. Frequent events will give the fans more Overwatch and more chances to see the best teams go toe to toe throughout the season.
These changes address structural issues and push Contenders to better serve its players and fans. The only criticism of this announcement is that it comes during the Gauntlet, the premier event on the Contenders calendar. More could have been done to integrate the announcement with the festivities. When that’s the biggest complaint though, it’s certainly a good sign.
Featured image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
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