The highly-anticipated announcement of Overwatch 2 took center stage at this year’s BlizzCon. However, familiar faces made sure to bring esports fans up to speed on the future of the Overwatch League as well. Chris Puckett, Robert “hexagrams” Kirkbride, and Erik “DoA” Lonnquist took the stage in Hall A, alongside senior director of esports Jonathan Spector. Shortly after the panel began, the Los Angeles Valiant’s Scott “Custa” Kennedy and the Atlanta Reign’s Andrej “babybay” Francisty joined them. The group used their hour on stage to fill the crowd in on changes for season three, speculate on what geolocation will mean for the league, and answer questions. Though plenty of unknowns will still remain until later in the offseason, the panel shone some light on what to expect moving forward.
New Structure, New Format
Perhaps the panel’s largest announcement revealed that the Overwatch League’s match structure and map pool will be revamped in 2020. Starting in season three, all matches will played on a first-to-three structure. In practice, this won’t necessarily change game length very much. Now, the shortest a match can be is three maps, with one team winning every one. However, in the event of a draw – or even several draws – the match will continue on until one team has decisively won three maps. This also removes the need to consider map differential in a team’s results.
Another notable change lies in the season’s map pool. Five control maps will always be included in the map pool, along with three maps of every other type. Since season three will not include stages, it remains unknown if or when the maps in rotation will change during the season. The midseason All-Star Event, however, may provide an opportunity for a shift. Push, the new game mode introduced in Overwatch 2, will be introduced into the map pool when it is integrated into Overwatch.
With teams moving to their home cities and playing on a home-and-away basis, the match schedule has understandably gone through a revamp. Teams will play twenty-eight matches over the course of the season again. However, they will only play on Saturday and Sunday. As expected, start times will depend on the home team’s time zone. When asked, Jonathan Spector explained that the league has not yet determined how broadcasting games will change now that teams have overlapping schedules. However, he insisted that they are aware of the challenges, and that they will continue to work on making the Overwatch League accessible to online viewers.
Anticipating the Offseason
By the time the panel met up at BlizzCon, plenty of teams had already kicked off their offseason with a bang. The Atlantic division in particular has played a considerable amount of roster shuffle. There, several teams have gutted their 2019 lineups and started over. DoA in particular expressed a lot of curiosity about how many unknowns still exist in the division. He expects things to look very different by the time season three begins in February. Despite those unknowns, several members of the panel turned to the Atlantic division for the team they’re most excited to see in 2020.
Shortly before BlizzCon, the Philadelphia Fusion announced that they would retain DPS stars Jae-hyeok “carpe” Lee and Josue “Eqo” Corona for the season ahead. Both babybay and Jonathan Spector cited the Fusion’s DPS lineup as something to anticipate. Bolstered by a revamped team full of established talent, 2020 could give carpe and Eqo the opportunity to shine again.
The rest of the panel took a look at the Pacific division for teams to look forward to. Described by DoA as a “stacked division…and then Dallas,” the Pacific teams are indeed a force to be reckoned with. After their significant roster changes, including the acquisition of Joon-yeong “Profit” Park and Jae-hee “Gesture” Hong, DoA thinks 2020 could gear up to be a stellar year for the Seoul Dynasty. Custa, meanwhile, ignored his team rivalry to hype up the Los Angeles Gladiators, crediting their potential to build a strong roster around new off-tank Indy “SPACE” Halpern. Rounding out the group, hexagrams believes that the San Francisco Shock can only build off of their star-studded 2019 season, and he looks forward to seeing what they do next.
A New Home
Looking at geolocation itself, babybay remarked that the traveling would definitely take some getting used to. Teams will spend the season rotating both around the United States and beyond, with some of the Pacific teams staying in China for several weeks of games. After two seasons of living, playing, and working in Los Angeles, hitting the road will provide unique challenges. However, babybay added that the Atlanta Homestand weekend taught him that home crowd hype can allow teams to thrive. In July, the Reign played for a crowd made up primarily of their own fans, who enthusiastically cheered them and booed at their opponents. The energy of their fanbase provided a unique environment to play in, and babybay insists that it helped their performance.
Custa concurred, adding that getting booed in Dallas got in the heads of several of his teammates. He also mentioned that playing at home gives teams added motivation to perform well for their local fans. The Los Angeles Valiant lost both of their homestand games, and Custa remarked that it felt especially devastating to lose on the team’s own turf. Now that every team has their own home to defend, he believes that it’ll add even more motivation to play hard and play well.
The panel also took audience questions about the Overwatch World Cup, which had begun playoffs at the same time. Despite drastic changes to the event’s structure and an understandably chilly response to those changes, DoA reiterated that he believes the World Cup has been and should be a venue for rising Overwatch talent. He added that the event has historically provided a chance for both players and casters to find a new audience. 2019 marked the World Cup casting debut of Connor “Avast” Prince and Jennifer “LemonKiwi” Pichette. DoA would like to see the Overwatch World Cup continue to provide those new opportunities moving forward.
Though Custa focused more on players than casters, he agreed with DoA’s overarching statement. He was one of several Overwatch League players to step away from the World Cup this year with the specific purpose of giving the opportunity to new players. According to him, several players in season two got trials specifically because of their World Cup performance. With that in mind, he sees the continued value in World Cup as an event.
Moving beyond this year, and even next year, Jonathan Spector remarked briefly on long-term plans for the Overwatch League. They opted not to bring in any new teams for the 2020 season. Instead, they preferred to adjust to geolocation with the lineup they had and work out issues with the new structure before bringing new franchises into the mix. However, Spector said that the league’s long-term vision currently includes a total of twenty-eight teams, with further expansion possible if they succeed. Considering the way that the World Cup revealed talent in untapped nations, hopefully these expansion plans will provide representation for this talent.
The Road Ahead
There’s no question that 2020 will prove a very educational year for the Overwatch League. As more information comes to light, the plans ahead will likely become clearer. However, the offseason still has a long way to go before it settles down completely. At any rate, the BlizzCon panel brought some new perspective to the table, and that’s always helpful when so much still remains up in the air.
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Featured image courtesy of Darby Joyce.
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