For many, the prospect of making the Overwatch League as a professional player is a dream beyond comprehension. From the high SR floor to the insurmountable failed Path to Pro attempts, making it to the top-tier in Overwatch is a tough feat. With that being said, the Hangzhou Spark have decided to lend a hand to those looking to become pro in the 2021 season by way of an open tryout.
This concept is not the first of its kind, however. During the 2019 off-season, both the LA Valiant and Boston Uprising held open tryouts. These stunts are usually just held for serious Contenders players to make a name for themselves, but the open try out is an omen of sorts for the OWL. What ended up happening to both LA and Boston is interesting in hindsight, considering what the Spark just announced.
— Hangzhou Spark (@Hangzhou_Spark) September 30, 2020
The Valiant and the Uprising
Both the Valiant and Uprising were at a crossroads by the end of the season. Neither team made it past play-ins and contracts were up in the air. As both these teams announced their open tryouts early in September of 2019, both teams also let go of the majority of their roster just a month or so later.
Looking for a shot to join #BostonUp? Sign up now for our open tryouts!
— Boston Uprising (@BostonUprising) September 10, 2019
On October 21, 2019, the Uprising announced the departure of Kristian “Kellex” Keller, Minseok “AimGod” Kwon, Renan “alemao” Moretto, Zion “Persia” Yang, Richard “rCk” Kanerva, and Dohyung “Stellar” Lee. This was the start of the rebuild for the Uprising.
We feel that everyone deserves a shot at playing on the big stage.
— Los Angeles Valiant (@LAValiant) September 4, 2019
On October 23, 2019, the Valiant released seasoned veterans Indy “SPACE” Halpern, Brady “Agilities” Girardi, and Youngseo “KariV” Park. This would also start the rebuild for the Valiant.
Now the same scenario is in place for the Spark.
The Case for the Spark
Hangzhou is not set up to replace a majority of their roster utilizing the open tryout or Contenders fillers as both the Uprising and Valiant did. But this, in turn, does create speculation that the team’s eleven-player roster may be renovating for the 2021 season. Firstly, in the Twitter post announcing the tryouts, the instructions are listed in both English and Korean. (It would also make sense that the team made a Weibo post for Chinese hopefuls.) What is intriguing about the tweet is whether English-speaking individuals have a chance at a Spark roster spot or even if Korean-speaking players have priority in the same way. The Spark easily could have put all three languages in the post, but the team decided to only post the English and Korean versions on Twitter.
With Jisub “paJoin” Hwang at the helm, it would make sense as to why this may be the case. He previously led a full-Korean roster and is Korean himself. On top of that, Hangzhou has had communication problems from the start of the team’s history.
Former head coach Muho “Mask” Lee is quoted as saying this, “English is used for location commands (“We’re going up to the second floor”), Korean for things like ultimates (the Korean word for “hammer” is used as a shorthand for Earthshatter), and Mandarin for things like retreating and regrouping.”
Perhaps paJoin is looking to simplify things moving forward. While this is feasible, Hangzhou is also anchored by current All-Star player Qiulin “Guxue” Xu, who happens to be the catalyst to the comms’ Chinese inclusion. Others like Chinese rookie support duo Tong “ColdesT” Xiaodong and Liu “M1KA” Jiming also benefit from the tri-language system.
The issue at hand is which players will be staying and which will be leaving based on this call for an open tryout. Previous examples of this have prophesied that this will lead to an entire team blowup. But to give Hangzhou the benefit of the doubt, these could also easily just lead to one or two simple moves. Hangzhou has been weary to change in the past, but they also made one of the best moves of the year by bringing in Minho “Architect” Park this season.
Things would get further complicated if the team brought in a Western player, but perhaps the team may be trialling that very sentiment. US player Charlie “nero” Zwarg has had success on a similar Korean/Chinese roster with the Guangzhou Charge. Regardless, the open tryout is a sign of change and with some core pieces in place for the Spark, it is all about trying to find the right supporting cast for a successful 2021 season. If bringing in new blood is the answer for a historically-stagnant team, then fans and the organization alike may come to embrace change.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Hangzhou Spark
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