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OWWC 2019’s Missed Opportunities: Why Teams Cancelling Matters

OWWC 2019

OWWC 2018: 7Lions’ Mad Lads

2018’s Team UK after beating Team USA | Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

Coming into 2018’s Overwatch World Cup, most fans didn’t expect much from Team UK. With only one Overwatch League player on the roster in Isaac “Boombox” Charles, they looked thoroughly outmatched at Blizzcon; on paper, at least. However, Team UK delivered a shocking upset over fan favorites Team USA in the quarterfinals. Although they fell to South Korea in the semifinals, they walked away from the match with a 2-0 scoreline. Throughout 2018’s Blizzcon, this would be the most challenging and closest series that South Korea would face. Following Team UK’s exceptional performance at the World Cup, Finley “Kyb” Adisi, Harrison “Kruise” Pond, and Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth would all see Overwatch League contracts for 2019. 

It wasn’t just the playoffs performance of Team UK that brought Overwatch League attention to underrated players in 2018, however. Neither Germany nor Poland made it out of the Paris qualifier. Nonetheless, the aftermath of the World Cup saw Steven “Kodak” Rosenberger and Karol “Danye” Szcześniak signed to the League. Renan “alemao” Moretto became the first Contenders South America player to play in the Overwatch League when the Boston Uprising picked him up following Team Brazil’s strong showing at the Los Angeles qualifier. Xu “guxue” Qiulin’s incredible talent had always been acknowledged by those who watched Chinese Contenders. However, it was his performance at the World Cup that turned him into an international star. On the same team, Huang “leave” Xin was given the opportunity to show the world that he was among the best DPS players in-game even after a year not competing. 

Breakout Talents of Yesteryear

Joshua “Eqo” Corona | Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

Even before 2018, the Overwatch World Cup has been a proving ground for hidden talent. Before Joshua “Eqo” Corona was one half of the Philadelphia Fusion’s star 2018 DPS duo, he first came to international awareness on Israel’s 2017 World Cup team. It was when he played on 2016’s Thai World Cup team that  Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod would meet Dennis “INTERNETHULK” Hawelka. This chance encounter led to Mickie being offered a place on an EnVyUs team that would go on to make Overwatch history. 

Of course, the World Cup isn’t the only reason these players were signed. Consistently strong performances in their home region, their personalities, and their performance in tryouts all played a part. Some of them were likely being scouted even before their standout World Cup performances. However, it was the World Cup that built these players’ brands on the international stage. Year upon year, players have made a name for themselves at the World Cup and used that momentum to propel themselves through the path to pro. 

OWWC 2019: What Went Wrong

All of this is why the number of teams forced to drop out of 2019’s World Cup due to funding constraints is disheartening to anyone who cares about the future of competitive Overwatch. Argentina, Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Kuwait, Malaysia, Peru, Poland, Romania, and Switzerland were all unable to raise the money needed to send their players to BlizzCon (Brazil & Thailand also had to drop out, albeit for visa reasons). Blizzard made the choice to only provide funding for last year’s top ten teams to make it to the tournament; teams that all originate from wealthy,  infrastructure-rich countries with thriving esports industries and would easily make it on their own.

Blizzard’s decision to pay the teams none of the revenue from their own official merchandise exacerbated the problem. Several teams, such as Ireland and Hong Kong, had to design and sell alternative jerseys in order to fundraise. None of the teams that canceled were favorites to win the championship. Most analysts didn’t expect they’d even make their way to playoffs. However, their absence still made a difference for the worse. 

OWWC 2019
Team Ireland’s jersey was sold to help fundraise for travel costs | Image: Team Ireland

The way the Overwatch community came together to support teams’ fundraising efforts shows how important the World Cup is. From Brandon “thibbledork” Padilla’s fundraising streams to the Monkey Bubble European Invitiational, prominent figures and organizations did everything they could to help teams make their way to the World Cup. The World Cup is important to the fans who watch their nation compete on stage, of course. But it’s also important to the scene as a whole. Every withdrawal from this year’s Overwatch World Cup robbed teams and fans of a chance to discover another Fusions, Mickie, or Eqo in 2019.

All Underdogs go to Heaven

This year, players like Lucas “Leaf” Loison, Victor “Scaler” Godsk, and Jeffery “Vizility” de Vries have put their names on the map. Unexpected upsets from dark horse teams such as France defeating South Korea in the group stage and the Netherlands defeating Finland in the preliminaries told the world that smaller, overlooked regions had talent to offer as well. Even teams that didn’t make it to the playoffs showed off their talent; Russia’s Denis “Tonic” Ryulov and Ilya “Txao” Makarov reminded the world of their potential. Saudi Arabia made their first debut on their international stage with a strong victory over Portugal. Iceland’s victory at the Monkey Bubble Invitiational drummed up excitement about a team the broader Overwatch community wouldn’t have given a second thought. 

2020 & Beyond: What Next?

The World Cup showed Overwatch fans across the globe what players and regions had to offer the scene. But the absence of several nations due to funding constraints represents an enormous missed opportunity on Blizzard’s behalf. Due to Blizzard’s financial decisions regarding the World Cup, the community will never know what breakout stars we might have seen from Switzerland or Argentina, or what the passion and excitement of Malaysian and Polish fans would have added to the tournament. Hopefully, next year more teams will be able to attend. The World Cup will see even more dark horse runs like this year’s Denmark, Russia, and Netherlands squads’. Hopefully, Blizzard will learn from this year’s mistake and elevate the smaller, underlooked regions full of hidden gems and potential. 

Whatever path Blizzard chooses for the Overwatch World Cup moving forward, the community can still make a difference. If fans can continue to show the same level of passion for their local scenes as they did this year; if the community can continue to band together and support each other; the hidden gems the world will discover in the smaller regions will make competitive Overwatch better for everyone. 

Featured image courtesy of Team Israel. 

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