Saying goodbye is sometimes extremely hard. Just this month, OWL fans had to say goodbye to three of the league’s most senior players. On Friday, December 6th, Do-hyeon “Pine” Kim left the NYXL team, to become a streamer full-time under the NYXL flag. A day later Jake “Jake” Lyon decided to step away from the Houston Outlaws for other opportunities. Then Thursday, Scott “Custa” Kennedy aired his final episode of the Custa News Network where he revealed he would be retiring from the Overwatch League. Later that same day, the Overwatch League announced the addition of Jake to the caster booth and Custa to the analyst desk.
Admittedly, it will be strange not watching Pine, Jake, and Custa walk out with their teams come February. In a young league, consistency is something viewers usually need in order to feel connected. As these veterans move on to new journeys, there is a growing concern for the overall health of the league. Despite being excited for Jake and Custa to stick around OWL, people still want to see the game of Overwatch played at a professional level by their favorite players.
However, this isn’t a time to call Overwatch a dying esport. In fact, it is very much the opposite. Having popular players retire isn’t an indictment on the heath of the league, but rather a naturally occurring event in every major sports and esports league.
Players Retire, It Happens
It is easy to forget that players truly devote their entire lives around a game, and it leads to fatigue. Between scrims, game reviews, and gameday itself, players envelop themselves completely inside this one game. Often times their free time is spent playing Overwatch as well and some contracts even mention players must stream for a certain amount of time. It can get overwhelming playing the same game at an extremely high level for over eight hours a day.
It is completely normal to have seasoned pros want to do something different. Fans will point to an unfavorable meta or lack of diverse gameplay as a reason for some players leaving the game. But more often than not, it’s because the player simply wanted to follow a new path. Most players haven’t finished their schooling, and even more, have been playing Overwatch competitively since they were 16. With OWL’s age minimum at 18, young Contenders stars will have to compete for a few more years before they are even eligible for the highest level.
Don’t be discouraged seeing pros call it quits after only two seasons of OWL. Across the board, American pro athletes have an average career of under five years, with the NFL having the shortest lifespan of 3.3 years.
[Sources: MLB Average, NBA Average]
When those young Contenders players finally do join OWL, they will have been competing for potentially over three years. Pine, Jake, Custa all had started their path to OWL in 2016 by grinding away in various tournaments. Going forward, we may see an increase in average career length if more support for Contenders comes around.
Sticking Around After Competing
The biggest benefit to players retiring is their ability to transition seamlessly into different roles like a caster or analyst. In the NFL, the majority of the analyst desk members are former coaches and players. Probably the most beloved caster currently is Tony Romo, the former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Although he left the league without reaching the Super Bowl, he’s become one of the go-to voices for insights into play-by-plays.
We’ve had a few matches with Jake’s casting already, but it will be exciting to see how Custa transitions to the desk. After seeing him at the desk of the Custa News Network on Youtube, it’s safe to say he isn’t too shy around a camera.
With time, the analyst desk will have an abundance of real, pro-player insights into the game just as the NFL and MLB have now. As more players join the desk, more information is added into the discussion thanks to the players have that OWL experience. This isn’t a knock on the current analyst desk, but incorporating more former pros will strengthen the analyst team as a whole.
The Opportunity for Something New
The reality of a competitive league is that there are truly only two organic ways to open up space on a roster: cuts and retirement. As people retire, it paves the way for a new class of talent to take over the league. There is an incredible amount of talent in the Contenders scene, but not nearly enough team spots to give them all homes. It is only a matter of time that teams will need fresh faces on their rosters, either to find a new spark to energize the team or to fill a void left by a veteran retiring.
Not only is there a void to fill for talent, but with these three leaving, there is now time for a new personality to step into the limelight. Fellow TGH writer London Bishop discusses this more in-depth in his piece, Which Players Can Take up the Mantle of Fan Engagement, but it bears mentioning again. Leagues need players with personalities that fans can support or root against. OWL will succeed as fans get attached to certain personalities, and with three extremely popular players moving on, it is now up to the new class of players to fill in the gaps.
OWL is Still Young
This offseason had plenty of league-wide roster shakeups, even before the news came out about these players retiring. Their teams are completely revamped across the board. It is almost poetic that each player leaves their team as the roster completely evolves. A true changing of the guard in OWL.
At the end of the day, that’s all it is. It’s a change, and change can be scary. But ultimately it is important to realize that a fan’s favorite player will eventually cap their last point and spam their last spray on stage. They aren’t gone from the game that they devoted their lives too just yet, in fact, they are looking to make OWL even better. They are making the way for new faces to make their mark and throwing the gauntlet down to see who can take the challenge of being an Overwatch pro.
In its third season, OWL will be doing things bigger and better. OWL will be just fine as it heads into something brand new.
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