With the fast-approaching date of the Texas playoffs and still no information about ticketing fans were starting to wonder what was going on behind the scenes at Blizzard. The Overwatch League announced on Tuesday, August 25 that because of the resurgence of COVID, in the form of the delta variant, the in-person event plans had changed. Instead, the playoffs would be held in the same format as the regional tournaments, which is NA going to Hawaii.
Though this was sad news for fans it was the right call for everyone’s safety. But with this decision, new issues popped up. It is no secret the displeasure that NA teams and fans had voiced over this season about their travel to Hawaii as well as the unfair advantage it gives to APAC teams. With this being the playoffs and Grand Finals, no one wants the integrity of the results to be called into question. Could having two Overwatch League Grand Final Champions be the best option for the end of Season 4? Here is a look at the issues of the current setup and how the two champion format could work.
— Overwatch League (@overwatchleague) August 26, 2021
Issues with the Current Setup
The reason that NA travels to Hawaii is to reduce the ping that the players would have to play on. The lower ping comes with trade-offs. Charlie ‘Nero’ Zwarg mentioned on Twitter how he had heard that the equipment and environment are not the best for NA teams to perform at their best. Unlike traditional sports of where the teams plays don’t matter as much as a field or a rink will all be regulation standard, there can be a lot of variation between esport setups. This coupled with jet lag, loss of time for travel, and being in an unfamiliar setting can really impact the players and their performance.
ive heard from players that have traveled there that the setups are bad: desks, chairs, internet, low fps in teamfights and bad monitors. I dont know for sure but thats what i have heard and if its true it really is a massive disadvantage
— nero (@ow_nero) August 26, 2021
As well as having a disadvantage, the flip side is that though APAC does have a disruption of their schedule time-wise with the Hawaii set up, they are still in their own practice rooms on their own setups. It isn’t to say that isn’t a challenge for APAC but the adjustments are much less than for NA.
Why Does this Matter?
With NA at such a disadvantage, this is going to bring up questions after the season is over of whether team X earned their win or whether the result should have or could have been different if they were on LAN. This doesn’t feel good for any team that wins. It would devalue the hard work that the coaches and players had put in. It brings a lot of negativity to the community of fans who felt that their team had been cheated out of a win as well as the possibility of it really impacting the mental of players.
This season has already been so short that it seems like a disservice to end off with a grand final that will be destined to be fraught with negativity on both sides.
Two Overwatch League Champions?
Here is a hot take, it has been an unconventional season, so why not allow for an unconventional result? NA has been successfully playing matches within NA and the same goes for APAC. Continue with this for the Grand Finals. Allow for two winners. This can be an unpopular opinion, but it would allow for the best gameplay, safety for the players, and comfortability for the players. This way the teams would all be able to stay in the locations that they are used to and not have to travel which brings risks of exposure to COVID.
This would need to be agreed upon by all teams that are participating and an acknowledgment that the prize pool would be significantly lower for each winning team as it would be split.
The structure would need to be shaken up a little bit, but it would be a positive overall. The League would have to let more teams of each region in. Keep the seeding of the highest paired with the lowest for the first part of the seeding. The top two teams in each region would get a bye into the next round automatically.
For the APAC it would be the top 6 teams, which would add the NYXL into the playoffs. The top two teams of the Chengdu Hunters and the Shanghai Dragons would get a bye into the second round. This would be double elimination with standard tournament rules. This would allow for another group of fans to have hope that their team could bring it all the way home.
For NA it would be the top 9 teams. This is a little trickier when it comes to NA as the cut-off is 9 teams not 6. The play-ins would happen with the bottom 7 teams. Though the Atlanta Reign would get a first-round bye. The Reign would face the lowest seeding team that won their initial match.
The winners of matches 4 and 5 would then get into the tournament to face the Dallas Fuel and the LA Gladiators who had passed straight through to playoffs. It would then start the double-elimination. It would then follow the same procedure as APAC, with double elimination and traditional tournament rules.
There would be more Overwatch Matches for the fans. The teams would not need to sacrifice their set-ups or risk sickness by traveling. The overall performance would probably go up as well as there is no need to travel and that time could be used to prepare.
There would be no East vs West. There is not one definitive winner. The teams don’t make as much off of winning, as the prize money would need to be redistributed for the dual winners. Is this a fair trade-off for the safety of the players and to have all teams be on an even playing field?
It can only be hoped that next season will be more back to normal. Is this solution ideal? No. Of course, a live LAN event is what everyone wants. But in the face of COVID-19, this could be the lesser of two evils. In the future could the two winners play a show match? Yes. It wouldn’t be the same. But as the Overwatch League’s announcement said the spirit of the competitions and the health of all is their top priority. What seems to be the best fit in the admittance of their own statement to ensure both of those core beliefs would be a two champion format.
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