The Overwatch World Cup returned to Blizzcon this past weekend for another iteration of the beloved international event. From its origins during the game’s infancy, the World Cup has always been a celebration of the competitive scene and a joyous conclusion to the Overwatch calendar. Though, 2019 saw the tournament marred by a condensed format, bare-bones production and lack of resources provided to teams by Blizzard. Still, the hallmarks of the World Cup were there. Thrilling matches, undiscovered talents and intense national pride kept the event from being a complete dud. With that in mind, here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the 2019 World Cup.
The Good: Sinatraa and Team USA Earn Redemption
In the light of their triumphant victory, the shadows cast by Team USA’s past disappointments may not seem so huge. Make no mistake, though, the players knew what was at stake. “I’ve been on this team for three years, and we’ve gotten first-rounded every time. And every time, it hurts a lot,” said Jay “sinatraa” Won during a press conference where he was flanked by the OWWC trophy and his own World Cup MVP trophy.
Sinatraa can add those accolades to the rest that he accrued during the best year Overwatch has ever seen. After a dominant season with the San Francisco Shock – and a well-earned OWL MVP – sinatraa didn’t need to win the World Cup to win 2019. In doing so, he gets to shake off any criticism about his previous World Cup performances and cements himself as a legendary figure in Overwatch history.
For the rest of Team USA, this was a moment of catharsis. They overcame their demons to break South Korea’s stranglehold over the World Cup, and they did it in dominant fashion. Team USA dropped just one map over the entire event, going perfect through the group stage before taking down South Korea and China to claim the gold. “It feels so good to finally do that,” said Team USA veteran Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty, “I don’t really have words to explain how I feel right now.”
The Bad: The Tournament Format
The 2019 World Cup featured a significantly pared down structure that put a damper on the event as a whole. Gone were the international group stages, that saw teams travel across the world to compete for a spot at Blizzcon. Instead, the entire event was condensed into three days, with one day each devoted to the prelims, group stages and playoffs.
Because Blizzcon only lasts two days, Thursday’s preliminaries took place entirely online. When the day was over, the 28 team field was down to ten. That means 18 teams flew to Los Angeles for Blizzcon, only to never play a single game on LAN. Ten teams were eliminated after just one online match.
The result was a tournament that felt rushed. With multiple matches streamed at once, it became difficult to follow all the action. Blink and one could miss someone’s only match. At the end of the day, the 2019 World Cup will be remembered for much more than its lackluster format, but it was a shame for such a big event to feel small at times.
The Ugly: The Jerseys
For something so simple, Blizzard faced a lot of criticism for how they handled outfitting the teams this year. Teams were given no say on the look of the jerseys. Instead, they were given a single style that was only customized by changing the jersey’s colors to match each nation. The results were almost comical.
— Team Austria 🇦🇹 (@TeamAustriaOW) September 20, 2019
The design itself was somehow both generic and uniquely ugly at the same time. The worst part is still how teams were railroaded into using these jerseys. Despite some teams selling their own jerseys and merchandise to fundraise – something they had to do because they received none of the sponsorship revenue from the official jersey – they were required to wear the official kit during all World Cup events. When Team Ireland’s GM took his official jersey off to reveal the custom Irish Wolfhounds jersey underneath during the team’s walkout on Saturday, it was a message to Blizzard about how they handled this year’s World Cup.
The Good: New Faces
Historically, the World Cup has been fertile ground for fresh talent to make an entrance into the wider Overwatch consciousness. Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod, Renan “alemao” Moretto and Josue “eqo” Corona all owe their OWL spots at least in part to their star-making performances in past World Cups. Even with an abbreviated tournament this year, a handful of players made the most of the moment.
Of all the teams eliminated in the prelims, Italy arguably had the best showing. After a six-map marathon against fan favorites Japan, they pushed Sweden to five maps in the closest decider match out of the five preliminary brackets. Returning World Cup standout Edmondo “DragonEddy” Cerini led the way with his superb Sigma, but the DPS duo of LilYung and HearThBeat stole the show. Saudi Arabia’s KssarPlayz was another top rookie and even earned some praise from sinatraa for his stellar Doomfist.
The Blizzcon stage offered a chance for other players to make a last-minute pitch to Overwatch League teams rounding out their rosters before the approaching November 15 roster deadline. Team France put in a strong performance throughout the event, and both Lucas “Leaf” Loison and Théo “Tek36” Guillebaud drew a lot of attention. Leaf wasn’t the only DPS who stood out during the World Cup. Mads “fischer” Jehg and Jeffrey “Vizility” de Vries from Denmark and the Netherlands respectively are two others who looked ready to make the jump from Contenders to OWL.
The Bad: The Production Quality
Another symptom of Blizzard’s neglect for the World Cup, production issues plagued the weekend, especially the prelims and group stages. Five different channels streamed matches throughout the weekend. A reliable schedule was nowhere to be found, leaving viewers in limbo waiting on their favorite teams.
Friday’s Group Stage was no better. Casters were set up with the bare necessities – a desk and a single monitor to share – but that’s about it. They were casting in an open space, and echoing hurt the audio quality significantly. On top of that, casters were operating parts of the production, responsible for scene changes and overlays while casting the game. The result was a production that wasn’t worthy of the broadcast team trying to make the best of a bad situation.
The Ugly: Blizzard’s Approach to the World Cup
All of the criticism leveled here and elsewhere stems from one central source, Blizzard’s neglect for the World Cup. From the beginning, it felt like Blizzard didn’t want to hold the World Cup this year, but couldn’t just immediately phase-out one of their most popular events. Instead, fans got a bare-bones event, a shell of what the World Cup used to be.
The biggest problem was the lack of resources for teams around the world. Teams outside the top ten had to fundraise or self-fund their travel to Blizzcon. Sponsorship opportunities were limited due to the jersey designs. Dozens of countries had to drop out without the backing to fly across the world. The dropout announcements were like gut punches. By the time the matches started, this World Cup had lost some of its shine.
The result was a maelstrom of ill feelings during an event that used to be nothing but joyful. With the Overwatch 2 announcement and general unrest surrounding Blizzcon, the World Cup wasn’t a priority. In neglecting the World Cup, Blizzard did a disservice to the players, broadcast talent and people working behind the scenes to make this event work. The only thing worse would be to use this year’s lackluster World Cup to justify ending it entirely. If that is the case, the legacy of the Overwatch World Cup is one of celebration and inclusion, even if the finale fell flat in the end.
Featured image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
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