This past weekend was the final weekend of OWL games in the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA. This venue has been the home of the OWL for its first two seasons, but that will no longer be the case as the league moves to a home-away schedule for the 2020 season. The Game Haus has already shared some of the best memories in the arena that started it all, so now it’s time to beg the question: What’s next for the Blizzard Arena?
While it hasn’t been discussed much yet, there is a case to be made to keep Overwatch in the Blizzard Arena through the league’s semi-pro scene, Contenders, in 2020 and beyond. There are, however, several pros and cons to such a move.
The Benefits of Contenders in Burbank
For all intents and purposes, using the Blizzard Arena for Contenders would serve to greatly improve the quality of play in Contenders moving forward, but would also open up a variety of different possibilities. Players would have opportunities, first and foremost, to play on stage in front of a crowd, albeit a small one. This is the stage that the OWL was played on, and those Contenders players could take pride in the fact that they are in a historic place in their esports history. For North American expansion teams that are likely coming into the league in 2021, this would also be an excellent opportunity to scout future talent from the region.
Also, as a quick logistical note, this arena is also already prepared for Overwatch. The screens displaying the maps, the lighting and everything else is already fitted to displaying Overwatch. Some slight changes would likely need to be made, but having the framework in place is something to consider.
This move could also expand on what the Path to Pro really means. Because the OWL will be on the road each week, there would be fewer resources and staffing available to Contenders in the Blizzard Arena. This could still be an opportunity to give casters, producers and anyone else involved with putting together a consistent broadcast, the chance to work their way up the ladder on their own Path to Pro.
Last, this would be a little more than a nice gesture to the fans. Fans in the LA/Burbank area have dedicated a lot of time and energy into packing out the Blizzard Arena these last two years, giving them some more Overwatch at home would likely be welcomed with open arms.
Overall, part of this desire to keep Overwatch in the Blizzard Arena is symbolic. This has been the only home many have known for Overwatch esports, and the only home the OWL has ever had. Keeping Overwatch here through Contenders gives the stars of tomorrow a chance to stand on the stage of their esports forefathers, many of which likely inspired them to start playing competitively in the first place.
The Challenges of Contenders in Burbank
If everything up to this point seems like a glossy-eyed dream, that is because it might be. Keeping Overwatch in Burbank would undoubtedly be a huge challenge and one that Blizzard has shown it is likely not to commit to. Resources, time, money and potentially a more fruitful prospect all stand in the way of Contenders players competing in the Blizzard Arena in the future.
As mentioned above, OWL will be on the road in 2020 which means that all of the production and talent will be traveling with it. For Contenders to be in Burbank, there would have to be all-new talent hired, likely new sets built, and a laundry list of other obligations all while trying to make the OWL 2020 season go off without a hitch.
Not only are the resources stacked against it, but there’s also another dog in the fight. The Call of Duty league (CDL) is moving to a similar city-based model for its structure and it also looks to be starting in 2020. The CDL, rather than following in the OWL’s footsteps and transitioning to a traveling schedule after some initial time in Burbank, will go immediately to a home-away schedule.
While this seems like a great sign for potentially having Contenders in Burbank, the CDL has also confirmed, per the official subreddit, that they will be having a Path to Pro of its own in 2020.
A Call of Duty Path to Pro (likely akin to the Overwatch one) has been confirmed by the official CoD Esports reddit! Also two-way contracts will be available similarly to OWL as well. I am so stoked to see how Tier 2 CoD gets developed for 2020. This is exciting stuff. pic.twitter.com/chXAGq0HWn
— Geo (@geometric) August 20, 2019
A brand new league means that there is likely no infrastructure in place for a semi-pro scene. For the CDL, the Blizzard Arena could be exactly that, a place to start. While Contenders currently has teams playing all over the world in different regions, the CDL could start by localizing their Path to Pro in one place. This isn’t a definitive roadblock, but certainly another good option for the Blizzard Arena moving forward.
Other Potential Ideas
There is still potential that the OWL returns to the Blizzard Arena in the future, even if it’s likely not in any long-term sort of way. OWL preseason, offseason skirmishes, celebrity pro-ams and a variety of other, isolated events could bring the OWL back to its original stomping ground.
Even though the cards are likely stacked against it, there is a lot to consider in a potential move to put Contenders in the Blizzard Arena. If Blizzard somehow pulls it off, it should only serve to elevate the Overwatch Path to Pro and subsequently the level of play in future OWL seasons. These are the stars of tomorrow and the teams that scrim against OWL teams, so investing in them is investing in the OWL.
Even if this was the last time Overwatch was played in the Blizzard Arena, it has been an excellent home for the OWL for these two years and it couldn’t have been done without such a great home base. From everyone at The Game Haus, thank you to everyone who helped make these first two years possible and here’s to many more!
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Featured Image Courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
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