In Season 1 of the Overwatch League the issue of player burnout/fatigue ran rampant through much of the league. Paired with a host of other issues, burnout negatively affected players across the league throughout Season 1, even playing a part in the retirement of Brandon “Seagull” Larned and Ted “Silkthread” Wang. As soon as the offseason began, it was clear that burnout was a problem that the league office knew it needed to address.
Recently, league commissioner Nate Nanzer appeared on the preseason episode of Watchpoint to address several topics in relation to the 2019 season including, briefly, player burnout. Nanzer said that both in an effort to give players more rest and reach their hometown fans more effectively, there would be longer breaks during the season. Teams last year had only around two weeks in between stages to go home and see fans, learn a new patch and learn a new map pool. With such short breaks, there was little off time for players to simply rest and get rejuvenated.
These larger breaks, paired with the league reducing the number of games played in a season from 40 down to 28, seem to be the league’s answer to reducing player burnout. With this line of thinking, fewer games each week, fewer games overall and longer breaks are directly related to reducing player burnout. Conversely, this means that the league is implying that more games each week, more overall games, and shorter breaks are the causes/multipliers of player burnout and will have a negative effect on teams and players.
I want to make a case for the opposite here. Instead, I believe player burnout is a systemic issue within the teams themselves related to coaching and management decisions. Reducing the number of games each week and over the course of the year will not help with player burnout. Instead, there needs to be more of a focus on creating more realistic schedules for players throughout the year within their organizations.
A Dragon Without Fire and Fuel Without a Match
The Shanghai Dragons are an excellent example of why this is important. They played the same number of games as each of the other 11 OWL teams last year, so why did they have such a severe burnout? Reports last year revealed that the Dragon’s had their players practicing 60 hours a week during the regular season. To make a sports comparison, that would be the football equivalent of running two-a-days every single day throughout the entire regular season. Just like that would fatigue the football players down and lead to more injuries, 60-hour weeks wore the Dragon’s down to the point where they were unable to win a single game in the 2018 season.
Look also at the Dallas Fuel in the first two stages. The Fuel were touted as one of the most hyped teams coming into Season 1. However, this team’s negative culture at least partially led to the departures of xQc, Seagull and Effect. While each of those situations has its own baggage, it was clear from watching the Fuel that there were issues internally. This is especially clear when you look at the team at the end of the season after they brought on Aero as head coach. A coaching move, not any breaks or reduction of games, radically changed the culture of the Dallas Fuel. It is clear from looking at these two organizations that the issue of burnout is not necessarily related with the schedule but with the teams themselves.
In this specific case, we have allowed Effect to rest for many of the games this season and will continue to let him rest until he is ready to compete again. I can’t tell you when that will be, but I will say that we have been doing whatever we can to make sure he is happy.
— Mike Rufail (@hastr0) May 11, 2018
Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect
With the problem coming, as I see it, within the teams themselves, that means a quick schedule change may not be the answer. Perhaps we need to reevaluate how we approach practice during the season. Let’s revisit the comparison made to football earlier. Teams in the NFL generally only practice 2-3 days a week during the regular season and even these practices are not at full speed. Instead, NFL players spend much of their weeks recovering, watching film from the previous week and scouting their opponent for the next match. Similar principles apply to most other major sports with the focus mid-week being on one thing: rest.
It is in the offseason, not the regular season, that teams in major sports leagues condition and practice their players the hardest. This is something OWL teams have just now begun to model. More and more teams have started what they call “boot camp” in order to get players back in shape, so to speak, for the regular season. This absolutely makes sense. Players have had the first part of the offseason to rest and relax, now it’s time to get back to work. But, what will these teams do when the season rolls around?
When I interviewed Uprising Academy coach ioStux about coaching, he claimed that good teams can spend 50%-60% of their practice time reviewing VOD’s every week. This is because, the better the team, the less mechanical work they need. If we are looking at the OWL, the supposed pinnacle of OW talent, it should be the case here more than anywhere else, right?
This is where that sports comparison I made earlier is important. Teams in the OWL need to change the way they approach practice once the season starts and focus more on resting throughout the week, rather than scrimming. If this is done right, players can be sharper and more rested for games at the tail end of the week, reducing the need to trim games and extend breaks. Essentially, I’m calling for an integration of these extended breaks within the season in preparation for the 2020 localization of the teams.
Nanzer also mentioned that his main goal for the OWL continues to be the localization of the teams in 2020. If/When this is done, teams will have to spend the majority of some weeks traveling to get ready to play their away games. Those weeks, they won’t even have the capacity to scrim. If this truly is where the league is headed, teams need to start prepping their players for that switch as soon as possible.
Getting players used to having games on Thursday and Friday on only one day of scrims/practice during the week is something teams need to consider thinking about this season. Not only will this help keep players happy and rested, but it will also prep them for what the future may look like. The best teams will start making those preparations now to have a leg up in 2020.
The Importance of the Conversation
While it is tempting and understandable to reduce the number of games and extend breaks during the season to combat player burnout, I simply do not see it resulting in any major changes. In the end, it’s not the games that burns the players out, it’s unhealthy organizations that overwork them. Changes made at the team level could allow for even more games throughout the season and a shortening of the 7-month offseason that is drastically needed.
This league is still young and bound to make mistakes along the way. Nanzer stressed this when he was on Watchpoint and urged the community to give their feedback on how the league can improve. If we want to see the league continue to grow, we must voice our opinions and make our case for changes we would like to see. Whether you agree with the argument made in this article or not, I hope that it will prompt a discussion that is useful for the league as it continues to figure out how to grow and thrive. At the end of the day, we are all on the same team.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Overwatch Wire
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