The start of the 2020 Overwatch League season is looming, and with it comes the daunting challenge of fulfilling the vision of a truly global esports competition. The worldwide jet setting that this season brings will undoubtedly have far-reaching impacts – on player health, practice time, broadcast structure and quality of play. Those effects, however, won’t be evenly distributed throughout the league.
The travel disparity is going to be a real issue in 2020, with some teams expected to fly upwards of 70,000 miles during the season. Beyond the stress of life on the road, for the first time, a significant portion of games will be played in front of home crowds. The power of playing in a friendly environment is undeniable, but who stands to benefit most from the move to the Homestand model in 2020?
Winners: Washington Justice, Dallas Fuel and Guangzhou Charge
Starting with the obvious winners, there are three teams hosting five Homestands this year. For the Justice, Fuel and Charge, that means 10 matches each in front of their fans, in their home arenas with access to their normal practice facilities. The next closest teams, the Philadelphia Fusion and Paris Eternal, each play six games at home in 2020.
With the rest of the league hosting two Homestands each, these three teams have more than double the home games most of their competition will play. It’s a disparity that can’t be found in any other major competitive league and one that should give these three a leg up during 2020.
Losers: London Spitfire, Paris Eternal and Los Angeles Gladiators
The flipside of that coin is the teams that have to play in truly hostile environments. While most games will take place at a site neutral to both teams, these three have to step into the lion’s den eight times this year.
It’s going to be fascinating throughout the year to see how much impact the home fans have on results. There will be just over 100 true home matches throughout the season. If crowds can hold any sway whatsoever on match outcomes, it could spell trouble for these three. Keep an eye on the Shock, Reign and Fusion as well with seven true away games each.
Winners: The Atlantic South Division
Limiting travel is going to be a massive boon in 2020, plain and simple. The five teams in the Atlantic South – Atlanta, Florida, Houston, Philadelphia and Washington – are going to be doing far less of it than their competition. In large part, that’s due to the fact that none of them travel to Asia a single time during the season.
They’ll all be spending the vast majority of their time in the United States rather than flying back and forth across oceans. In fact, Washington never even has to leave North America. The other four teams make a single trip to Paris in April before returning to home soil for the remainder of the season.
Losers: The Atlantic North Division
The flipside of that coin is the globe-hopping Atlantic North – Boston, London, New York, Paris and Toronto. Collectively, they’ll have to make at least 46 intercontinental flights in 2020. With only two teams in Europe, they won’t even have the option of staying across the pond for an extended period of time – an option afforded to teams on longer Asian road trips.
The most egregious schedule here is probably New York’s. Their miles not might reach the heights of London or Boston, but they will make 4 trips to Europe this year only to play a single match each time. The complexities of schedule making are real, but this outcome still feels wasteful. Luckily, the division has bye weeks after all but one of their European trips, but they’ll still be feeling acutely the effects of life on the road.
Winner: The Vancouver Titans
Vancouver might be toward the top of the list in miles traveled, but they do have one big thing going for them. They won’t play a single true road match in 2020. In all their travels, they’ll never once have to deal with a hostile crowd. The closest they’ll get will be playing the Valiant and Gladiators at each other’s Homestands.
That’s a luxury not afforded to any other team this year. In fact, no other team plays fewer than two road games. If home crowds wind up having any sort of impact, Vancouver will count themselves lucky to dodge that bullet completely.
Winner: The Fans
For all the headaches that come with global travel, there’s a real payoff coming in 2020. The power of localization is finally coming to the forefront, and the league is getting its shot at a true proof of concept. Having fans across the world show up to see their team play in their city was always the promise of the Overwatch League, the thing that distinguished it from all its competitors.
In 2020, that vision will become reality. Players will finally become more than names and faces on a screen for fans across the globe. Regardless of the hurdles that stand in the way of success for the OWL long-term, that is undeniably exhilarating.
Featured image courtesy of Tonya McCahon for Blizzard Entertainment.
You can also follow Bradley @shyguyow.