Overwatch League 2019 Primer: new schedule, more teams, better structure
The Overwatch League has announced major changes to the format and playoff structure for the league in Season Two. On their preview show Watchpoint, the broadcast team broke down the most important changes that are being implemented over the course of next year, with a shortened regular season schedule and an improved playoff system. The Overwatch League broadcast also announced the All Star event would take place in the middle of the 2019 season as opposed to the end, aligning with most traditional sports in North America.
Eight new challengers emerge
The Overwatch League has grown quite a bit since last year. With the expansion rosters now fully announced, both the Atlantic division and the Pacific division will gain an additional four teams each. This pairing on paper has seemingly tilted the balance of power in the Pacific division. On paper, the most talented expansion roster joining the league are the Vancouver Titans.
Their inclusion into the rankings this year may bring about a new pecking order in the Pacific division. With London Spitfire and New York Excelsior still heavily favoured in the Atlantic, even the most polished expansion rosters like Atlanta Reign and Paris Eternal begin fighting an uphill battle against the more traditionally dominant teams.
Other teams such as the Chengdu Hunters and the Washington Justice aren’t rated as highly on any analysts rankings due to their seemingly underpowered rosters. With time, teams like Chengdu may be able to sneak out some wins against their OWL counterparts as their players gain experience, but the road to OWL stardom is long and arduous.
Even talented prospects have trouble assimilating to the game without proper teamwork. Finding that balance of individual ability and proper team play will be essential to their survival going forward. The Overwatch League can only be won if you have legitimate star power at every role. Luckily, all of these expansion rosters have a few impact players that can become stars with the right situation surrounding them.
A change of pace
The influx of new teams means a shakeup to the previous structure of 40 matches per season which became too much of a hassle for both players and fans alike towards the end of last year. In Season Two, the Overwatch League regular season is condensing to 28 matches in the regular season. These matches will once again be played over the course of four stages with a small break taking place between each stage.
Typical weekend matches will be played over the course of four days. Thursday and Friday start times will commence at 4:00 PM PT and games will proceed until 10:30 PM. Saturday and Sunday games will start four hours earlier at 12:00 PM PT and extend through 6:00 PM. The All Star game will also have a structure shake up as the event will take place in the middle of the season (end of Stage Two) instead of after.
From Stage Two onwards, one week each stage will be dedicated to ‘Homestand Weekends’ where Dallas Fuel, Atlanta Reign and the Los Angeles Valiant will all get a chance to host their own week of Overwatch League action in their respective cities. The first Homestand Weekend will take place in Dallas the weekend of April 27 and 28. Each team will be selling their tickets via their respective websites in the coming months.
The idea for home and away games is incredibly innovative for the Overwatch League. But doing too much too soon may possibly give an unfair advantage to teams like Dallas Fuel and Atlanta Reign who could end up benefiting from the home crowd environment that will surely be a factor for these weekends.
New playoff structure: Stage playoffs and Season playoffs
On top of the regular season shakeup taking place, the antiquated playoff structure of last season deserved a reboot right alongside those changes. Starting with the stage playoffs, more teams more playoff berths for each stage at the end of five weeks of action.
Eight teams will participate automatically at the end of each stage. Division winners for Atlantic and Pacific will be given the top two seeds. Quarter finals of stage playoffs will be first to three map wins, Semi finals and Finals will be first to four map wins.
For the season playoffs, eight total teams will make the quarter finals bracket but the last two seeds will be decided in a play-in. The top 6 seeds at the end of the regular season will automatically qualify, but the final two slots will be competed for between the 7-12 seeds. The play-in tournament for season playoffs will take place in August and will replace the Stage Finals that would have been in place for Stage Four.
The prize pool will be increasing from $3.5 million to $5 million in 2019. Details on prizing, and the map pool for Stage 1, are available now on Overwatch League’s website. Specific dates, formats and other information for the All-Star Weekend, playoffs and Grand Finals will be unveiled next year.