OWL 2021 format and Valiant moving doesn’t scream healthy ecosystem

The Overwatch League is slowly gearing up for its 2021 Season, and things are going down quite differently this time around. The Season is due to begin in April, with a different format for both its structure and games are going to be played.

Some reports this week have indicated that bigger changes could have been going on too. LA Valiant moving to China has caused huge waves in the community. It looks like the League is struggling to adapt to the loss of live events, while also trying to bend teams to their vision of how the league should be played. This is everything that’s been going on and how the League will run in the year.

OWL 2021 Format Update

© Overwatch League

The Overwatch League 2021 Format

The Overwatch League 2021 Season is due to begin April 16th with a $4.25 million prize pool. The OWL is moving to a tournament based format with four large events happening monthly throughout the season. Part of this move might be motivated by the still unclear future of in-person esports events, which are really what made the old format thrive.

This is the third format change in three seasons for the OWL. Centralized league play and the home/away homestands systems have both been put in hold as the OWL 2021 tests yet another competitive format with its teams.

This is how the season is going to work this time around:

  • Teams are still split into two groups, East and West. However the groupings have been worked around a bit to facilitate online play and travel.
  • The season is divided into four tournament cycles, the May Melee, Summer Showdown, June Joust, and Countdown Cup. 
  • May Melee – This runs from April 16 – May 1, with the final tournament starting May 7th.
  • June Joust – This kicks off May 21, starting after the previous tournament ends. The qualifiers end Jun 5th, and the finals begin June 11.
  • Summer Showdown – The qualifiers for this one of the Overwatch League 2021 tournaments starts June 25th, ends July 10th, with finals starting off on Jul 16t.
  • Countdown Cup – This one kicks off July 30 through till Aug 14, then the finals start on August 20th.

The qualifiers for each of the four tournaments starts off with knockout matches. Eventually, the top two teams from East and West compete in a double elimination bracket. In order to accommodate cross regional play, the league plans to send western teams to Hawaii so they can direct-line play with Asia.

This new Overwatch League 2021 format is definitely a departure from what was planned in the last few seasons, but it appears to suit the online viewership model considerably better. However, fans of North American teams will have tune in at odd times to watch their favorite teams compete live.

Overwatch League Team Moves

Three western teams have now moved to Asia for the new season. Late last year, both NYXL and Fusion announced they would compete in Asia for the upcoming season. For Excelsior the decision made sense as their entire roster is Korean. For Philadelphia Fusion  the move made less sense, but the organization justified it through the need to practice on Asian/Korean servers.

The latest move however, got fans up in arms quickly. First, a story spread around that Immortals Gaming selling LA Valiant to a Chinese group. Along the way they would be releasing the entire roster and moving the team. The team did deny the story, but also seemed to confirm it too. Things got slightly confusing and fans reacted badly. 

Two weeks later, LA Valiant booted their entire roster and staff in one quick swoop. The Immortal organization remains the owner only on paper, and all team operations would move to LinGan e-Sports in China. Of course this didn’t exactly smooth everything over. The entire roster and their favorites players being booted off, on top of their team now having new overlords is understandably getting folk riled up.

LGE previously operated the academy team for the Chengdu Hunters with some success in Contenders China. The organization also owned a League of Legends teams competing in the Chinese Challenger Scene as well as a PUBG Roster.

That was not all though. It turns out the entire idea was not something IMT envisioned, but were pushed towards by League officials.

Overwatch League 2021 Direction

In the days since, it has come to light that this move was actually pushed for by the Overwatch League themselves. They pitched the idea to a number of teams to re-balance the east/west sections after London Spitfire (based in Europe) was moved out of the Asia-Pacific region. The release of the roster was more of a casualty of the move, with visa problems and the COVID-19 restrictions making the transfer of the players unrealistic. 

Teams being encouraged to ditch their built-up fanbases to move and serve the League’s interest, and the entire format changing are just a showcase of how poorly the league tackles each upcoming season.

So what does this mean for Overwatch League? We can safely say that the loss of live events has hit the League hard. They seem to be flailing to adapt a year on, even as the development team push back a game that will re-energize the League. Fans have plenty of reasons to be worried, yet the League seems undeterred on their path going forward.

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