Fin dalla rivelazione della Overwatch League alla BlizzCon 2016 (quella dell’annuncio di Sombra), la sua organizzazione ha accentrato su di sé la stragrande maggioranza degli eventi Esport. Ciò ha sicuramente contribuito al suo successo, ma ha anche tagliato fuori le comunità locali.
In sostanza, i giocatori che desiderano competere seriamente devono passare attraverso una serie di passaggi, come le Open Division e i Contenders, tutti sotto la diretta amministrazione OWL. Questo ha sempre generato critiche, perché non lascia spazio alle realtà più piccole e regionali. L’edizione 2020 dei Contenders poi, complice il passaggio a YouTube e l’emergenza Covid-19, ha perso molto interesse dal grande pubblico.
Le cose però potrebbero presto cominciare a cambiare. Almeno questo traspare dal comunicato redatto dagli Esport Production Manager Trevor Housten e Dan McHugh e pubblicato su r/Competitiveoverwatch, il subreddit che riunisce i maggiori appassionati dell’Overwatch competitivo. I due manager fanno il punto della situazione e ricapitolano i traguardi raggiunti dall’organizzazione in toto. In particolare affermano che i Conteders 2020 sono stati inferiori ai 2019 e si impegnano per fare in modo che la cosa non si ripeta l’anno prossimo.
Blizzard ha intenzione di dare più supporto alle altre organizzazioni già da questa estate, sia con qualificazioni alla Path to Pro che con montepremi. Come esempio di torneo da incoraggiare è stata menzionata la Community Cup dalla streamer Francine “Fran” Vo, affiliata ufficiale del team Atlanta Reign. Questa possibilità ricorda gli accordi che Blizzard ha preso con ESL per StarCraft e WarCraft III ed è stata accolta molto positivamente.
Di seguito riportiamo il comunicato integrale, dove viene anche menzionato che si sta sempre cercando un sostituto per i Gauntlet e che presto potrebbero esserci comunicazioni in merito.
Hi everyone, this is Trevor Housten and Dan McHugh from the Overwatch Path to Pro team here at Blizzard. Trevor leads the team as the head of the department, overseeing all Overwatch Esports initiatives outside of the Overwatch League, and Dan is the global lead for Overwatch Contenders. Together, we’d like to provide some insight into how we’re thinking about some of the current challenges as we seek to improve this part of the competitive Overwatch ecosystem.
Before we get started, we wanted to thank the community for all the attention and care you’ve shown over the years around our various Path to Pro initiatives. Esports was born as a grassroots movement, and it’s only through the continued passion and effort from all of us that we will continue to succeed. We’ve never really done a post like this, and we recognize that we are long overdue. We’re here to share not only our thoughts around some of the current issues, but also some insight into the values that have guided our decisions and investments in the ecosystem since even before the launch of Overwatch in May 2016.
How do we think it’s been going overall?
While there will always be challenges to overcome, we feel we’ve had some success in these programs over the past few years and we wanted to take some time to talk about a few highlights:
- Since 2016, there has been over US $14 million in player prizing from licensed Overwatch tournaments outside of OWL, including around US $10.4 million directly from Blizzard. These prizes have been earned through more than 1,400 first-party and third-party licensed events operated online and in person all around the world.
- Overwatch Open Division registers 20,000-30,000 global players participating in each season, with gradually improving player feedback around the iterations made to these events each season.
- We graduated roughly 200 players from the Path to Pro to OWL in 2018 and 2019, and about 60 players so far in 2020. Many of these players have become stars, and this year’s class of OWL rookies contains some truly incredible players.
- Our recent expansion of the Flash Ops program has seen positive reception from the community, and we’re excited to continue building upon the success we’ve seen there to celebrate interesting moments in Overwatch competitive play.
- The North American Collegiate Overwatch system has grown to include more than 120 varsity programs recognized by their school administrations. Collectively, each year around US $2 million in scholarships are provided for Overwatch players simultaneously pursuing university degrees.
Now let’s touch on the most pressing issues that we’re focused on improving. While we don’t have all the answers today, we wanted to let you know the main areas our team is actively working on, in no particular order:
- The way our current licensing system is structured doesn’t make major third-party tournaments desirable to run by event organizers and lacks incentives to reward organizers for their hard work. More on this in a second.
- The 2020 Contenders program is not performing up to our expectations of player support and development. We’ll get into more detail later, but we feel our core challenges this year have been visibility and celebration of the players in both our broadcasts and content, and we have been too slow to implement solutions for these issues.
- We need to do a better job of highlighting our top players. Big moments, like the 2019 Contenders Gauntlet and the Overwatch World Cup, were co-streamed on the OWL broadcast channel and promoted through PlayOverwatch, OWL, and Path to Pro social channels. Recently, Watchpoint also has begun including a weekly segment touching on interesting stories in Contenders. We’re also showcasing some of the best matches of the ongoing Contenders playoffs on the OWL channels during the BYE period. However, we recognize we can and should do more to celebrate the efforts of so many in the Path to Pro system.
- Teams in our T2 and T3 programs are difficult to sustain given the structure currently in place. We don’t have much to share here just yet, but this is another area of focus for us right now.
We are actively planning programs for 2021, but here’s what we can tell you today about some changes to our ecosystem:
After seeing how positively Fran’s Community Cup was received recently, that’s something we want to see more of and work hard to support on our side. We’re working on creating the right framework to empower third-party tournament organizers to contribute directly to the Path to Pro. Players enjoy these events, fans enjoy them, and we need to support them in a bigger way. We’d also like to directly support qualified organizers with prizing.
This is something we’re thinking a lot about, and we appreciate all of the feedback. We’ll share more details around how we’re going to make those desires come to fruition later this summer. As a reminder to aspiring organizers, our community license tool can be found HERE.
Outside of player signings, we’ve also seen a wide array of talent moving on to support the Overwatch League in some capacity, from broadcast staff to talent, coaches, team managers, and many other roles. However, we know that we have a lot of work to do to improve the Contenders program. This year we made some significant changes in our approach, most notably around tournament structure and broadcasting. These decisions were not made lightly and were targeted at providing players with more frequent quality matches, for both their own development as well as a better viewing experience for our fans. Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that matches between the stronger teams in each region resulted in the most excitement among our viewers. The new format has surfaced these matches more frequently and has been the centerpiece of our broadcasts in 2020, but supporting Tier 2 goes beyond those at the top and we’re actively exploring ways to bring you more complete coverage moving forward.
2020 Contenders Live Events + Future Changes
It shouldn’t come as much surprise, but we’d like to share that both the Atlantic and Pacific Showdowns have officially been canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We’re deeply disappointed, but player and staff health and safety will always come first. That said, we’re still hopeful that we can have a Gauntlet at the end of the year and are exploring some options to have all regions included, with a potential expanded tournament format. The situation is constantly evolving, but we look forward to sharing details when ready.
Moving forward, we want to not only revisit how we’re setting up players for development but also diversify players’ options and create a system that’s able to adapt quickly and lean into things that are working. Our strategy of maintaining a globally consistent structure had its benefits, but as we look to the future we want to support what’s best on a regional level, and we’re actively working with our partners to establish a format and structure that’s best for each region.
Looking back at our development efforts, the primary regions that have produced up-and-coming talent are China, Europe, Korea, and North America. We need to focus our first-party developmental initiatives in those specific regions and allow for more third-party organizations to thrive in other regions. We’re finalizing future plans for each region and expect to share details later this month.
We’ll have more detailed updates for each of our programs as we continue to nail down the specifics. There’s a lot we didn’t get to discuss here, particularly around how we’re thinking about team sustainability, Open Division, Overwatch World Cup, and the collegiate programs, but we are excited to share more in the future. We hope that this has provided some clarity and assurance that your feedback is being heard and that we’re actively working towards a better Path to Pro experience. We promise to continue providing more frequent communications as we get Overwatch Path to Pro to a place that players, teams, and fans feel really good about. Thank you for your continued support.