March 14, 2018 by coachcarter717
(All media presented in this article is courtesy of Activision/Blizzard Inc.)
Written by Carter Cotrupi
Don’t sleep on the Overwatch League just yet. The league is nearing the end of Stage 2 and all twelve teams are starting to look outside of their current roster for small improvements, whether its trading for another OWL player or signing a new face to the pro scene. But how does one find a pro-caliber Overwatch player outside of the huge crop of talent already present in OWL? The answer can be found in the newly revamped 2018 Overwatch Contenders League.
What is the Overwatch Contenders League?
As detailed in the video above, Overwatch Contenders exists along the Overwatch League “Path to Pro” chain and will serve to shine the spotlight on rising talent for OWL teams to recruit further down the road. Recent OWL players recruited after Stage 1 came from lesser known amateur leagues that still operate under the Blizzard umbrella but exist further from Overwatch League and its professional approach as an esports enterprise. This time around, the designated “Path to Pro” will make finding new OWL talent a more fluid process for players and recruiters alike.
On March 11th, Overwatch Contenders 2018 Season 1 kicked off its regional play, split into seven divisions: North America, South America, Europe, China, Korea, Pacific, and Australia. Each region will host twelve teams that will compete for prize money and the chance to get noticed by Overwatch League pro teams.
Overwatch League teams in Contenders
Back in February, Overwatch League made an announcement regarding the roster finalizations for nine Overwatch Academy teams to compete in Season 1 of Contenders this year. The players on these teams have already signed contracts with their Overwatch League counterparts and will use the Contenders League as a development process to ready themselves to be called-up to the big leagues.
As expected, most of the Academy teams will compete in the North America Contenders region, with Shanghai and London’s teams being the exception.
Here is the full list of the OWL Academy teams playing in Contenders this season:
Team CC (Shanghai Dragons)
British Hurricane (London Spitfire)
Contenders North America
Fusion University (Philadelphia Fusion)
Gladiators Legion (LA Gladiators)
Mayhem Academy (Florida Mayhem)
NRG Esports (San Francisco Shock)
Optic Academy (Houston Outlaws)
Toronto Esports (Boston Uprising)
XL2 Academy (New York Excelsior)
Check out the official Overwatch Contenders website or a full list of all 84 teams participating in 2018 Contenders Season 1.
“Path to Pro”
The folks over at Blizzard Entertainment wanted to create a more linear path for aspiring Overwatch players to follow, with the Overwatch League as the end goal. As we know from recent acquisitions like Dallas Fuel’s aKm and Shanghai’s Geguri, the search for additional players was widened outside of the previous class of Contenders participants. OWL recruiters looked as far back as the 2016/2017 precursor leagues to Contenders for new talent. These base leagues included South Korea’s Overwatch APEX, China’s Overwatch Premier Series (OPS), and South East Asia’s Overwatch Pacific Championship (OPC).
A New Twist
Unlike how most minor sports leagues are structured, teams competing in Contenders do not hold a permanent spot in their region once after joining the league. Whether this applies to the Academy teams is yet to be determined.
Underneath the Contenders League is the Overwatch Open Division, which serves as a more malleable transition from amateur Overwatch player to a hopeful pro. This league mirrors the seven regions/twelve team division structure that Contenders runs. Amateur teams can earn an invitation by Blizzard to participate in Open Division competition because of their rising notoriety and success in local tournament play.
Out of twelve teams in each Contenders region, those finishing in the top eight at the end of each regular season are guaranteed to hold their spot. However, the bottom four teams will have to face off against their region’s top four Open Division teams in the Overwatch Contenders Trials. That means eight teams in each region will face each other to earn those last four spots in the Contenders League. In short, a team underperforming in the Contenders league can lose their spot to an excellent Open Division squad.
(In this example, the teams highlighted in yellow represent the eight teams that would compete for the last four Contenders spots in their region)
The opportunity to earn or lose a spot in the Overwatch League minor league adds an exciting incentive for all teams competing in Contenders and Open Division always bring their A-game.
Per the official Overwatch Contenders rulebook, each region will divide its team pool into two groups of six and compete in a single round-robin format. That means each team will play a total of five matches over the course of the regular season against the other five teams in their group. The top four teams from each group of six after the regular season will move on to compete in a single elimination playoff bracket for that region’s season title. More details on the playoff scheduling will be released as the regular season continues.
The Overwatch Contenders Trials will run for three weeks in between each Contenders season. The four lowest teams from each previous Contenders region will face off against the top four Open Division teams in the same region. Again, the format will be run as a single round robin to determine which four teams will compete in the next Contenders season.
Where can I watch?
Once all the Contenders regions start their matches, there will be Overwatch action almost every day of the week. Unlike the Overwatch League, all seven regions will not be hosted in one arena, like the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA.
This means that some of these matches will be harder to catch due to each region’s time zone-specific scheduling (full schedule here).
As a traditional sports fan, the idea of a developmental minor league to supplement the Overwatch League is both comforting and exciting, meaning Blizzard is taking yet another huge step in the right direction. MLB and NHL fans will be familiar with the second-tier league structure. And the narrow gap between the top Open Division squads and the bottom Contenders teams will ensure that each season will bring something new to the table.
This simplified development path is something that previous esports leagues have failed to layout, making Overwatch Contenders and Open Division new allies in the ongoing fight to break the stigma around esports.
It’s sink or swim as the 2018 Overwatch Contenders Season 1 is underway. Which teams will rise to the level of their OWL peers? Will we see new faces from the Open Division in Contenders Season 2? Check back soon!