Activision Blizzard Unveils New Overwatch League Format for 2020
While the current Overwatch League (OWL) season is still in progress, Activision Blizzard has already announced plans for next year’s season. In 2020, the League will be moving away from its four-stage format and away from the Blizzard Arena venue in Burbank. Instead, teams will play in a new format based around homestand weekends in each team’s city.
Homestand weekends were introduced in Stage 2 during the 2019 season for Dallas, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. These pilot weekends have been highly successful, with the Dallas and Atlanta events selling out at 4,000 and 2,750 tickets respectively, and as a result, Activision Blizzard is putting greater emphasis on the model for 2020. All twenty teams in the OWL will host at least two homestand weekends, which will feature a variety of teams playing in a local venue chosen by the host team. As with 2019, there will still be an All-Stars event in midseason, and the season will conclude with playoffs and Grand Finals. A full 2020 season schedule and ticket sales should be released by next month.
This format requires teams to travel a lot, and Blizzard has built in two ways of making travel more manageable. First, teams will receive staggered bye weeks so they have time to rest between homestands. Second, Blizzard is restructuring the Pacific and Atlantic divisions into Conferences instead, resulting in multiple divisions per Conference. The result of the restructure will be Atlantic North, Atlantic South, Pacific East, and Pacific West divisions. Teams in the same conference will play each other twice, while teams in different conferences play each other once. The season will start with regional matches and move onto international games later.
The teams for each division are:
Each division will have three additional homestand weekends on top of the two automatically given to each team, for a grand total of fifty-two homestands throughout the season. Every team had the ability to request additional homestand matches, though reports indicate that Dallas Fuel, Washington Justice, and Guangzhou Charge will take on all three extra homestand weekends for their respective divisions. Grant Paranjape, Vice President of Esports Business for Washington Justice, expressed his excitement for the additional games. “I think giving our fans not one, not two, but five chances to come watch the team live is just really, really something truly special,” he said.
The uneven distribution of homestands may raise some questions about equal opportunities for teams. For instance, there are economic benefits to additional homestand weekends that may allow a team to generate more income than its fellow teams in the same division. Besides regional revenue sources, such as partnerships and advertisements, host teams keep all revenue earned from ticket and concession sales; additional events, of course, mean more tickets and concessions to sell.
Teams playing more games in their home city could also give them a morale boost. 2019’s Dallas and Atlanta homestands saw both Dallas Fuel and Atlanta Reign winning 2-0. For Atlanta Reign, those were its only victories in the season’s third stage. Dylan “aKm” Bignet, who plays for Dallas Fuel, recognized the energy in the arena during the Dallas homestand. “When you have everyone looking at you, cheering for you, it’s very emotional for us,” he said.
Given these advantages, it is not entirely clear why more teams did not request more weekends. However, Pete Vlastelica, OWL Commissioner and CEO of Activision Blizzard’s esports leagues, is not worried. He explains, “We worked very closely with our owners to come up with this plan. The flexibility that we baked into the plan was a big part of the appeal of the plan to our owners. In other words, the opportunity for the teams that wanted to take on more was interesting to some teams. The opportunity to stay at two was interesting for some teams.”
Vlastelica also feels the teams that did receive extra weekends were excellent choices that prove a market demand for more homestand games in those cities. “These three weren’t the only [teams] who wanted to do it, but they were the three who made the best case for it,” he states. “The case that they made in general was a combination of venue plan, fan activation plan and general investment. Also, an enthusiasm for getting an early start. We saw that out of all three of these groups, that was their primary motivation. They had their eye on 2020 in the same way we did.”
Regarding Dallas Fuel in particular, Vlastelica says of the current season’s homestand, “It was right after the Dallas team walked in [the arena] and 4,000 screaming fans were chanting ‘Let’s go Dallas’ in unison that I realized that these aren’t just these esports fans, they’re not just ‘Overwatch’ players, they’re fans of Dallas Fuel, and they’re there to see their team.”
The plans for 2020 are for 2020 only, and future seasons will evolve based on the new format’s results. Although the homestand model, at the moment, will result in fewer OWL events than previously discussed, Vlastelica believes it is a step in the right direction. He says, “One point that all of the owners got comfortable with is that this is not a change in the vision of what we’re doing as a league. This is a step we’re taking to make sure we get to the long-term vision. The other North Star that we pointed to with all of the owners was that we wanted to optimize for as many fans as possible, in larger venues like [in Atlanta and Dallas]. In the end, this bridge format solution was overwhelmingly popular with our owners and that helped confirm that it was a good move. It’s more efficient, costs less.”
Because of these changes, it is unlikely that new teams will join the OWL next year, but fans can expect exhilarating matches between existing teams every weekend from February to August.
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Photos from Blizzard Press Kit