We finally know when Season 4 of the Overwatch League will begin, and how Blizzard plans to deal with the ongoing challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
Overwatch Esports Vice President Jon Spector announced Jan. 14 that the 2021 season will begin in April, with the league’s 20 teams split into two regions.
The East will feature eight teams competing in China and South Korea, while the remaining 12 teams have been grouped in the West and will compete in Europe and North America. But Spector revealed even more changes that will overhaul the season structure.
Three U.S.-Based Franchises To Compete In East
Which division will your favorite Overwatch League teams play in? The five Asia-based franchises are naturally in the East: the Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, Shanghai Dragons and Seoul Dynasty.
To balance the divisions out a bit more, the Los Angeles Valiant, New York Excelsior and Philadelphia Fusion have also been placed in the East. Given the numerous amount of South Korean players across those rosters, they make the most sense.
The OWL is trying to avoid a repeat of the drama that unfolded with the Vancouver Titans last year. Scroll down to read more on that. The league is also introducing a “spoiler free” viewer mode to help fans watch their teams compete in several time zones away.
How Will The West Be Won?
The Titans will be part of the West region in 2021. The other 11 teams are the Atlanta Reign, Boston Uprising, Dallas Fuel, Florida Mayhem, Houston Outlaws, London Spitfire, Los Angeles Gladiators, Paris Eternal, San Francisco Shock, Toronto Defiant and Washington Justice.
The Shock are the two-time defending Overwatch League champions. The Spitfire won the inaugural Overwatch League season, but have spent the past two years undergoing massive roster overhauls. That included releasing their entire roster and staff after finishing in 17th place in Season 3.
Overwatch League Hammered By COVID-19
To say the Overwatch League endured a challenging 2020 would be a massive understatement. The coronavirus pandemic blew up plans for global travel for homestands, with the league forced to pause and move entirely to an online format.
That caused a slew of issues for teams with Asia-laden rosters whose organizations were located elsewhere. That was typified by the Titans, who were competing in the Asia division but found communication difficult between their players in South Korea and team staff in Vancouver.
After the players removed all mention of the Titans from their social media pages, Vancouver released its entire roster, moved divisions and restarted with a North American roster. However, the Titans have added seven new players since the end of last season.
Format Overhaul Based On What OWL ‘Learned’
Spector said the Overwatch League “learned” from last season’s challenges — without addressing them specifically. But he did outline that each division will play regular-season qualifier matches to determine seeding for four standalone tournaments, in which the top teams will compete in one bracket.
All regular-season matches will count toward qualifying for the playoffs, but only the top teams will compete in the four tournaments. Spector said the hope is that fans will be welcomed back to matches at some point in 2021.
But the Overwatch League isn’t taking any chances this time around. The fledgling esports league is planning upgrades to its match broadcasts, enhanced content offerings and upgrades to the digital fan experience including the spoiler-free viewer mode. View all that the Overwatch League has in store for 2021 in the official update video below – can you spot Spector’s outdated gear?