Today saw rumors surrounding proposed plans of Blizzard to make large cutbacks to their Overwatch contenders league–the semi-professional league that was designed to help Overwatch players realize their professional aspirations.
A tweet from the anonymous account “Realleakboy,” a reference to veteran journalist Rod “Slasher” Breslau’s nickname within Overwatch, put a tweet out stating “The upcoming Contenders season (Season 3) will be held completely online with no LAN playoffs or finals. In addition, only academy teams will be retaining their spot going into Season 4. All non-academy teams will have to re-qualify for Season 4 regardless of Season 3 placing.” This was quickly repeated by Overwatch themed satire account “Survivor: Overwatch” here. While the sources may seem to be highly questionable, both Twitter accounts have a proven track record of posting accurate information ahead of time.
Today, VPEsports has obtained a recording of a meeting that took place between team managers and league operations that confirm the above tweets and that the changes listed are indeed planned to be officially announced shortly. After speaking with several sources within the league they validated not only the legitimacy of the changes but also the recording.
Over the course of the forty-minute recording the person chairing the meeting, who our source stated was a Blizzard employee, begins the meeting by saying that they will be announcing major changes to the Overwatch Contenders league and that he wanted to give the assembled managers a “heads-up” before they were officially announced.“It depends a little bit on the region how much it will impact anyone because some changes may apply for one region more than for others,” the meeting begins before getting in to the big changes that were leaked via social media earlier today.
“The first thing I want to get out the way is that Season 3, will have no offline finals,” the chair says before going on to explain further details of how a restructured season will work. It was detailed that the end of season 3 will take place by the 20th January and that Blizzard will be aiming to start the new season of Contenders in the first week. For the 2019 seasons though teams who compete in Season 3 were in for some bad news.
“For the next season there will be some changes. Whatever the outcome is of Season 3, it doesn’t mean you are in Season 1 of 2019. The only teams that will get a direct invite are Overwatch League Academy teams. Everyone else that participated and made it to the playoffs will be added to these teams that are in trials to compete for re-entry.”
He also adds that this same system will be repeated for 2020.
At this point in the recording one of the management participants objects and says, “Isn’t that super bad for endemic orgs that want to invest into Overwatch, especially in regions like North America because they have less chances to invest into a scene where they can’t get spots?”
“A very valid question” the chair says before moving on to the next change without addressing it.
“The second change is that there will no longer be two groups in 2019 contenders season and there will be no twelve teams in there. The maximum team size will be eight. And the reason for that is to get the competition to an even higher level than what we have at the minute. We’ve seen this across all of the regions, that every now and then we have teams that were not as competitive as, I want to say the top eight, around there so we want to focus on making sure the highest level of competition happens in contenders as intended.”
It was also announced that there would be significant bias towards the North American region as it would now be split into two regions, a Western and an Eastern division. This was justified due to “the number of Academy teams in North America.”
The conversation moved on to finances. “So, less teams, a longer season, what does this mean financially?” the chair asks. “Finances were a point consistently raised across previous seasons, so at the minute, again not finalized, how the regional split is. Because you’ll know Europe was one of the regions that had a higher prize pool than say compared to Australia or South America. It will be roughly the same but the distribution will be more top-heavy, meaning that the teams with better results and the teams finishing first and second will have a better financial outcome in comparison to what they would have now.”
Again at this point several of the assembled managers noted their objections to this restructuring.
These changes come amid several cost-cutting exercises surrounding some Overwatch related properties, most notably the firing of several high profile contractors who had worked on Overwatch broadcasts from both the Burbank and New York offices. At that time several sources came forward to tell us this was part of an ongoing way to cut costs relating to Overwatch without having to make cuts that directly impact on the franchised league itself. Whether or not these changes are related to that isn’t clear at this time.