As promised, Blizzard has unveiled "the next chapter" of professional Overwatch esports: The Overwatch Champions Series, a multi-region competitive circuit that will culminate in two major tournaments at Dreamhack.
The Overwatch Champions Series will be operated in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa by, an esports company owned by Saudi Arabia's Savvy Games Group, which in recent years has moved aggressively, and sometimes controversially, to become a major player on the global videogame scene.
Competitions in Asia will be run by Korean organizer WDG. Each region will have its own set of open qualifiers and tournaments, leading up to two in-person international events: The first at the Dreamhack Dallas Major, which runs May 31-June 2, and then the World Finals at Dreamhack Stockholm on November 22-24.
"A thriving esports scene is important to a game as competitive as Overwatch 2, and we’re very excited to be entering this next era for the franchise with EFG," Overwatch 2 executive producer Jared Neuss said.
Blizzard said when it ended the Overwatch League that it was "evolving competitive Overwatch in a new direction," and it's not surprising to see it move toward a more typical esports structure. The idea of establishing an esports league in a format similar to conventional pro sports leagues, with city-based teams competing in home-and-away games over a set schedule, was bold but never caught on.
Live competitions, a central element of the Overwatch League plan, were shut down before they really got underway due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while the expense of operating teams and workplace misconduct scandal at Activision Blizzard—which drove away major advertisers—took a further toll. Activision first acknowledged in May 2023 that the Overwatch League was in trouble, and finally ended it in November 2023, although it promised information on "a revitalized esports program ... in the near future," which apparently is now.
Even with the shift to a typical esports format, the Overwatch Champions League faces a couple of big challenges. For one, Blizzard still doesn't have a publishing partner for Overwatch in China: Players in China lost access to it and other Blizzard games in January 2023 because of a falling-out with NetEase, a situation that remains unresolved. Today's announcement of the new league didn't comment on that situation but in a statement provided to PC Gamer, Blizzard said "OWCS competition is only offered in countries with current ongoing support for the Overwatch 2 Live Service," something China currently does not have.
Another issue is the current state of Overwatch 2, which associate editor Tyler Colp recently described as "turbulent." Earlier in January, Blizzard announced a major change to the game that will see all players given a self-healing ability, reducing their reliance on support players and turning a game that "used to celebrate teamwork" into one where the fastest (or biggest) gun will win the day.
"By minimizing the opportunities for support to step in, the distinction between all three roles blurs and the web that holds a team together dissolves with it," Colp wrote. "Instead of an arena for balletic expressions of teamwork, changes like this flatten Overwatch into a cartoony firing range."
Simplifying the Overwatch 2 meta in that way might make life less frustrating for casual players in pickup games, which is Blizzard's stated goal. But stamping complexities to make Overwatch 2 more accessible to casual players may not serve the pro scene well.
Blizzard later said that the addition of self-healing is only "one part of a much larger set of changes coming to the game" in season nine. Maybe the full suite of changes will add as much as it takes away, but for now that uncertainty looms large. But Colp warned in his analysis that "if Blizzard overcorrects too many times, players might start to lose their patience as they scramble to keep up with a game that can't seem to figure itself out," and if that starts to happen I don't think it's very likely they'll stick around to watch the pro scene either.