For the past two years, Blizzard Arena Los Angeles has been home to the Overwatch League. Twenty teams from around the world meet on this stage. Starting in 2020, however, that will no longer be the case.
During an interview at the South by Southwest conference last week, Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer confirmed that in the 2020 season, the League’s teams will play matches out of their affiliated cities. Overwatch League was the first Esports franchise to create teams based out of individual cities. Four of the League’s teams are based in China, two apiece are based in Canada and Europe, one is based in South Korea, and the remaining eleven are based in the United States.
The @overwatchleague is coming home – and away! Starting in 2020, all Overwatch League teams will be playing in their home cities. We’re super excited to see our original vision brought to life. Thanks to all of our fans for your amazing support!
— Nate Nanzer (@natenanzer) March 15, 2019
The announcement has generated some concern, primarily over the health and well-being of Overwatch League’s players. Currently, teams live together in the Los Angeles area for the duration of the season. This new model would require teams to travel around the world for long stretches of time. Athlete burnout was an issue during Overwatch League’s inaugural season even without the added stress of travel. While the League’s players seem to have been consulted about the new change, it’s unclear how much power they actually had in this decision.
Of course, non-Esports athletes frequently travel for away games. Very few sports, however, require their athletes to regularly travel across the world to play hour-long matches. Arguably more than any other Esports franchise, Overwatch League has attempted to model their professional world after traditional sports leagues.
Others worry that the Overwatch League will be unable to sustain enough viewership to warrant such a huge and costly change to their model. This argument doesn’t seem to hold water. While Twitch viewership started slightly down from last year’s season, overall viewership is up for the League this year. Viewership has gradually increased this year as the season goes on.
For the time being, Blizzard intends to focus on making the huge switch to a home-game based system for season three of the League. They do not plan on adding any more expansion teams between seasons two and three.
This season, the Overwatch League will leave its home arena in Burbank three times. The Dallas Fuel will host eight matches in Allen, Texas in late April. In early July, the Atlanta Reign will host the weekend, followed by the LA Valiant at Microsoft’s The Novo in late August.
Is Overwatch League coming to a city near you? You’ll certainly be able to find me bopping up to Canada next year!