Just over 24 hours after stage 3 of the Overwatch League 2019 came to a close, Blizzard released the first details of its 2020 OWL season, including radical changes to divisional structure and an expansion of Homestand Weekends.
Fans who have been following since the launch of the league in 2018 will be relieved that, for the most part, the league will remain unchanged and no new teams will be added for 2020.
This was widely expected and rumoured, but nonetheless will be a disappointment for fans in areas which are still underrepresented, such as Australia and South America regions.
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Based on Tuesday's announcement, we will see the same 20 teams featuring in 2020, although the exact status of the Houston Outlaws following the sale of OpTic Gaming to Immortals in June remains unclear.
As expected, the 28-match-per-season format that began in 2019 will continue for 2020. Each team will play teams in its ‘home’ conference twice, and teams in the ‘away’ conference twice. So, for example, NYXL will play London Spitfire twice in the regular stage, but only play Vancouver Titans once.
The season will once again run from February to August, with an ‘All-Star’ event scheduled midway through the season.
Tuesday's announcement from Blizzard outlined some significant changes to the Divisional Structures and to their schedule, both of which are likely to have a major impact on how fans enjoy the Overwatch League in 2020.
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To many Overwatch League fans, the adherence to a divisional structure during the Inaugural Season seemed completely arbitrary, but as we enter into the third year of competition its purpose is beginning to emerge.
For 2020, the current ‘Divisions’ will be renamed as ‘Conferences’ and will be subdivided into two groups. So, the current ‘Atlantic Division’ will become the ‘Atlantic Conference’ and will be subdivided into ‘North Division’ and ‘South Division’. The current ‘Pacific Division’ will be renamed ‘Pacific Conference’ and will be split into ‘West Division’ and ‘East Division’.
The full reasoning behind these changes will become apparent once we look at the Homestand schedule for 2020 but the Overwatch League conferences for 2020 are as follows:
- Boston Uprising
- London Spitfire
- New York Excelsior
- Paris Eternal
- Toronto Defiant
- Atlanta Reign
- Florida Mayhem
- Houston Outlaws
- Philadelphia Fusion
- Washington Justice
- Chengdu Hunters
- Guangzhou Charge
- Hangzhou Spark
- Shanghai Dragons
- Seoul Dynasty
- Dallas Fuel
- Los Angeles Valiant
- Los Angeles Gladiators
- San Francisco Shock
- Vancouver Titans
Schedules and Homestands
In early 2019, Blizzard introduced the concept of ‘Homestands’ to the Overwatch League. Effectively, these ‘Homestand Weekends’ gave teams a chance to play league games on the road and in front of their home fans.
In the first of these Homestands, seven Overwatch League teams travelled to Texas to play a series of matches over two days in front of a raucous Dallas Fuel crowd. Subsequent Homestands were held in Atlanta and Los Angeles.
For 2020, this ‘Homestand’ concept will be significantly extended, although it will still fall short of the full ‘home and away’ format which had been previously rumoured.
Each team will host two Homestand events during the season. In addition, each newly formed ‘division’ will “collectively host” three more Homestands, although it’s not yet clear how the locations for these will be decided.
This means we can expect a total of 52 Homestand events in 2020.
The press release sent by Blizzard states that, “regular-season matches will be played on weekends, with times optimized for local markets”. The obvious implication here is that - for Homestand matches at least - gameplay will only take place on Saturdays and Sundays.
It’s not clear how this might affect the overall schedule for Overwatch League, but it certainly seems like this spells the end of the current format which allowed Overwatch League fans to enjoy four-match long broadcasts with a set daily schedule from Thursday to Sunday each week. Once the final schedule for the 2020 season is released in August, the full picture will be clear.
In a further significant change to the current season, the Overwatch League will no longer be split into stages. From 2020, the league will run in one continuous competition, with teams enjoying occasional ‘bye-weeks’ and rest periods. From a fan’s perspective, this guarantees that matches will run every weekend for seven months of the year, and from a team’s perspective it will spare them the highs-and-lows of erratic stage scheduling.
The ‘Grand Finals’ format will remain unchanged for 2020, with the top performing teams brought together to play a knockout series to crown the 2020 Overwatch League Champions, the Los Angeles Gladiators.
Pictures: Blizzard / Overwatch League