Photo: Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment
As 2019 comes to an end and we look back on the last season of the Overwatch League it’s easy to forget that we’re only two seasons deep. It’s a short history for a League that accomplished a great deal in such a short time. Along with a few other major scenes in the esports world we wanted to take this time over the Holiday to do a State of the Union as we ring in the New Year.
It seems like it’s been forever since the inaugural season of Overwatch when skeptics were debating whether or not the traditional model of franchised teams would work in esports. Would people even care that the teams were tied to home cities or would that break the bond some fans have with teams and players because they’re not from those locations? That was all nonsense, because not only did it work in the inaugural season it worked with the expansion teams as well.
Even back when the league was first announced there was naysaying around the price of entry and if anyone would be crazy enough to pay that much money for a franchise spot into an unproven league. When the 2019 season came around and the price of entry was rumored to have double, it seemed like Blizzard was asking for too much and flying too close to the sun. But again, several organizations and team stepped up. From their brands to their rosters these expansion teams blended in seamlessly with the inaugural teams with fan favorites like the Hangzhou Spark taking social media by storm with their unique personality and amazing promotional art for each match-up they’d play. The biggest concern I had was whether or not the expansion teams would be able to keep up with the other established teams. That was a worry that was laid to rest very early on as the Vancouver Titans, formerly known as Team Runaway, began their incredible run that would net them first seed in the play-offs. Blizzard and the Overwatch League has no plans to increase the number of teams in the 2020 season, but should they do so in the future I have no doubt they’ll be as seamlessly integrated as the teams in 2019 were.
Another major win for the Overwatch League is the level of parity in the league. While there is a clear top and bottom of the league when you compare 2019 to the inaugural season there was a vast shake-up in the hierarchy of top contenders. The San Francisco Shock who were middling at best in 2018 rose to become the Champions in what will remain one of the most incredible runs of the League. Alongside the Vancouver Titans, 2019 will be remembered as the year that one of the most intense rivalries were born. We also saw heroes fall as the 2018 London Spitfire struggled to leave their mark on the League for a second year in a row. Their performance was so lackluster compared to the previous year that the team has been rebuilt from the ground up for 2020. The Philadelphia Fusion who faced off against the Spitfire in last years Championship also underperformed given their history. We saw the rise of the Shanghai Dragons who went on in Stage 3 to claim the finals over the San Francisco Shock. The Houston Outlaws who had a disappointing year took a win over the unstoppable San Francisco Shock as well. Any given payload in the Overwatch League could result in a miracle and 2019 season illustrated that perfectly.
The last major building block of the 2019 season that helped to shape what the future would hold for the League is the homestand games. 2020 will take the Overwatch League on the road and to cities and venues around the world week after week and that’s due to the success of the three homestand weekends throughout the year. Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles hosted their events and sold out to passionate crowds of fans who are the lifeblood of this league.
If I could sum up the 2019 Overwatch League season in one word, it would be Legacy. 2018 was a great start but the London Spitfire were only the first to claim the Championship. It was the San Francisco Shock who may have perfected it. From their lackluster first year to their bloodthirsty tit for tat rivalry against the Vancouver Titans. The Shock rose from the dirt and grime of the inaugural season and were led to a monumental victory by Matthew “Super” DeLisi and Jay “Sinatraa” Won. 2020 will be an important year for the Shock as they move forward and if they keep up the aggression and the perfection we saw in 2019 will be a forge a true empire in esports akin to what we see in traditional sports with the likes of the New England Patriots.
As for the League as a whole, it’s continuing to prove that it’s a force in the esports space. From the franchise model to seamlessly integrating expansion teams to homestands. Whatever the Overwatch League has planned for 2020 and beyond they continue to set the bar higher and higher.