After six seasons, it seems that the Overwatch League (OWL) is undergoing a significant transformation. A spokesperson from Blizzard informed Engadget that they are moving away from the Overwatch League and steering competitive Overwatch in a new direction. This, however, does not signify a complete withdrawal from Overwatch esports for the publisher. The statement expressed gratitude to everyone involved in making OWL possible and emphasized their dedication to constructing a reinvigorated esports program. Details of this new direction are anticipated to be shared in the near future.
In July, Activision Blizzard laid off approximately 50 esports staff and disclosed plans for OWL team owners to vote on the league’s continuation after the 2023 season. Activision Blizzard outlined that if teams chose not to continue, a termination fee of $6 million would be paid to each team. The company has not disclosed whether the vote has occurred or, if so, what the outcomes were.
However, on the same day, the owner of the OWL team Toronto Defiant confirmed its departure from the league. OverActive Media stated that it terminated its team participation agreement and would receive a $6 million termination payment from Activision Blizzard. Despite leaving the league, OverActive Media intends to stay involved in Overwatch esports.
Adam Adamou, Co-founder and CEO of OverActive Media, expressed optimism about the transition, stating, “As we transition into the next phase of Overwatch esports, we look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.” He added that more information about their vision for Toronto Defiant and plans to rejoin Overwatch esports would be shared soon.
OAM has confirmed its exit from the @overwatchleague. The Company is set for its next chapter with a strengthened financial position and continued commitment to esports. We expect more information to come re: our vision for @TorontoDefiant and our plans to return to Overwatch…
— OverActive (@overactivegg) November 8, 2023
Following the Chengdu Hunters, the Toronto Defiant becomes the second team to exit the Overwatch League (OWL). The Chengdu Hunters opted out of the 2023 season due to the closure of Overwatch 2 and other Blizzard games in China, officially announcing their departure mid-year.
Amid the OWL’s ambiguous future, various teams are taking actions such as releasing players and suspending operations. Notably, the Florida Mayhem’s entire roster and staff entered free agency merely 19 days after clinching the 2023 OWL championship. Blizzard, on October 2, the day following the Grand Finals, communicated its focus on “building our vision of a revitalized esports program.”
— Overwatch League (@overwatchleague) October 2, 2023
The downfall of OWL has been evident for a while, with the initial vision of a global home-and-away league format proving unfeasible. The initial two seasons were primarily held in a California studio, and despite Blizzard’s ambition to implement matches in each team’s city weekly, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shift to an online-only format. This adjustment deprived teams of the coveted live event revenue.
Owl faced challenges such as viewership struggles, sponsors withdrawing, and the sexual harassment and discrimination scandal at Activision Blizzard, which may have contributed to its demise. Despite polished and entertaining broadcasts and matches, the odds were stacked against OWL.
The future of professional Overwatch remains uncertain, but reports suggest a potential return to a more open format. According to esports reporter Jacob Wolf, talks between Activision Blizzard and the Saudi Arabian state-owned ESL FACEIT Group are underway for the latter to manage the 2024 pro-Overwatch season. Meanwhile, a Blizzard-sponsored Overwatch 2 tournament, featuring regional prize pools of $50,000 and veteran OWL players, is set to commence this weekend.