Open Division and its flaws.
With season 1 of the Open Division in the books a few glaring issues have arose with Blizzard Entertainment’s “Entry Level” of the Overwatch League.Let’s first talk about what the Division is described as by Blizzard:
“THE PATH TO STARDOM BEGINS HERE
If you’re ranked Master or higher in Overwatch for PC, assemble your team to compete in the Overwatch Open Division. This entry-level program for aspiring professionals will be the proving ground where players can test their strengths as teammates.”
That is the first line of text on the Open Divisions website leading future players to believe this is where you start your Overwatch career. The progression seems easy, buy the game and learn in quick play, move on to competitive and become a Master, and then you can enter the Open Division as a free agent or join a team of like skilled players. Easy enough. You even receive Battle.net balance for just finishing your 7 regular season matches, seems like a no brainer.
Now let’s talk about the issues that have sprung up during season 1 leading into season 2.
Lack of promotion
Blizzard and ESL, 2 giants in gaming and esports didn’t even think it was a good idea to send out tweets about when matches are or who won in any of the rounds. Overwatch League and Overwatch Contenders both have dedicated twitter accounts and stand alone websites. Contenders has its own Twitch channel and is featured on a monthly Overwatch esports calendar. ESL has a dedicated Twitch channel for Overwatch that currently plays reruns of matches that played out in earlier part of 2017, but did not broadcast the playoffs or the finals of Season 1. The Open Division currently has no clear path into the next tier of Overwatch esports ( Contenders ), other than a current team in Contenders noticing you and singing you to their roster. How are they going to notice you if the series has no social media or streaming promotion to showcase the skills and abilities of the players and teams competing in the division?
With ESL having a dedicated Overwatch Twitch I am sure some of the Lesser known casters and even some podcast hosts wouldn’t mind casting some matches. Not only get the Division exposure but to add to their resume for the future when more casters are needed for local or regional matches. Even if it was two featured matches a week with the full playoff and finals weekend streamed I am sure the players and casters would greatly appreciate the exposure.
Prize not being paid out until the end of the following season is our next issue that has players talking about the lackluster first season. Recently on the Open Division discord it was brought to light that payments could take as long as 60 days to be distributed to participants of season 1 putting them right around the end of season 2. Most of the players I have spoken to don’t expect a massive jump in prize money but the prize structure paired with the lack of promotion makes it hard on some of the more serious teams and free agents to justify playing in season 2. Some third party organizers have better payouts for shorter tournaments with accompanying streaming of matches giving the players participating in these tournaments more coverage when professional teams may start looking to pick up back ups before the Overwatch League starts up.
EMRusto founder of The Savages a team that made the playoffs in season 1 has said his team will not participate in season 2 and is quoted from the ESL Open Division discord as saying, “Virtually no moderation, low prizepool that doesn’t get paid out for months, no streams, annoying roster requirements, seemingly has nothing to do with Contenders despite the homepage saying it’s a precursor. No reason to be here other then fun tbh. Nice website but it’s ESL so that shouldn’t have to be said.” At least 1 other team that made the playoffs has dropped out of season 2.
Top talent choosing to play somewhere else is not a good sign for the series that is supposed to be the entry into professional Overwatch esports.
EMRusto brings up another point about season 1 and that was the 8 player roster restrictions. Rosters lock before a game is played in the season leaving teams in a particularly bad spot if one or more of their team can’t make it on a match day or have an emergency that could pull them out for more games. Then there is the chance that 2 weeks into the tournament that player personalities start to butt heads you are now locked into playing 5 more weeks in a toxic team environment. This could be an easy fix by simply allowing roster swaps up to week 4 with the roster locking at the start of week 5, think the trade deadline in all major sports. We even see something like what I propose here being used in Contenders so simply adopting the Contenders rule set could take care of one of the issues many teams in season 1 were dealing with.
The final issue that had a few players talking about was match schedules. The exact line from the ESL quick rules section says “Teams are to play their matches every Sunday from 4pm till 7pm EDT” giving teams a 3 hour window only on sunday to schedule the match with their opponent, and the only way teams could schedule on a different day was to agree with the opponent and do the game in secret on the agreed upon day and report it on sunday. There is another easy solution for this issue, teams are given their opponent on Monday of the match week and should be given from Wednesday at 4pm EDT to Sunday at 7pm EDT to complete the match and report the results.
With season 2 starting September 10th we can only hope Blizzard and ESL take notice and work on fixing these player issues for season 3 before we see more teams opting out of taking part in the Division.