February 29, 2024

Blizzard has revealed the next evolution of top-level Overwatch 2 esports after the demise of the Overwatch League. The publisher has teamed up with ESL FACEIT Group (EFG) to run the new Overwatch Champions Series (OWCS) under an exclusive multi-year agreement.

OWCS is an open-format circuit in which teams from North America; Europe, Middle East, North Africa (EMEA); and Asia can compete without having to pay multi-million-dollar franchise fees. EFG will operate the Overwatch Champions Series in North America and EMEA, while Korean esports tournament organizer WDG will oversee the Asia circuit.

There will be regional qualifiers and tournaments held in the lead up to two in-person events later this year at DreamHack Dallas (May 31-June 2) and DreamHack Stockholm (November 22-24). Eight teams will compete at each event, with those qualifying for DreamHack Stockholm duking it out to become the first OWCS champions. That tournament will also mark the first top-level Overwatch competition in Europe in over five years.

Qualifiers will start in Feburary. Additional details about the tournaments, including formats, ticket sales and prize pools, will be announced later.

“A thriving esports scene is important to a game as competitive as Overwatch 2, and we’re very excited to be entering this next era for the franchise with EFG,” the game’s executive producer Jared Neuss said in a statement.

Blizzard notes that any player who is interested in getting involved can use FACEIT’s community tools to find teammates and events to compete in, while an ongoing schedule of events “creates a clear path to pro play for aspiring OWCS stars.” In addition, Blizzard says that by making the most of EFG’s tools and capabilities, it will be able to create an open, inclusive and sustainable competitive scene. FACEIT will also support those looking to run third-party tournaments and community experiences.

The Overwatch League, Blizzard’s ambitious pro circuit, came to an end in 2023 after six seasons. The day after the 2023 Grand Finals in October, Blizzard said it was “focusing on building our vision of a revitalized esports program.” Weeks later, a majority of teams voted to end their participation in the league, triggering a $6 million payment to each from Activision Blizzard, and hammering the final nail into OWL’s coffin.

Former Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick’s grand vision for a franchised, city-based Overwatch esports league never quite worked out. Factors such as COVID-19, viewership struggles, Blizzard games shutting down in China, the sexual harassment and discrimination scandal at the publisher and the fact many of the teams were running at a loss all contributed to OWL’s demise.

Alongside the reveal of the OWCS, Blizzard has announced the end of its Overwatch Contenders and Open Division initiatives, which effectively added as feeder systems for OWL. “The Path to Pro system has been an initiative that has welcomed so many of our players and fans into Overwatch Esports and developed so much of the talent that made the Overwatch League,” Overwatch Esports head Sean Miller wrote in a blog post. “With OWCS, we now have a more open ecosystem where any player can fight their way to OWCS Champion.”

For the time being, Blizzard doesn’t have any updates to announce regarding the Overwatch Collegiate system. Thankfully, the excellent Calling All Heroes program (which is designed to uplift members of marginalized gender identities across the Overwatch ecosystem) isn’t going anywhere.

EFG, whose parent is the Saudi Arabia government-funded Savvy Games Group, is arguably well-placed to run Overwatch esports as a more sustainable endeavor. The company operates pro circuits for many other games, including other Blizzard titles such as StarCraft II.

Hosting several esports events at large-scale festivals like DreamHack (which has held Overwatch tournaments in the past) helps to minimize costs. The OWCS may not end up selling out arenas by itself as the Overwatch League used to, but it at least seems like a viable, open future for Overwatch 2 esports.

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