Going through this pandemic hasn’t been easy on any industry, and esports was no exception. Differing local rules and measures, countless cancelled events and travel bans have seriously hurt esports as a whole. While most major leagues successfully adapted and switched to remote and online-only competitions, things are still not as they should be for the Overwatch League.
The viewer and players numbers have not been the same or even better in a year where most games are seeing a bump in player numbers. Now, an unprecedented number of Overwatch players have been released or dismissed by their teams in recent days. More then half of the players in the Overwatch League will become free agents in just a few days.
As of October 24th, players can officially be free agents again, provided their team does not extend their contracts (or has them locked in a multi-year contract already). An unprecedented number of players is affected this off-season.
Who is leaving?
So far, not all teams and all players have reached a decision on their contracts, but of the ones that have, teams are dropping a lot of players. Atlanta Reign, for example, declined to extend the contracts of 4 of their 12 players, with two more on contracts that are expiring with this season. One player is still under an ongoing contract, and for 5 more they opted to keep them on the roster. This actually makes them one of the teams that kept more players than most.
Other teams are doing the same thing but worse – Dallas Fuel especially has been absolutely radical with their roster. They chose to keep Dong-Ha “Doha” Kim on, and declined ALL other player’s options, releasing the entire rest of their 11-player roster to be free agents.
London Spitfire had a somewhat unique approach – they released all but 4 of their 12 by mutual agreement (rather than simply declining a contract extension).
We want to thank them for all of their hard work, passion, dedication and time on the Fuel. We wish them the absolute best in their future endeavors. pic.twitter.com/efF9UWv5dQ
— Dallas Ghoul 👻 (@DallasFuel) October 17, 2020
We can expect a lot of players being dropped as soon as their contracts expire as well. Given there are rumors about teams approaching the next season with more “limited” rosters, we might face a huge amount of OWL pros suddenly finding themselves orgless.
Overwatch offseason stats
In total, of all the team players, 59 players had the extension option declined by their team. 28 are still under existing contracts, while 34 are on contracts that expire this season. They in particular are free to sign back up with their existing teams, but can also negotiate with other teams. Of course, free agents that had their options declined can also sign with other teams, they are however less likely to stay on the team that declined to extend their contract.
So far, 10 players have reached a mutual agreement with their teams to become free agents – the majority of them from the London Spitfires. Three players – Shao-Hua “Ating” Chen, Young-Jin “Gamsu” Noh and Tzu-Heng “Baconjack” Lo are retiring at the end of this season. For 28 players, things are still up in the air – teams have the option to extend or not extend their contracts until November 13th.
All teams must have a minimum of 7 players by January 4th, giving them several months to negotiate with free agents to fill the gaps – and they need to. At the moment, only Hangzhou Spark and Shanghai Dragons have the requisite 7 players, though SF Shock is close with 6 players.
The future of Overwatch and OWL
What does all of this mean for Overwatch? Well, it certainly shoes a huge upset in team rosters and player line-ups. Of the 201 players currently listed on rosters, a whopping 102 are going to be free agents in just a few days. While it’s unlikely that they will all change teams or stop playing on the OWL entirely, fans have to expect some major changes in their favourite teams.
As for why this is all happening – well, there are several contributing factors. The pandemic is certainly one, and in more ways than you may think. With an overwhelming number of players being from South Korea, many want to go home to their friends and family, rather staying on teams especially in the US, where the coronavirus has been handled extremely poorly. With the crisis having impacted tournaments, teams are also less eager to sign longer contracts, particularly when their future isn’t as secure as it would have been a year ago.
Then there is the other big factor – Overwatch 2. With the game reportedly being released in February 2021, players and teams aren’t sure what sort of changes it will bring, and how it will affect their rosters and the OWL. The current off-season is also longer than in previous years – the next OWL season won’t start until April next year, leading to a particularly long (and likely tough) period of uncertainty for the players.
Thirdly, competitors like Valorant are ramping up their esports efforts and many notable Overwatch pros have already made the transition to Riot’s title. There is a reality where most of the unsigned pros after this season make a transition to Valorant.
It’ll be the trading and contract-signing period that will really show how things will progress.