With the Shanghai Dragons’ victory over the San Francisco shock came the end of something larger in the Overwatch League. No, I’m not talking about GOATs or triple-DPS compositions, I’m actually referring to the concept of stages in the OWL, at least ones that are finalized with their own playoffs.
When season three of the league begins in 2020, the general season will exist as one continuous event, with an all-stars tournament in the middle, and regular breaks for teams in the schedule. This is of course due to the traveling logistics of teams moving from city to city regularly, meaning that they won’t easily be able to converge so frequently. These stage playoffs have also fallen slightly out of favor due to the hefty increase in the size of the league this season, meaning that they no longer existed as near-round robins like they did last season, and instead pit teams against seven random opponents with the idea that over the course of the entire season each team would face the 10 teams in the opposite division once, and the other nine teams in their own division twice.
Of course, the 2019 season is still underway in stage four as teams work to secure seeds in the playoffs and the play-in tournament, but teams at the bottom of the barrel (I’m looking at you Washington and Florida) are merely playing to save face. Last season the Dallas Fuel managed to secure a seed in the fourth stage play-offs having already been eliminated from season play-off contention, offering an exciting storyline for fans to follow as the team emerged from disarray and showed some potential for the current season. Of course, it seems highly unlikely that either of our two eliminated teams were likely to have made such runs, but it seems unfortunate that any improvements they’d make in the coming stage can only be written off as improvements to hopefully continue into next year.
But the loss of stage playoffs doesn’t only mean something will be lost for teams hoping to save face, it also takes away the excitement of these quarterly tournaments that pit the best against the best. These neat end-caps onto storylines like the Uprising 10-match win-streak in stage three last year, San Francisco’s golden stage from last year, Shanghai Dragons clawing their way into 8th seed to wind this past stage, and of course London Spitfire’s reverse sweep against NYXL in stage one of last year, will go the way of the dodo. It will require the league to adapt its narrative building structure as there are no longer these chapter ends that they’ll be able to fixate on and will instead have to rely on regional rivalries as well as the grand picture.
The change is one that was inevitable from the Overwatch League’s inception, as it sought to bring traditional sporting models into esports, but it still should be noted that with something being gained in 2020, something equally is lost.