[Updated 3/17/2021] The Overwatch League to place less emphasis on live events in 2021

Source: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Update 3/17/2021: Blizzard sent the following statement to Inven Global: “Live events are still very much a part of both the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League strategies. We plan to get back to them as soon as it's safe to do so and logistically feasible.”


Original article:

The Overwatch League will be focusing its energy on primarily online competition, and host fewer live events, at least for now, according to a new interview from a Blizzard executive.


Activision Blizzard Esports is set to announce a major restructuring of their operations, according to a Sports Business Journal interview with the President of Sports and Entertainment at Activision Blizzard Tony Petitti on Tuesday. Along with their plans to lay off around 50 employees, Petitti indicated that the esports division is planning to become "less dependent on live events."


Explained Petitti: "We learned a lot last year in terms of how the leagues can be structured for online play, and we'll look to carry forward the best practices from tha. In terms of timing, it’s a reaction to the realities of how the leagues are playing and what resources we need to allocate to best serve the league, owners, teams, and fans."


Blizzard clarified with Inven Global that restructuring to be "less dependent on live events" doesn't mean they won't host live events in the future. They said that those events are still part of their long-term strategy. However, they did not specify which live events they intend to keep. Given that they already canceled the homestands for this upcoming season, it's pretty safe to say we won't be seeing those this year.

Will the Overwatch League rethink the homestand model? 


The Overwatch League launched with 12 teams in 2018, each one based in a different global city. The vision behind the Overwatch League was to emulate the franchise models of sports seen in the NBA, MLB, NHL, and other major league sports.


As part of that model, the Overwatch League originally planned to eventually implement a "homestand" format, where teams travel around, taking turns playing at home and away events in various cities with Overwatch League teams. The idea might have worked if the league hadn't kicked off the homestand system last year, just as COVID-19 hit.


The Overwatch League ended up hosting a few NA homestands in early 2020 before the lockdowns set in, but the spread of the virus forced the league to cancel all APAC homestands from the get-go and eventually cancel all of the remaining NA homestands once it became clear that the pandemic was a serious threat to global health and safety.  


While the Overwatch League managed to transition online during California's lockdown, they lost a ton of potential revenue and exposure that would have resulted from the 2020 homestand events.  Now that the pandemic has been a reality for a year, it simply doesn't make sense for Blizzard to focus on implementing their home/away homestand system, given that it will be a while before operations can go back to post-pandemic levels of normal.


The Overwatch League placing less emphasis on homestands and live events hardly comes as a surprise to Overwatch League fans, who are already preparing for an all-online fourth season starting in April. According to a comment from Blizzard to Inven Global, they will return their emphasis to live events when it becomes feasible to do so. Until then, at least we can continue to watch online.

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