Blizzard indefinitely delayed Overwatch 2 until at least 2023 — perhaps longer — as Blizzard's entire business continues to crumble before fans’ very eyes.
The delay obviously upset many people, especially considering Overwatch 2 has been used as an excuse to never release any new maps or characters in Overwatch for two years now. And it will now likely be used as an excuse for two more years. But while the Overwatch fan base is certainly a victim of Blizzard's incompetence, the larger victim is their very own Overwatch League.
The Overwatch League already announced that its 2022 season will be played on an early build of Overwatch 2. This announcement was seen by many as a signal that OW2 would release next year. But now that it isn't, OWL is in a weird lose-lose situation. Some argued they should reverse their decision, though this would screw over the teams that have already built rosters around OW2's 5v5 format. Their other option was to move forward with OW2 anyway, leaving pros unable to practice the same game they compete in outside pro scrims.
For what it is worth, the League confirmed with Inven Global that it is sticking to its guns and moving forward with Overwatch 2.
The Overwatch League's lose-lose scenario
The Overwatch League was forced to make a decision between going forward with an early build of Overwatch 2 or reversing their decision and sticking with the original Overwatch for the next OWL season. In either situation, they would have been screwing someone over.
As they go forward with the Overwatch 2 build, they bring numerous disadvantages to the fans, the league, and the players due to the delay of the game.
For fans, they will be watching a game that isn't out, and won't be out for a long time. This could very well frustrate many fans and alienate them from the game, considering part of the conceit of esports is that players are competing in the same game the pros are playing. This could also have a negative impact on the hype around Overwatch 2, since we will have seen it played professionally for years before we can get our hands on it, which is just weird.
For professional players, they will only be able to play the game they compete in professionally with other professionals, while the ladder remains Overwatch. Ladder play will continue to be 6v6, meaning if they practice outside pro scrims, they will have to compete on standard Overwatch while being expected to master Overwatch 2 at the same time. Players expected to have to deal with this gap for a little while next season, but its looking like this will be a long-term situation rather than a short term inconvience due to the delay of Overwatch 2.
Pro player Logix pointed this out on Twitter following the announcement, saying that it’s “gonna feel bad.”
And given the delay, it's not even clear if a stable early build of Overwatch 2 will truly be ready for the new season. We don’t know many details about why they are delaying the project, but it seems like if the game isn’t ready for the public, it might also not be ready for the professional scene either. So going forward with it is definitely a risky move.
On the flip side, reverting the decision would have also been fraught with issues. Overwatch League teams have already made roster decisions and plans for next year based on the fact that the league will be playing on the 5v5 Overwatch 2 rather than the 6v6 Overwatch 1. It’s November and we are deep into the OWL roster mania, so it is pretty late for teams to be expected to change course for next year. It simply wouldn't be fair to teams that already committed resources and contracts based on the OW2 announcement.
The reversal of the OW2 plan would also have harmed the overall excitement for the next Overwatch League season. If we are being honest, interest in the Overwatch League has steadily declined over the past few years, due in part to the complete stagnation of the games map and hero meta.
The last new map added to the game was Havana all the way back in November of 2019, and the last character was Echo in April of 2020. The move to a build of Overwatch 2 is set to bring back some of the excitement to the league with new content, and pulling it back to standard Overwatch would have risked continuing the downward spiral of excitement.
The Overwatch League picks its poison
The Overwatch League finds itself trapped between two bad options, and they chose to stick with their original plan of using an early build of Overwatch 2, despite the potential odd experience for players and viewers alike.
"We are now planning for a later launch of Overwatch 2 than originally envisaged, but as previously announced the Overwatch League 2022 season will run on an early build of Overwatch 2’s new 5v5 competitive multiplayer mode," a OWL spokesperson told Inven Global. "So starting in the Spring, the next season of the Overwatch League will give the community a fantastic view into the development team’s planned direction for the franchise before experiencing the content for themselves."
Transitioning to the early build of the newly delayed Overwatch 2 will probably upset numerous fans who won't be able to play that game for a long time to come. It will also put pro-players in a very weird position, where they are scrimming on a different game than they are practicing on when they hit the Overwatch ladder, which could affect the quality of the OWL matches and harm player retention, something that has already been an issue for the league since the onset of COVID.
All that said, it's hard to say the Overwatch League made the wrong decision moving forward with the early build of Overwatch 2, considering the significant downsides either way, but one thing is clear: this whole situation has been a disaster for the Overwatch League.
Aaron is an esports reporter with a background in media, technology, and communication education.