The champions of the Overwatch League are leaving. After the 2019 season champion and MVP Jay “sinatraa” Won retired from the game, another champion followed suit and abandoned Overwatch for a new game. Lee “ANS” Seon-chang, who led San Francisco Shock to the 2020 season trophy, announced retirement this January and headed to T1’s Valorant team in March. On his way out, ANS said on his stream that “the level of Overwatch is getting lower day by day”, while also criticizing the unbalanced matching system and long-gone updates.
If just one champion leaves, one could attribute it to an individual problem. When sinatraa retired saying he had lost passion for the game, some criticized him for his lack of professionalism. While there was criticism towards Overwatch at the time (and to this day), sinatraa’s transition to VALORANT stirred the spirits in the community.
But it’s another year and another champion who bids OWL farewell, signaling that the fundamental problems of the game have not been fixed with time.
There’s still no change to the league’s format after a full year. The patch notes have been stiff. Echo, the recently added “brand new” hero, just copies other heroes’ abilities, making him not all that special. The meta doesn’t change. The matches are the same, and the compositions are the same — with only minor hero rotations as heroes with similar abilities trade places.
The OWL pros echo this sentiment. On the media day held on Apr. 13, Park “KariV” Young-seo of Guangzhou Charge said: “The meta that’s similar to last year is still continuing. It’ll be hard to expect new compositions.”
SF Shock’s Choi “ChoiHyoBin” Hyo-bin added: “Unless there’s a new hero or some new patches, there will be no change. Whatever meta there is, it’s still the most efficient compositions that we’ve played earlier.”
Even pros who had previously found new compositions and ways to utilize a wider hero pool now find it impossible to come up with fresh new strategies. And so, on the media day of the ever-the-same league, reporters had nothing left to ask and pros only had the obvious answers. The “long-awaited” media day was rather silent.
Some lay their chips that the release of Overwatch 2 will overcome this metagame traffic jam, but time flies too quickly to bet everything on the new game, which doesn’t even have a launch date. Rumor has it that some big gaming organizations will be reducing their Overwatch budgets and even more pros will transition to different games. It may be too late by the time Overwatch 2 is released — at this pace, the foundation we have now could disappear.
Blizzard is a corporation that knows firsthand how big the influence of a champion can have on a game. In fact, Blizzard was among the first esports developers to acknowledge that. Starcraft legends like Lim “BoxeR” Yo-hwan or Lee “FlaSh” Young-ho still play events in a game that’s more than 20 years old. These champions — alongside the players that tried to surpass them — have walked hand in hand with the fans that tuned in to watch them. The Starcraft scene only lasted because of people like Boxer or FlaSh, and their commitment to the well-being of their game.
Ryujehong says he’s open to the possibility of becoming a Valorant pro. Source: Valorant Youtube
Overwatch is no different. It felt the influence the popularity that legendary champions have over the fans, as exemplified by the legend match between Lunatic-Hai and Runaway. But in the current situation, even those legendary former pros are looking for other opportunities.
The Overwatch League still holds to a number of champions and franchise stars like Bang “JjoNak” Sung-hyeon, ChoiHyoBin, or Matthew “super” DeLisi, but any of them could leave at any time, and hoping they stay because of their “loyalty” is unfair to the players. Rather than falling victim to the fantasy that Overwatch 2 will change everything, the league has to convince the fans — now — that it can build a more positive future. Fail, and even more champions will leave.