Overwatch League (OWL) is set to kick off its fifth season this May, and the plan is to return to in-person competition for the first time since 2020. In-person tournaments are an important part of any esport, but for OWL’s city-based franchises, the prospect of fans in a stadium and fostering team rivalries takes on a greater importance.
“We want, as a league, for live events to happen as much as we can,” OWL head Sean Miller told The Washington Post. “And we’ll work with the teams to make it happen where it’s appropriate.”
It’s been a challenging couple of years for OWL. Some of the biggest non-endemic sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, and State Farm, have pulled back their support, and those companies have no plans to return for the 2022 season. Even Comcast, which owns OWL franchise the Philadelphia Fusion, won’t be sponsoring the league, whereas last season its Xfinity service was the official internet provider of OWL.
Miller noted that the league is still in talks with potential new partners. But beyond the need for sponsors, the league’s professional players are also looking to adjust to the upcoming release of Overwatch 2, which does not yet have a concrete release date. The players have been practicing on an early version of the sequel, which will ultimately move competition from a 6-on-6 format to 5-on-5. Communication and collaboration between the game’s developers and OWL pros has been “more integrated,” but it’s yet another big transition for OWL to face.
Miller is confident that the league has momentum as it enters a “new era” and attempts to bring back huge events as it once did at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, there is reason for optimism, as Overwatch interest remains quite strong in the gaming and esports world. Among esports and game-related video viewers, those watching tournaments, non-tournament matches, or videos about Overwatch in the past three months, grew from 43% in Q3 2021 to 46% in Q4 2021.