COVID-19’s effect on the Overwatch League and other esports


The Overwatch League had to delay two weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak. OWL logo is from Blizzard Entertainment.

André González Rodríguez, Contributor

In the third season of the Overwatch League (OWL), the league has been forced to move to online play due to COVID-19. On March 17th, Blizzard Entertainment, the owners of the league and creators of Overwatch, released a revised schedule for both March and April of online matches. This past weekend, OWL had its first set of online matches.

According to many industry experts, this is the make or break season for the OWL. Teams would have played in their respective cities in front of home crowds this season. So far there have been five weeks of play with the first homestands hosted by the New York Excelsior and the Dallas Fuel and most recently, the Washington Justice.

According to Blizzard, they will have the teams compete in the regions that they are currently residing to minimize latency issues for online play – latency is the amount of response time between a player doing an action in the game and the game performing that action. There will be three regions, the teams on the west coast are one region, the four teams in China or another and the remaining teams, the Atlantic Conference, are the last region. Teams play teams in their respective regions.

Due to the fact that the four Chinese teams – The Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, and Shanghai Dragons – not having yet played due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Blizzard has scheduled more matches in order for those teams to catch up. These four teams are not the only teams that are behind, there are several other teams that will also get caught up as well. 

Since it’s very inception, esports had to tackle their matches in some form of online play, no matter the game. Other leagues like the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) and its counterparts in Europe, Korea, and China have also moved to online play. The Call of Duty League (CDL) will also move to online play with its date to be announced — the CDL is owned by Activision who owns Blizzard Entertainment, also known as Activision Blizzard. 

Apart from the scheduling, there are logistics issues that arise from running an online league. There are concerns for players cheating via the route of “aimbotting” – which allows the player to get near-perfect aim – as well as the possibility of players watching the stream of the match as they are playing it. To combat cheating, the players have referees behind them during play. This also had to be done remotely.

“Thanks so much for everyone who tuned into our first day of #OWL2020 online. Our team has been working tirelessly to get matches in front of the fans, while also dealing with the personal stress of a Global Pandemic,” Bri “bee”, one of the referees for OWL, said on Twitter. “While we still have many issues we need to resolve, I’m really proud of our entire team for pulling this off in these stressful times. We’ll continue to work hard to bring a better viewing experience in the coming weeks. Thanks again to the amazing fans who have been our main motivators.”

Apart from players being able to cheat, there are production issues that might arise, since the handling of the matches has to be done remotely. Originally, Blizzard planned to hold the production of the league at their offices, but due to California Governor, Gavin Newsom’s lockdown order, Blizzard had to delay the start of the online league, having all of the production done remotely from their own homes.

As opposed to sports, esports can still thrive without having the matches being held in a physical setting. This has led to many opportunities for esports to show its strength continuing to move forward amongst the coronavirus outbreak. 

The OWL continues online play next weekend with the schedule to be announced on a later date by the league.