Aug 30 2016 - 2:51 am

ELEAGUE changes format for its Overwatch league after player plea

The 16 teams competing in Turner’s inaugural ELEAGUE Overwatch season successfully lobbied Turner for a better tournament format
Sam Nordmark
Writer at @dotesports

The 16 teams competing in Turner’s inaugural ELEAGUE Overwatch season successfully lobbied Turner for a better tournament format.

In a letter sent to the league’s commissioner Min-Sik Ko, REUNITED’s support player Thomas “Morte” Kerbusch, on behalf of the 16 participating teams, outlined three major issues with the league's original setup.

After Turner informed the teams ELEAGUE offline event in Atlanta would be a single elimination bracket, they "quickly agreed that this format would be very detrimental to the competitive nature for an event of such magnitude," Morte wrote Dot Esports in an email.

After speaking with players from all teams in the league, Morte wrote a letter to Ko—which was obtained by Dot Esports—containing three major grievances with the league. These topics included the proposed format, ELEAGUE not providing travel accommodations for coaches, and the lack of international competition prior to the grand finals.

Twelve hours after the mail was sent, ELEAGUE responded with an updated format mirroring that of the recently concluded ESL Atlantic Showdown tournament at GamesCom. Meaning the teams will play in GSL-style double-elimination groups. The playoffs will still be single elimination, but are all now played as best-of-fives.

“I must say I'm pleasantly surprised with the swift reaction by ELEAGUE as they instantly adopted the suggested format," Morte said.

The tournament format now better reflects the wishes of the teams. But some still aren't happy that North America and Europe won't have a chance to clash until the grand final as each group will only contain teams from one specific region.

“I believe that separating regions massively takes away from an international event,” Morte wrote to Ko. “GamesCom perfectly showcased how entertaining matches between the different regions are. Matches within a region are not nearly as exciting as clashes between different regions, simply because matches within regions happen so often.”

Despite his criticisms, Morte said he understood the reasoning behind ELEAGUE’s decision to retain the current system. “With the grand final being televised it obviously makes for a guaranteed great story and matchup if the best of Europe faces off against the best North America has to offer," he wrote. 

Was this an early attempt at unionization? That's a "bit of a stretch" Morte said. "However creating a player union for Overwatch is something I've been pondering about for a while now. I think it's great if we can stand strong when facing issues like this.”

Ko did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication. 

Today - 4:30 pm

Overwatch Winter Premiere will conclude at PAX South

The live finals will be held in San Antonio, Texas on Jan. 27.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

After weeks of qualifiers and group stages, Next Generation Esports' Overwatch Winter Premiere will see its end at PAX South.

Four of the six teams still in the tournament's second group phase will move on to the $100,000 grand finals in San Antonio, Texas on Jan. 27. The tournament finals will be held at the gaming festival's PAX Arena in partnership with streaming service Twitch.

Two days of group play remain, and will determine which teams make it to San Antonio. Immortals and Kungarna both saw success in the first day of the round of six, with Immortals defeating Detroit Renegades 2-1 and Kungarna 2-0'ing Luminosity Gaming—though Kungarna did later fall 2-0 to Team Liquid. With two days left and 10 match-ups to go, nothing is certain just yet.

Kungarna, however, is confident that they'll make it out of groups. The only unsigned team left in the Overwatch Winter Premiere, Kungarna doesn't have the financial backing other teams have. But even so, they've already invested in official jerseys to wear at the live finals, Alex "Ajax" Jackson said in a post-game interview with NGE.

"The Winter Premiere was designed to highlight the best talent of Overwatch in North America," NGE CEO Andy Vander Woude said in a statement. "It's only fitting to bring these all-star teams to the PAX Arena stage, where their effort and talent can be celebrated by an even wider audience."

Should Kungarna make it to San Antonio, it's unlikely they'll be using those jerseys for long. Being featured on such a major stage increases the likelihood of the roster getting picked up by a major esports organization.

The single elimination finals bracket begins Jan. 27 and will be broadcast live on both the PAX Arena and NGE Overwatch Twitch channels.

Jan 17 2017 - 8:56 pm

Wolf Schröder and StarCraft’s Overwatch exodus

The South Korean caster discusses Overwatch’s rise.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Screengrab via OGN Global/YouTube

At nine supply, you’re to put down your first pylon. A protoss gateway—what you need to actually make units besides probes—comes at 12. Keep making probes, too: When you hit 14 supply, that’s when you drop the assimilator. Wolf Schröder has followed this progression a thousand times as a StarCraft 2 caster for South Korea's biggest broadcast and league. A one-versus-one game of base management and army building, StarCraft 2 is much different than developer Blizzard Entertainment’s new six-on-six shooter, Overwatch. But now Schröder is one of many who made their names in StarCraft and are now flocking to the new esports title.

In October, the Korean Esports Association (KeSPA) pulled its investment in the game, ceasing support for its sponsored teams and ending the StarCraft Proleague. There just wasn't much StarCraft 2 left in South Korea—or anywhere in the world. With Overwatch on the up and up, many of those former StarCraft 2 professionals are flocking to Blizzard’s new game, despite their distinct differences.

“There are tons of other StarCraft 2 pros rumored to be playing Overwatch, trying to go pro” - Schröder

Schröder’s been a fixture in Korean StarCraft 2 since the game’s start. A professional career as a StarCraft 2 player was not in the cards—he never made it to the top of competitive play—but Schröder’s proclivity for game information led him to a casting gig at the highest level: South Korea’s Global StarCraft 2 League. An international caster living in South Korea, Schröder’s knowledge of the international StarCraft 2 scene was unparalleled. Schröder rode the rise and fall of StarCraft 2 in Korea, but is now looking to make his name elsewhere: Overwatch.

“It’s definitely sad to have to leave StarCraft 2 behind, but since I was already interested in Overwatch, the move makes sense,” Schröder said.

And he’s not the only one. Personalities, players, and organizations are investing major time, energy, and money into Blizzard’s growing Overwatch esports team. With that sort of investment, Overwatch’s growth is inevitable, Schröder said. South Korean cable television channel OnGameNet is the first big organization to capitalize on Overwatch’s popularity, sparking the OGN Overwatch APEX tournament in October to showcase the South Korean scene—and four invited international teams—with a consistent tournament schedule.

HuK | Photo by R1CH (CC BY-SA)

Some former StarCraft 2 folks are looking to fill a void in their profession careers, though not all of them. “I think hardcore StarCraft fans won’t switch over, nor will most of [the game’s] personalities,” Schröder said. “That being said, some personalities have switched.” 

Chris “HuK” Loranger, formerly of Evil Geniuses, is one of them. A former StarCraft 2 pro, HuK is stepping into casting and analysis in Overwatch. Daniel “Fenn3r” Fenner is a former StarCraft 2 player who’s made the switch, too. Though he’s not signed to a professional team, Fenn3r has a big following on Twitch.

“There are tons of other StarCraft 2 pros rumored to be playing Overwatch, trying to go pro,” Schröder said. “KeSPA dropped their sponsorship of StarCraft 2 teams which left quite a few mid-tier pros struggling to figure out what’s next for them. Many seem to be trying to turn to Overwatch.”

Like Kim "MyuNgSik" Myung-Sik, an accomplished StarCraft 2 pro who played for SK Telecom T1, StarCraft 2 pros are likely to see some strain in the switch: MyuNgSik’s Overwatch team, Team First Heroic, has already disbanded, leaving the player a free agent for now.

Schröder sees Overwatch’s success continuing in the wake of StarCraft 2 in South Korea, however. “Part of the reason StarCraft and League of Legends did well in Korea was because of their fanbases live locally,” Schröder said. “A sign that says ‘Haksal I love you’ in the crowd means so much. It means that even though this game is new, fans are coming out in droves.”

It’s aspirational for professional players to see fans supporting them; it’s a driving force in their dedication to the game. “StarCraft and League of Legends started that way too,” Schröder said. “Fans are a motivating factor for any aspiring progamer.”

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

That motivation drives South Korean Overwatch players to practice harder than western teams. “No real shocker there,” Schröder said, “but as others have already pointed out, Korea’s top teams are not as successful as EnVyUs right now.” Whether or not that dominance will last depends on western dedication to Overwatch. Part of that means hiring coaches, Schröder added. And western Overwatch teams have been reluctant to hire coaches, according to Schröder. In Korea, it’s a tradition: “It’s hard to find success without one,” he said.

EnVyUs has taken note of that, hiring former Cloud9 player Kyle “KyKy” Souder as their temporary coach heading into OGN Overwatch APEX Season 2. It’s not something the team felt they needed before, but they’ve likely seen from their Korean colleagues the influence a coach can instill in a team. Though plenty of other western teams have Overwatch coaches, there are plenty who don’t. For Schröder, it stems from a lack of respect for coaches that aren’t as good at Overwatch as the team is. South Korean teams aren’t worried about that.

“Their coaches generally aren’t top ELO players or progamer level,” Schröder said. “But they’re coaches who have the experience to keep a six-man roster motivated, find their strengths and weaknesses.”

Teams that don’t have a coach will start to falter this year, Schröder said. “Maybe it doesn’t show now, but it will absolutely start to show going into 2017.” Raw talent is abundant, but that doesn’t necessarily ensure success. A good coach can harness that talent, guiding players through the complexities of esports in and out of the game.

Raw talent is abundant, but that doesn’t necessarily ensure success

Need for that kind of support will only increase as Overwatch League approaches. But until then, 12 South Korean teams, many of them with coaches, and four western teams, most of them without, are heading into OGN’s Overwatch APEX season two, which began on Jan. 17. Though we won’t be able to pinpoint success in season two directly to Overwatch coaches—or lack thereof—the trends on display are worth a second look.

Schröder hasn’t announced whether he’ll be casting during OGN Overwatch APEX Season 2—Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles and Erik "DoA" Lonnquist have main casting duties there—but he’s promised to put a “big focus” on Overwatch in 2017.


HuK image source