The Overwatch League’s regular season format is bad for players and is the primary reason they’re burning out on the game, Atlanta Reign head coach Brad “Sephy” Rajani claimed in a Reddit post yesterday.
Players are expected to put in over 30 hours of practice for every regular season match, according to Sephy. This doesn’t include their grind on the ladder, either. And sometimes, all that preparation is only for a single game and then they have to start over the next week. He believes this exhausting and rigorous cycle is driving players to retire from Overwatch.
The Overwatch League’s mental health problem
The discussion about player burnout has been ongoing throughout season three. The Overwatch League has seen an unprecedented number of retirements over the past season, including notable players like Jay “Sinatraa” Won, Damien “HyP” Souville, and most recently Andrej “Babybay” Francisty. Many of the players who have retired cited mental health and burnout as key factors in their decisions to leave the scene.
Sephy posted his take on player burnout in response to a Twitter thread about mental health featuring Dr. Doug Gardner and the Hangzhou Spark’s Park “iDK” Ho-jin.
After Hangzhou lost to the Chengdu Hunters yesterday, iDK apologized on Twitter. “The hardest time has come for me now,” iDK said. “The game is too stressful for me. I’m so sorry to have caused inconvenience to my teammates. I’ll try to find my old self as soon as possible. I’m so sorry for the fans who support me.”
Dr. Gardner, who was formerly the L.A. Valiant’s director of player performance, responded to the tweet. “Player after player in the Overwatch League succumbs to the mental & physical toll of a 29 week season, where most teams have played roughly 16 games,” Dr. Gardner said. “Months of preseason practice & endless days of scrims while isolating. Gotta be a more humane way.”
Sephy provided his professional insight into the situation on the competitive Overwatch subreddit. He believes that the format of the OWL season is driving player burnout. Sephy claimed that players would have experienced burnout regardless of the social isolation since the homestands would have necessitated traveling on top of the already stressful OWL team schedule.
“The whole system as designed, trying to copy normal sports like the NFL, is just wrong in so many ways for esports,” Sephy said. “We’ll do 10-12 scrims plus VOD reviews in a single week to prepare for one regular season game… So that’s about 30 hours of scheduled practice alone, not counting all the ranked ladder on their own time, to play a single game… When you lose, it feels like a gut punch. Now imagine you go through that every week, for like 7 months almost continuously, and you start to understand why players are quitting left and right.”
Sephy’s alternative: Group stages and Major tournaments
Sephy argued that there’s a better way to structure the Overwatch League that could make the competition better for players and fans alike. He wants the Overwatch League to adopt the Major tournament format common in League of Legends, CS:GO, and other esports.
In Major tournament systems, teams are initially split up into a variety of groups. Each group hosts a round-robin style competition, in which teams play against other squads in their assigned groups. The results of those preliminary matches are used to determine who will advance to the Major.
The big advantage of this system is that players and coaches can prepare for multiple matches at once, rather than spending a week preparing for a single match and then having to restart the next week. Sephy also argued that this system helps elevate the tournaments, giving them a life of their own.
“As an esports fan I tune into LoL Worlds and Majors every year even though I don’t play those games because those events have a soul, a life of their own that transcends across gaming borders.” Sephy said. “I really strongly feel that we haven’t achieved anything like this at all with Overwatch esports and that it’s low-key the biggest reason for viewership decline, which also has a mental impact on players by the way, as they start to question if they’ve made the right career choice or not.”
For this new system to become a reality, according to Sephy, the Overwatch League needs to first “tear down” a number of its faulty assumptions. He thinks the league must give up the notions that:
- Players can’t play more than a single game in a week.
- Local homestands are somehow better than more occasional major tournaments.
- Serving the local franchise system is more important than the experience of the players and viewers.
Sephy argues that just because an idea is good for the NFL doesn’t mean that same idea should be applied to esports. He thinks it’s time to put the players and viewers first by considering a new OWL competition format.