The Overwatch League returns on April 16

The league's 2021 season will include four global tournaments, a massive prize pool, and better viewing times for fans.

Photo by Ben Pursell via Blizzard Entertainment

It’s been an endless offseason, Overwatch League fans. But the thrill of competition is finally coming back. 

The Overwatch League announced today that its fourth season will begin on April 16. Additionally, the league revealed tons of information about the upcoming 2021 season, including standardized broadcast times, three-day game weekends, and competitive online play featuring global tournament brackets. 

2021 schedule 

The 2021 season will operate entirely around four standalone tournaments, beginning with the May Melee. The June Joust, Summer Showdown, and Countdown Cup will follow as the season rolls on. 

Teams will play four matches in each tournament cycle to qualify for the final tournament. This means that all Overwatch League teams will be playing a minimum of 16 regular season games in 2021, but most will play more. 

Image via Overwatch League

Since the league is divided into two regions, East and West, teams will have to play knockout matches in their respective regions to advance to the double-elimination global bracket. For each tournament, the top-six West teams will play knockout matches, while only the top-four East teams will do so. 

The real fun begins when two teams from each region conquer their competition. Safety permitting, the two West region teams will travel to Hawaii for lower ping to play the top two East teams in a double-elimination bracket. One team will be crowned the winner of that tournament and will bring home $100,000, as well as additional “League Points” for postseason qualification. 

Image via Overwatch League

Bye weeks and stable viewing times

Last year, COVID-19 and the pressure of online competition appeared to take a toll on players. In response to this, every team will receive a bye week during the three-week tournament qualification cycle. This means teams will play two games per week during their “active” weeks. 

For viewers, variable game times resulted in missed matches and broken hearts in 2020. This year, games won’t deviate from a standardized start time in each region. 

Games with West teams will always begin at 2pm CT and East region games will begin at 3am CT (or 6pm Korea Standard Time). Broadcasts will happen over three days each week, most often from Friday to Sunday. 

League Points 

To better track and reward wins as the season goes on, the Overwatch League has implemented a points system for the 2021 season. 

The “League Points” system gives teams one point for each win during tournament qualification games. First, second, and third-place winners in each tournament will receive bonus points in the same way additional “wins” racked up last year. First-place teams nab three additional points, second place gets two, and third-place teams earn one extra point. 

League Points will be tallied up and used to determine seeding and qualification for the season playoffs. 

Hero Pools and patches 

It wouldn’t be an Overwatch League season without a few curveballs. Hero Pools will be returning to the league during two of the monthly tournaments, the June Joust and the Countdown Cup. 

The pools will operate the same way they did in 2020. For each tournament cycle, one support, one tank, and two damage heroes will be removed from the competition. Only heroes with a play rate of 10 percent or higher can be removed and for the first time, no hero can be removed twice during the Overwatch League season.   

Map pools will also continue the way they have in previous seasons. Each tournament cycle will feature a set of maps to help teams refine strategies. This will include all Control maps and three options from Escort, Assault, and Hybrid. Selected maps will shift after each tournament cycle. 

Patches have also been a big concern for teams in past Overwatch League seasons. This year, patch updates will only be implemented into the league between tournament cycles. That means entire tournaments will be played on a single patch for competitive integrity.  

Prize pool  

Competition is fun, but at the end of the day, it’s all about that cash money. 

First-place teams in each of the four tournaments will take home $100,000. Second-place teams will get $75,000 and third and fourth place will go home with $35,000 and $20,000, respectively. 

Image via Overwatch League

This year, the Overwatch League season playoffs will be more valuable than ever. The 2021 champions will win a whopping $1.5 million to accompany their shining trophy. With a total playoff prize pool of over $3.35 million, teams will be giving it their all to end up in the season finals. 

The fourth season of the Overwatch League kicks off on April 16. The opening weekend will include a Battle for Texas between the Houston Outlaws and the Dallas Fuel, as well as a grudge match between 2020 champions San Francisco Shock and their California rivals, the Los Angeles Gladiators.