Photo by Robert Paul/Blizzard Entertainment

The OWL 2023 season schedule is out—but it’s missing one team

The Pandas may well be truly extinct in the OWL.

After its fifth season wrapped in Nov. 2022, the Overwatch League is finally back for 2023 and will kick off in late April—but there’s a glaring omission among the teams.

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The Chengdu Hunters were not included in the OWL’s April 18 schedule announcement, with Blizzard’s competition organizers citing that the franchise was “contemplating the future direction of their team.” This is a first for the league, whereby a team has all but withdrawn from competition ahead of a season launch.

The future of the existing Hunters squad, which consisted of Hu “JinMu” Yi, Li “Nisha” Tan, Jiaxin “GA9A” Qiu, and Yuandong “Daizi” Ni, remains up in the air given all other East Division squads have submitted their rosters.

Without the Chengdu Hunters, OWL’s East Region will drop to six OWL teams, with six more Contenders squads promoted through qualifiers. For now, the East Region is still on track to begin alongside its counterparts in the West on April 27.

The Hunters’ Overwatch squad has been in limbo since their supposed “goodbye” tweet made in late Jan. 2023, which coincided with the shutdown of all major Blizzard titles, including Overwatch 2, in mainland China due to a failed company contract extension between the developer and internet tech business NetEase.

Related: Overwatch 2 shuts down in China, leaving OWL teams in limbo

Chengdu was one of five squads affected by the shutdown, but the other four—the Guangzhou Charge, the Hangzhou Spark, the Shanghai Dragons, and the previously Chinese-backed Los Angeles Valiant—have submitted rosters and will take to the OWL stage come late April, with the Valiant moving to the West Division. A factor in the Hunters’ 2023 stalling may lie with their back office. Owners HUYA Inc., a Chinese live-streaming site, recently reported a 14 percent stock loss for the week ending March 28.

While OWL fans were not particularly surprised by the news, many took to social media to mourn the loss of the Hunters, who were known for their off-meta approach to past Overwatch patches.

Some of the more dour Overwatch community members believe the Hunters’ apparent withdrawal from the OWL marks the beginning of the end for the struggling league, which did see a sharp drop in viewership across 2022.

The 2023 iteration of the Overwatch League begins Friday, April 28, with San Francisco Shock taking on Toronto Defiant in the league opener at 2pm CT.


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Author
Nicholas Taifalos
Weekend editor for Dot Esports. Nick, better known as Taffy, began his esports career in commentary, switching to journalism with a focus on Oceanic esports, particularly Counter-Strike and Dota. Email: nicholas@dotesports.com