The Los Angeles Valiant released its entire roster of players and staff members earlier today to move to the Overwatch League’s Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. The organization’s ownership group, Immortals Gaming Club (IGC), cited “visa issues” in moving current staff to China as a reason for the decision.
The announcement was a shock for the Valiant’s die-hard fan base, who were ready to cheer on a roster full of favorite players and impressive new additions during the 2021 season. While many fans are upset, others are seeing this decision as only a passing inconvenience.
But for both players and Overwatch League fans, the fallout of IGC’s decision will likely be more catastrophic than we realize.
Players are now out of options
All Overwatch League teams were required to have a minimum of seven players signed to their rosters by Jan. 4, 2021, according to this year’s roster construction rules. Most players and teams have had three months to make deals happen during the offseason.
During this time, players could make educated decisions about their careers based on the renewal or rejection of their contracts. They’re often notified of decisions as soon as their team’s season ends, if not before. The season break also gives them time to try out and trial for new teams or explore other options, like streaming or retirement.
Due to the Los Angeles Valiant’s decision to drop its roster after most positions have been filled, many players are now left without options or the opportunity to make their own decisions.
Former Valiant DPS Brady “Agilities” Girardi, one of the most popular players in the league, has already announced that this situation has prevented him from competing in the OWL during the 2021 season.
Other players on the roster are now likely stranded without any other options in the league. Valiant off-tank Adam Soong said that he thought he finally “made it out of Australia,” but the recent IGC decision crushed that dream.
Few teams pick up players from the Oceanic region due to long travel times and lengthy visa requirements. By signing with the Valiant, Adam had a chance to show off on North American servers and make a case for himself as an Overwatch League star. At this point in the offseason, though, few teams are likely to take the risk and sign him.
East vs. West rhetoric and racism
A majority of the Overwatch League’s players hail from South Korea thanks to the region’s leniency toward the esports lifestyle and the availability of practice locations to all social classes. The league also has four Chinese teams that are eagerly trying to field more homegrown talent.
Despite the fact that every player in the league earns their spot on a roster by exhibiting talent and skill, a subsection of fans tends to become upset when North American and European players are displaced by Korean or Chinese talent.
When teams like the Florida Mayhem moved to all-Korean rosters, the dark undercurrent of racism in the Overwatch League community showed its face. It began slowly, with comments asking if players were “good Koreans” and offhand remarks about race mattering more than talent or fans. And it grew into the insidious, false narrative that Western players are losing out on opportunities to their Asian counterparts. Even some professionals apparently have this mindset.
Nothing could be more of a catalyst to set alight this subsection of racist fans than dropping a mostly-Western roster, hauling an organization to China, and fielding a new set of players, all of whom will likely be Chinese.
The rumors of IGC’s trade alone set the community on a track of racially insensitive memes and comments. These include the design of a Chinese Valiant flag as well as a series of Chinese statements from former Valiant off-tank Caleb “McGravy” McGarvey, who later apologized for his comments.
The Los Angeles Valiant will sign new players who want a chance in the biggest competitive Overwatch scene and want a stable salary after years of grinding. These players are likely prepared to deal with pushback from Western fans.
They aren’t prepared for the anger that some fans will take out on them thanks to the misguided idea that Chinese players have “stolen” the rightful roster spots of Western fan-favorites. There’s no amount of moderation or comment suppression that will remove this narrative from all channels and the farther it spreads, the more likely players are to feel attacked by it.
It’s not IGC’s fault that this subsection of fans exists. But being intentionally vague when addressing a rumor and giving no transparency as to the reasoning behind making such a massive business decision creates anger in dedicated fans. While that anger is justified, it deserves to be directed at a company, not innocent players who are looking for a new opportunity.
The Overwatch League community will likely feel the fallout of this decision for the entirety of the 2021 season, the same way the Vancouver Titans fiasco affected the stability of players last year. Much like the Titans’ situation, the community needs to step up with positivity and support toward players as they navigate the consequences of business decisions far above them.