Why the Overwatch World Cup matters

Don't write off the event that built the careers of numerous pros.

Photo by Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

This article is brought to you by StatBanana, the best Overwatch strategy tool.

When the 2019 Overwatch World Cup was revealed to be a condensed, fast-paced version of itself, some fans questioned its necessity. After a long year of Overwatch League matches, combined with Overwatch Contenders events, many people weren’t aching for more tournaments. 

The event takes place entirely at BlizzCon in Anaheim, California, removing international group stages. To many fans, it seemed that Blizzard Entertainment itself was pushing the event to the outskirts of relevance. But the Overwatch World Cup is still an important event for the competitive future of the game, despite how it looks this year.

The event has built the careers of numerous professionals. As the Overwatch World Cup 2017 group stages began, the Overwatch League’s creation had just been announced. Players may not have noticed at the time, but the World Cup turned into a stage for potential players to make their case for lucrative signings. Top players had been participating in Overwatch tournaments like APEX in South Korea and smaller tournaments across the United States. While some teams soared, everyone was looking for the opportunity to have a stable job, with actual benefits, doing what they loved. 

The biggest success story from the 2017 World Cup came from Team United States as a relatively young team of lesser-known players were selected to represent the country. The team made huge plays at the Santa Monica qualifiers and took a map off South Korea at BlizzCon, proving the champions could bleed. 

Players reaped the benefits of their success once the Overwatch League came around. Four players from Team USA were eventually picked up by the Houston Outlaws. Lead DPS Jake Lyon developed a talent career out of his experience; he now casts the World Cup matches he once played in. Similarly, former Team Sweden main tank Jonathan “Reinforce” Larsson became a key part of the Overwatch League as both talent and production staff.  

After the World Cup, Team USA’s star player Jay “Sinatraa” Won was signed to the San Francisco Shock months before he was eligible to play in the league. The 17-year-old’s performance at the World Cup impressed NRG Esports CEO Andy Miller so much, he took a risk on the DPS. That investment in a relatively unknown player paid off, as Sinatraa was crowned the 2019 Overwatch League MVP and helped his team win the 2019 Overwatch League championship.     

It’s no surprise that other teams who soared in the 2017 World Cup funneled numerous players into the Overwatch League. Team South Korea, who eventually won the year’s championship, had every player signed into the league. Runner-up Team Canada got most of their roster into the Overwatch League. Other top-performing teams, like Sweden and France, also got a majority of their players signed. 

The 2018 Overwatch World Cup was held during the offseason between the first two Overwatch League seasons. It was, predictably, turned into a scouting ground for league organizers, especially those building the eight expansion teams added to the league in 2019. Team China was culled for players, especially Xi “Guxue” Qiulin, who became the star of the 2018 cup. His performance on Winston made him one of the most sought-after players during the offseason. 

The Overwatch World Cup also offers opportunities for those off the stage. Many World Cup coaches and managers have gone on to secure Overwatch League positions. Analynn “bawlynn” Dang, who was once community lead for Team USA, became the general manager of the team this year. With this experience, she was also able to become the general manager of the Washington Justice.

This year, Team Ireland gained a legion of fans with their social media campaigns. In order to raise money to get to BlizzCon, the team produced a stellar jersey and near-constant team content to engage viewers. Though Ireland was eliminated in the preliminary matches, the names of their players and content teams are in the minds of Overwatch League fans and scouts. 

As an event, the World Cup will continue building careers. Though the event was condensed this year, dozens of teams traveled to BlizzCon to play in the preliminary rounds of the competition. Even if they were eliminated after a single match, the teams now have proven LAN experience. Teams who upset the status quo will have league scouts looking at them. No matter how the competition evolves, every player is hoping they’ll be the next Sinatraa or Guxue to come out of the Overwatch World Cup.