The Overwatch League Inaugural Season officially ends Saturday. The winners will be decided after the Philadelphia Fusion and the London Spitfire, the two lowest seeded teams in the playoffs, will possibly play three best-of-five games to decide the winner.
After almost half a year of the Overwatch League, it's clear to see where the league succeeded -- just as it's apparent where it failed. If the league wants a future, the Overwatch League must seriously consider changing certain aspects of its schedules and formatting before returning in January.
Out of all stages in the Overwatch League, only two stages played on a current patch -- though neither played on a current patch in its entirety. Mercy was nerfed in the middle of Stage 1, made playable in the Stage 2 patch. Stage 2 was played almost fully on its most recent patch, but Brigitte was introduced before the end of Stage 2. She was unplayable in the Overwatch League until Stage 4. Neither Stage 3 nor Stage 4 were played on the same patch on Overwatch live servers.
For the sake of the players, it makes sense for major changes like hero additions or significant nerfs or buffs to be added to the league at a later date. Meta changes in Overwatch can change the way a team performs, giving even teams in the lowest of the rankings the strength they need to hold their ground or even upset higher ranked teams -- as seen with the Dallas Fuel's performance in Stage 4 once Brigitte was added.
However, the problem with playing on older patches for multiple weeks at a time means there is a disconnect from the meta players watching in the Overwatch League and the meta they experience while playing Overwatch. Even the Dallas Fuel's Brandon "Seagull" Larned experienced an odd moment where he attempted to use Hanzo's new mechanics during a live Overwatch League game, even though the rework wasn't available in Stage 4.
Syncing live patches with the Overwatch League should be a goal for both the league and Blizzard. Major hero changes should be made with the Overwatch League in mind. Watching professional Overwatch gameplay on a patch that doesn't mirror what players experience on their own ruins the experience. If the Overwatch League and Blizzard try to sync the patch schedule, there should be something done about the league's scheduling, too.
Very little downtime is allotted to players between stages. A week-long break is not enough to deal with major changes in the meta. A slightly longer break is needed, at the very least, to give teams a proper amount of time to prepare for the new meta. Scrimming for games on one patch, while possibly scrimming on a different patch -- or even waiting until the break to scrim on a newer patch -- does more harm than good.
Shifts in the meta happen too quickly for a week break to be justified. The Overwatch League game schedule is too demanding as it is. With the addition of more teams for Season 2, there is a chance the scheduling for games might change, and hopefully, be more lenient on teams. The Shanghai Dragons, for example, had no chance of fixing their problems during the entire season of the Overwatch League, even if it appeared as if there was a light at the end of the tunnel at times.
The league could do with a change to its stages, too. The title match for every stage featured the New York Excelsior, who were knocked out of the competition for the inaugural season championship by the Philadelphia Fusion. London Spitfire, winners of Stage 1, and the Fusion, who never won a stage title match, are competing at the grand finals. Stage titles, while flashy and exciting, mean nothing for the grand finals. Winning a title match holds no value to teams making it into the season playoffs -- which is determined by the wins and losses a team has throughout the regular season.
The stage title matches received more changes throughout the season than it should have. The title matches were moved to be played on a different day instead of immediately after the end of a stage. Title matches were later changed to include a fourth team and the highest seeded team was given the ability to pick its opponent instead of receiving a first-round bye. These changes cheated other teams, like the Seoul Dynasty, from the chance to play in stage title matches in previous stages.
The changes were great and while there is no doubt they were needed, it happened too many times in the regular season. The league should not make drastic adjustments to the structure of the league as the season is going on.
Teams that impressed early on in the season took hits thanks to the meta and an inability to properly prepare for new metas, and players began to feel the toll of the Overwatch League over the course of Season 1. There were too many changes, in both the game and the league, that happened too quickly for the league.
Even with all the problems the Overwatch League has, its success cannot be ignored. It formed an ambitious league with city-based teams and fans were hooked. The spectating experience improved greatly over the course of the league, even from the 2017 Overwatch World Cup, and the league provides helpful videos for first-time viewers. There is a lot to love when watching the Overwatch League, but there's just as much the league needs to improve on.
There is an appeal to the Overwatch League and it has a future, but the league has to take a hard look at the way it runs things before Season 2 officially begins.
Cover photo courtesy of Robert Paul/Blizzard