Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League has announced major format changes for its 2023 season, which kicks off March 23rd.
The new season, which is broken up into Spring and Summer stages, sees opportunities for non-franchised teams to compete alongside Overwatch League teams.
The Spring and Summer stages will be anchored by two global LAN events — the Midseason Madness and Grand Finals, respectively. Overwatch League circuit play in both East and West is scheduled to begin on April 27th.
Contenders teams — non-franchised teams that form the second-tier of professional Overwatch — will be incorporated into the Overwatch League format this season for the first time. In the West region, this takes the form of a pro-am tournament, where Contenders teams will fight to compete alongside West Overwatch League teams in a $100,000 (~£82,000) tournament.
The East region, however, will move to an open, semi-franchised ecosystem in which Contenders teams can qualify for and participate in official Overwatch League league play alongside franchise teams.
The change to a semi-open ecosystem in the East comes amid a drastic reduction in the number of franchises currently set to play in the region. Los Angeles Valiant, which moved to China for the 2021 season, has relocated to its US home city for 2023.
With the fate of China’s four franchises still up in the air following Overwatch’s effective ban in China, the East division now only has two other franchises outside of the country: Seoul Infernal, which rebranded from Philadelphia Fusion for this season, and Seoul Dynasty.
With China’s franchises still yet to announce how or where they’ll compete, Activision Blizzard may have allowed non-franchised teams in to make up for the shortfall. Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what will happen to Chinese franchises.
Activision Blizzard and its Chinese distribution partner NetEase’s 14-year relationship ended on January 23rd, meaning playing the game — and even technically livestreaming the game — is no longer allowed in the country. The Chengdu Hunters hasn’t tweeted since a January 23rd post saying “Goodbye and see you again.” Shanghai Dragons, another China-based Overwatch League franchise, is owned by NetEase.
“The Overwatch League has always evolved with the times, and as we enter our first full season in a free-to-play world, we’re committed to serving a wider player base than ever before,” the Overwatch League 2023 season update blog post reads.
“The league format is heading in a bold new direction by welcoming in more competitors and creating more opportunities for Overwatch Contenders teams to join the action via a pro-am tournament in the West and a more open ecosystem in the East.”