Chengdu Hunters, a China-based franchise in Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, has disbanded, according to a report by The Esports Advocate.
Chengdu Hunters’ future had been in serious doubt since April, when the team was excluded from the upcoming season of the Overwatch League. An Activision Blizzard representative declined to comment when contacted by Esports Insider.
In March, two former Chengdu Hunters players, Zhou ‘Mmonk’ Xiang and Huang ‘leave’ Xin, left the Hunters to compete for rival Chinese Overwatch League (OWL) franchise Hangzhou Spark. The Esports Advocate report added that most of the other players have since moved on, either to other OWL teams or as free agents.
Chengdu Hunters, which represented the Southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu, is owned by Chinese streaming platform Huya.
Doubts over the franchise’s future were first raised when the team tweeted “Goodbye, and see you again… Overwatch has been shut down in mainland China” in January.
The publisher’s aforementioned announcement that Chengdu Hunters would be excluded from the 2023 Overwatch League season — while it was “contemplating its future direction” — led to further speculation about the team’s situation.
According to the Esports Advocate report, on March 11th a Chengdu Hunters staffer had posted on their personal Weibo account that the team had already disbanded.
In January, Overwatch went offline in China due to a tumultuous breakdown in the 14-year-old relationship between Activision Blizzard and NetEase, its Chinese distribution partner. Video games need government approval to operate in the Chinese market, and must partner with a local distributor; NetEase held this licence.
As a result of breakdown, the title became unplayable in the country. As Esports Insider reported at the time, even esports broadcasts of the game are, technically, not allowed.
It is currently unclear what will happen to the Chengdu Hunters’ Overwatch League franchise slot. The team has been part of the Overwatch League since the league was founded in 2018. Founding teams paid $20m (~£16.5m) for their franchise slots when the league was created.
It is also currently unclear how the other three remaining China-based OWL franchises are continuing to operate, given the game is unplayable in the country, however they are currently competing in the ongoing season. It was initially speculated that the franchises might relocate, or that the players would play from outside China.
In February, the Overwatch League made the significant move of opening up its East division (in which Chinese franchises compete) to include non-franchised teams in league play.