On Thursday, the two best teams in North America — the Philadelphia Fusion and the San Francisco Shock — will get the chance to compete against the Seoul Dynasty and Shanghai Dragons in a double-elimination bracket. These last few hours of gameplay required travel visas, two-week quarantines and intercontinental flights all to navigate an evolving global health crisis. By Saturday, the league will have a champion. One team that will have bested the rest in this tumultuous and unruly season.
This will be the first Overwatch Grand Finals outside of the United States. The first two were held in Brooklyn and Philadelphia in front of thousands of fans — a setting made impossible under the current circumstances.
Overwatch League Vice President Jon Spector told The Post it’s been challenging to plan anything more than a month ahead of time because of the pandemic. The league even worked on contingency plans for alternative ways to host the finals right up until the North American teams boarded their flights to South Korea.
“We had plans going back even two months before anyone got on planes,” Spector said during a phone interview Tuesday. “We’ve learned the lesson repeatedly that things change on a dime.”
For all this to be possible, the Fusion and the Shock spent two weeks under quarantine in Seoul, passing the time by practicing from makeshift setups on desks in their hotel rooms. At a news conference on Monday, Philadelphia Fusion’s assistant coach Christopher Graham said it’d be hard to find a better group of people to spend two weeks in a hotel room and play video games.
“We’re pretty much made for it,” Graham said. “I imagine anyone else on the planet would struggle with the process more than we did.”
Adam Mierzejewski, a senior manager for league operations, said the league decided on sending North America-based teams to South Korea because it at least put everyone in the same vicinity to then play matches online, reducing the potential for game-changing latency issues. Mierzejewski and Spector both told The Post the goal from the start was to find a way to cap the season with a champion, if it could be done safely.
“Philosophically, I think it’s really, really, really, important that at the end of a season you could say this is the best team. They’re the winners. They’re the champions,” Spector told The Post. “That’s a lot of why we pushed so hard to figure out a way to do it this year, despite the real challenges operationally.”
In a series of interviews translated by Danny Lim, an on-again, off-again emcee and interpreter for the league, South Korean players from Shanghai and Seoul said they’re eager for friends and family to finally be able to watch a Grand Finals in prime time — rather than at odd hours of the night. The matches will start between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. locally in China, which means North American fans will need to wake up early in the morning to catch the competitions live.
For the Overwatch League, this was intended to be the year where the rubber hit the road. The league, owned and operated by Activision Blizzard, was preparing to launch an international circuit of live events with weekend tournaments in cities across Asia, North America and Europe. But the pandemic completely upended those plans, forcing teams to instead compete against nearby competitors in matches online. The matches on Thursday will be the first time teams from Asia and North America compete against each other this season.
The Grand Finals weekend begins at 7 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, Oct. 8 with the San Francisco Shock vs. Seoul Dynasty. All matches will be broadcast live and shown on-demand via YouTube.
“Right now, the focus, obviously, for the rest of the week is delivering Grand Finals,” Spector said. “We then very quickly turn the page into what do we do next season?”
As for next season, Spector said there are five to ten different plans on the table depending on “what the world looks like” at the start of the year. No final decisions have been made about where or when teams will play. Spector said they’re preparing for a number of conversations with owners around the league before determining the best way forward.
“There’s too much uncertainty to say, ‘Here is the plan,’” Spector said. “Instead, we need to get to a place where we have a series of plans and contingency plans.”