“This isn’t really a choice,” Segal said of the decision to release the Valiant roster. “Obviously, it’s a challenging situation. Obviously, people’s livelihoods are involved.”
Multiple players are going to be transferred to other Overwatch League teams but Segal declined to say where. Michael “Packing 10” Szklanny, the team’s general manager and head coach, will remain with Immortals Gaming Club but in another role.
Segal said the franchise will maintain the Los Angeles Valiant name and the Immortals Gaming Club will continue to own the franchise. Earlier this month, after the Valiant announced the team will relocate to China, the franchise denied reports on Twitter that the franchise had been sold to another organization. The Valiant are now in a partnership with an organization based in China but the full details of that agreement have not been disclosed.
The Valiant join the New York Excelsior and the Philadelphia Fusion, two other North American franchises that are both moving to South Korea to compete in the Overwatch League (OWL) this year.
The franchise did first investigate whether it would be possible to secure visas for the predominantly North American roster. The decision to relocate the Valiant came down to the ability to better plan around the volatility of the pandemic while competing in China or South Korea, Segal said. There’s a higher likelihood that live, in-person OWL competitions will be possible to host in both countries this season. The Shanghai Dragons already hosted a series of in-person exhibition matches in December.
“In a challenging operating environment, you really have to take stock of what is the difference on the ground,” Segal said. “There is a passionate, rabid and — in many cases — underserved fan base in Asia.”
Last season was the first time OWL teams competed live in Asia prime time and the league reported record viewership in China for broadcasts. Despite all the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the league’s finals were held in South Korea.
Segal said the team’s relocation is a temporary decision brought on by the pandemic but Segal did say that sports franchises have historically relocated and rebranded all the time, as needed.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” Segal said, adding, “You don’t know what the future holds.”
A few days after the initial news of the relocation to China broke, Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson and other Overwatch League casters discussed the rumors surrounding the Valiant on “Plat Chat,” a podcast dedicated to the Overwatch League. At the time, Wilkinson said any decision by the Immortals Gaming Club to drop the entire Valiant roster this late in the offseason would be “properly unethical behavior.”
“I think it’s just profoundly bad business,” Wilkinson said then. “People are not going to want to be fans of the Valiant as much, any more, after they just screwed over their players.”