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Overwatch League will play on ‘early build’ of ‘Overwatch 2’ next season starting in April

(Washington Post illustration; Blizzard)

The 2022 season of the Overwatch League will begin in April with a plan for teams to compete on an “early build” of “Overwatch 2,” the much anticipated sequel to the five-year-old, team-based shooter, according to a statement provided by the Overwatch League.

“I’ve seen a lot of speculation regarding a 2022 start date for OWL,” Overwatch League vice president Jon Spector wrote on Twitter. “We can confirm that our plan is to begin next season in April 2022.”

The Overwatch League is one of two city-based esports leagues run by Activision Blizzard, one of the largest video game publishers in the world. “Overwatch 2” still doesn’t have a release date. In an earnings call last month, Activision Blizzard reported the sequel’s development is going well but did not provide an estimated timeline for its release.

Teams in the Overwatch League have been lobbying for the league’s fifth season to be played on “Overwatch 2,” hoping the windfall from the sequel will bring in new fans and viewers. Some players and staff say they see “Overwatch 2” as a reset button for the league.

Overwatch League teams expect ‘Overwatch 2’ news in upcoming meeting with Blizzard

Spector’s announcement on Twitter did not address whether the fifth season would be played on “Overwatch 2.” The league confirmed the plan in a separate email to The Washington Post.

This will be the second year in a row that the Overwatch League will be offline for six months in between seasons. Last year, the league delayed the start of the fourth season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Reacting to the news on Twitter, Adam Adamou, the chief strategy officer of the company behind the Canada-based league team the Toronto Defiant, wrote: “The rumours of our death have been greatly exaggerated,” ending the sentence with a laughing emoji.

Overwatch League teams face a reset after pandemic spoils its grand plans

Staff on multiple teams in the league have proposed preseason tournaments or scrimmages on an early version of “Overwatch 2” until the game officially releases to drum up interest and keep the league relevant with audiences. At this time, it’s unclear whether the league will jump straight into the regular season or, instead, compete in preseason tournaments as suggested. A league spokesperson said more details would be shared in the coming months.

In an interview on Thursday, Philip “ChipSa” Graham, a Twitch streamer and former Overwatch League player, said the release of “Overwatch 2” is bound to bring players back to the franchise.

“The game has been stale for at least six months now, if not longer,” Graham said. “It’ll be a huge uptick in players once ['Overwatch 2′] eventually releases.”

But Graham argued the real question is: Can Blizzard keep players interested for a sustained amount of time, like Riot has with “League of Legends”?

“'League of Legends’ sustains a level of viewership and hype,” Graham said. “The hope is that 'Overwatch 2’ does that and it’s not just a peak and then it drops off again.”

Heading into next year, the Overwatch League will have to navigate Blizzard’s development schedule for “Overwatch 2” and the ongoing constraints of the coronavirus pandemic. Activision Blizzard’s broadcasting deal with YouTube is also up for renewal at the end of 2022, according to one person familiar with the league’s finances who said the rights deal is the league’s largest source of revenue.

Amid all of this, Activision Blizzard is embroiled in a lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleges widespread, gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. Big-name sponsors like Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and State Farm are reassessing their partnerships with the Overwatch League in light of the news.

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Overwatch League teams expect ‘Overwatch 2’ news in upcoming meeting with Blizzard

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