Overwatch League to feature midseason tournament, new match format in 2020

The crowd prepares for introductions at the Overwatch League final between the Vancouver Titans and San Francisco Shock on Sept. 29 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia/Pennsylvania. Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

ANAHEIM, California -- The Overwatch League announced several new changes to is 2020 season structure during an hour-long panel on Saturday at BlizzCon. The fresh details included a new midseason tournament, refined match victory conditions and a deeper map pool.

Although the Hall A gathering mainly consisted of OWL personalities speculating about roster moves and previously revealed league divisions, Activision Blizzard senior director of product strategy and business operations Jon Spector was able to shed more light on the upcoming season.

Overwatch League Season 3 will consist of 52 homestand events spread out over 27 weeks between February and August. Similar to the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational, a new OWL tournament will be held alongside the All-Star event that takes place around the season's midpoint. The four-team bracket will feature the Atlantic and Pacific conference leaders as well as the two other teams with the best records through Week 10. The wildcard teams will not be limited by conference affiliation.

Spector gave no indication that the results of the new mid-season tournament will impact the playoff picture. The format of qualification for that postseason remains unchanged from Season 2.

"The four best teams in the league will be able to duke it out in the middle of the season," Spector said. "Should be super hype matchups, a chance to see who's the best of the best at that middle point vs. waiting until playoffs."

The regular season four-game-minimum match style has also been scrapped in favor of a first-to-three format, similar to the current playoff rules. In the first two seasons of the Overwatch League, teams would play a fourth map even when one side had already secured the three map victories needed to win the match. But with the elimination of stage playoffs, Spector said the importance of map differential will be diminished because it's less likely that many teams will have identical records before season playoffs. Spector did not say if map differential would continue to be the first tiebreaker for postseason qualification.

Once one team wins three maps, the match will end, a statement that caused moderator and OWL host Chris "Puckett" Puckett to rise from his chair and high-five Spector.

"Everybody's psyched about that," OWL caster Erik "DoA" Lonnquist said. The change signals shorter broadcast days when results are more one-sided.

Each match will still begin with a Control map, but the next three maps will rotate between Hybrid, Assault and Escort at an unspecified rate. If needed, the fifth map and beyond will be Control, lending a significant advantage to teams who excel at that map type. The map pool will be expanded to include all five control maps (Busan, Ilios, Nepal, Oasis and Lijiang Tower) and three from each other map type.

While Los Angeles Valiant support Scott "Custa" Kennedy assessed the additional maps he needed to prepare for, DPS Andrej "babybay" Francisty seemed eager for more Control.

"Man, I'm a no-brain, all-aim player, so put me in on Control," the Atlanta Reign starter said. "I'm ready for it all day, dude. My Control win rate is nuts."

Though Overwatch 2 was demoed at BlizzCon, it's unclear when its new features will be included in Overwatch League play. Blizzard Entertainment vice president Jeff Kaplan indicated that while Overwatch 2 does not have a release date, some of its features -- particularly new heroes and new game modes -- might be released beforehand.

In the past, Overwatch League has placed a high priority on keeping the professional game consistent with the amateur version, as seen by their decision to introduce the game-changing two tank, two DPS and two support team composition requirements in Stage 4 of Season 2.

However, Spector did not include the new map type, Push, when discussing the 2020 map rotation.

"It's really important to us on the Overwatch League side of things that we look to keep the experience onstage that all the fans have a chance to watch as similar as we can to what you're playing at home." Spector said in an interview with Malik Forté in 2018. "We think that makes a better fan experience; we think that makes a better player experience."

Overwatch League Season 3 will begin at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, Feb. 8, with the Paris Eternal facing the Toronto Defiant at the New York Excelsior homestand.