Late Monday afternoon, Blizzard released the official rules for Contenders 2018, as well as a list of teams invited directly into Contenders or to the Contenders Trials. The new information paints a much clearer picture than we had before about how the Tier 2 scene will look in the coming year. Read on for the biggest takeaways.


Blizzard has set a Contenders-wide transfer fee for players joining the Overwatch League

As Overwatch League teams worked to assemble their inaugural rosters, several players were either passed over, or nearly passed over, because of issues securing contract buyouts. Some organizations were asking for unreasonable fees, and others just weren’t responsive. London Spitfire claims that buyout issues were the primary reason they scrapped their plans of building a European roster. All in all, it was a mess that Blizzard was keen to avoid going forward.

The new Contenders rules contain a trio of provisions to address the issue.

  • If an Overwatch League team is interested in a player, their Contenders organization must allow the player negotiate terms with the Overwatch League team
  • If an Overwatch League team signs a Contenders player, their Contenders contract is automatically terminated
  • If an Overwatch League team signs a Contenders player, their Contenders organization receives a one-time fee equal to 25% of the player’s salary and signing bonus

The streamlined process protects both the Overwatch League team and the player from having the deal derailed by the Contenders org. The big question though, which only time will answer, is whether the financial incentive for the Contenders team is strong enough to entice endemic organizations back into Overwatch. Dreams don’t put food on the table; for Overwatch’s talent pipeline to thrive long-term, players will need to be able to earn livings in Contenders.

Every region has the same format, and it’s a doozy

Each Contenders region will have twelve teams, split into two groups of six. Each team will play a single round-robin with the other teams in their group, one game per week, for a total of five games during the regular season. With quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals, the team that wins it all will do so having played only eight games.

While there will be several Contenders seasons over the course of a year, each season will present limited opportunities for players to showcase their skills. In a season that lasts only two months, a single meta is season-defining, and a single bad game could be season-ending. Add on to that that all seven regions’ seasons heavily overlap, and players – especially outside of NA, EU, and KR – will have to go above and beyond to have any hope of standing out.

One positive to the shorter seasons with smaller prize pools: there’s room in the schedule for other tournaments, and a bigger incentive to for teams to participate in them. A LAN with the winners of each region would be an obvious draw, and we may even see the return of community-organized tournament series from earlier in Overwatch’s history.

Nine Overwatch League teams will field teams in Contenders, but many other Contenders slots are in doubt

The twelve Overwatch League teams were given an opportunity to field teams in the Contenders region of their choosing, and nine took Blizzard up on their offer. Seven of the nine will be fielding teams in North America, Dragons will field a team in China, and Spitfire in Europe. Dynasty, Valiant, and Fuel will not be fielding academy teams.

With seven academy teams and four invited teams (assuming that all four are willing and able to assemble a roster in time), there’s potentially only one spot up for grabs in North America through the Contenders Trials. For established pros, that’s not necessarily bad thing. While some of the slots will likely go to Korean or European players (Flower and aKm are speculated to be part of the NYXL academy team), there’s plenty of roster spots to fight for, and academy teams will likely pay better, and offer better exposure, than other Contenders organizations.

Europe, China, Korea, and the Pacific all have a large number of teams that have been invited directly into Contenders as well. Some of those teams – Miraculous Youngster in China, Libalent Supreme in the Pacific, and Singularity in Europe, for example – no longer exist, and are unlikely to claim their spots. However those regions will have a decent mix of established talent and new blood fighting for Contenders glory.

Other tidbits

  • Players will be able to stream their Contenders games on a three-minute delay. It will be interesting to see how many players take up that offer, as doing so would mean exposing team comms to the public, something that teams have been reluctant to do until now.
  • Up to nine people can be on a roster, and substitutions will be allowed between maps. There’s nothing in the rules indicating a limit to the number of substitutions.
  • The prize pools for South America and Australia are incredibly small. If a team wins all eight games on their way to the championship, they walk away with $8,676 ($1,446 per player on a six-man roster). While it’s great that the regions are getting attention, with those prize pools and no region locking, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the best South American teams attempt to land spots in North America.

One comment

  1. It would be surprising if South American teams enter Open Division NA, because there’s only one spot available for an Open team to join NA contenders. It’s just too congested with OWL Academy teams that will (I reckon) be immune from relegation.

    Not only that, Kungdoo and Renegades are already in the running for that spot without having to compete in Open Div at all. So you have to be top four in Open Div, then defeat even higher calibre opposition that have been practice scrimming against OWL teams all Open Div season. Fail to win that one spot and that’s the end of your Contenders campaign….too late to try for SA.

    Contrast that with a decent chance at a full South America Contenders season, and the visibility that results. But to get there they have to be in SA Open Division….they can’t go to Open Div NA.

    My thoughts are that SA teams will therefore go SA Contenders for the first season, and see what promotion/relegation looks like for the following season of NA Contenders…


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