Many eyes are on the Overwatch League right now, but while stage 3 carries on, the secondary Overwatch division is heating up. As the Overwatch Contenders playoffs come to a close, you should be watching.
Contenders is a developmental subset, like a minor league for the Overwatch League. Players in each region compete in their own weekly matches, and some league teams like Florida, Philadelphia, and the Los Angeles Gladiators even have their own Contenders team.
Why should you be watching? For starters, it's where future talent is being discovered. Players like Hwang "TiZi" Jang-hyeon and Kwon "AimGod" Min-seok have already found their way onto league teams from Contenders. You get a chance in these matches to spot the greats before they're playing in the big league.
Also, the quality of play in Contenders is really impressive. The playoffs are underway in every region, and the matches have been spectacular to watch. The teamwork and skill can be as good, sometimes even better, than the majors, especially in the Korean league.
Yesterday's playoff match between Meta Bellum and Seven was an incredible set, where several players popped off. Here's a great overtime retake from Meta Bellum on Oasis:
Individual play is spectacular, from big ultimates and pinpoint Widow snipes to clutch hacks. In a match against Meta Athena, Element Mystic's Lee "Guard" Hee-dong found an opening and took out a Pharah's jetpack mid-flight, dropping her off the map.
Not to focus on one region or the playoffs alone, here's Hwang "Fl0w3r" Yeon-oh, who was moved off the New York Excelsior bench to their Contenders team, XL2 Academy. At 17 years old, he's a young talent and getting him playtime at all is a good idea, especially when the results look like this.
It's not even about kills alone - plenty of great heads-up plays like Mangachu's boop away of a D.va ult have been clipped and shared from Contenders.
A minor league team in esports might not spur the same fervor that a local farm team might. In fact, the whole concept of a developmental division is newer than most ideas in esports.
It wasn't long ago that teams were formed and moulded in high-rank online matches alone, but now, there are structures to help spotlight fresh, promising talent. This is a new way of evaluating and nurturing potential in esports. You only need to look at how sports like baseball utilise the leagues beneath the MLB to get a sense for what this could mean for esports. Player looks good but a little green? Send him to Contenders.
Contenders is a field replete with that kind of talent. Many players on these teams used to compete in the various pockets of the pre-league Overwatch scene, and while many got signed on for the majors, some are still floating around in the minors waiting for their breakout moment. Every signing window, there's another Contenders standout that gets a spot on the big stage, and if you're keeping up with each week's matches, you can say you knew them way back when.