Things are looking dire for the Overwatch League (OWL), the competitive esports scene built around Blizzard’s popular hero shooter, as the company laid off some 50 employees on July 18.
According to a report by The Verge, OWL’s fate after the current season, which is slated to end in October, is up to team owners. Later this year, owners will determine a new operating agreement or choose to terminate the league entirely, Blizzard laid out during its Q2 earnings call on July 19.
“If the teams do not vote to continue under an updated operating agreement, a termination fee of $6 million will be payable to each participating team entity (total fee of approximately $114 million),” Blizzard said.
The Overwatch League already has issues
This year’s OWL season was already fraught with various complications. One fan favorite team, the Chengdu Hunters, completely dissolved this past June after Chinese publisher Netease declined to keep Overwatch playable in mainland China, according to a June report by GGRecon. Meanwhile, other teams have switched countries. The Paris Eternal team moved to Vegas and Fusion went from Philadelphia to Seoul. As all of this happened, rosters were completely shaken up, with the Eternal adding three players who started right in the middle of the Midseason Madness tournament, OWL’s halfway point leading up to the Grand Finals in October. All this is to say that OWL was already in a pretty precarious place.
Now, though, things only look worse. In addition to the 50-person layoff, viewership isn’t what it once was, per The Verge. Still, OWL commissioner Sean Miller underscored Blizzard’s commitment to esports.
“I want to be clear on one thing in particular, that Overwatch remains committed to a competitive ecosystem in 2024 and beyond,” Miller told The Verge. “And we’re building toward a revitalized global scene that prioritizes players and fans.”
Blizzard’s esports senior director of global communications Brad Crawford echoed Miller’s sentiment to The Verge.
Blizzard still remains committed to OWL esports
And in an email to Kotaku, a Blizzard spokesperson stuck to the same script as Crawford and Miller, confirming that esports is still important to the company, despite the layoffs and impending owner vote.
“We remain committed to a competitive ecosystem in 2024 and beyond and are exploring a variety of options that prioritize players and fans with a revitalized global scene,” the Blizzard spokesperson said.
However, The Verge reported that impacted employees didn’t feel this commitment or support, with one former staffer saying the layoffs were “a complete shock to everyone” and no one was “offered any opportunity to switch roles or teams.” Many of the main faces of OWL, such as the casters, eulogized the seeming end of OWL online and thanked the league for all it did for fans and players.
It’s unclear, too, what Blizzard support and commitment for OWL through 2024 and beyond will entail. And it doesn’t help that this all comes as the company admits player engagement and investment in Overwatch 2 is on the decline. Yeah, it’s really not looking too good.