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At this point, it’s safe to say that the Overwatch League is happening. Blizzard’s ambitious, pie-in-the-sky project has taken some time to really show progress, but it appears to have gotten off the ground. Despite early reports of a failure to launch, all facts point to the successful birth of a unified, competitive Overwatch eSports league – when that happens and to what capacity remains to be seen, though.
But one part of Blizzard’s initial announcement of the Overwatch League seems to have been left by the wayside for the time being – that’s the reported “Overwatch League Combine” that was supposed to take place. In light of recent updates, it appears that this Combine will either not happen, or it won’t mean much if it ever does happen.
The Overwatch League Combine lent an air of accessibility to the League, giving players far and wide the opportunity to prove themselves. This sort of “American Dream”-esque format seemed to suggest that any player, anywhere could play their way into this league just by working hard and practicing. You can see that part of the announcement at 1:50 in the video above.
“Invited players will have the opportunity to distinguish themselves as top talent,” Blizzard announced. “The combine will help ensure that all teams have awareness around the best players. Following the combine, there will be a signing period where rosters will be finalized.” This announcement had even more detail at Blizzcon 2016, when Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime spoke on the Overwatch League Combine. Morhaime said “There will be a combine where players attend tryouts and will be evaluated by team owners and coaches across a series of tests.” He later added that the combine will “mark the beginning of season one [in 2017].”
Has anything changed from this plan? It appears at least slightly, as part of Wednesday’s announcement that seven owners have officially signed on for Overwatch League teams connected to seven different cities. Buried under this announcement, though, was the revelation that at least one of these owners, the CEO for Immortals, already has his team picked out, and it’s the one he already has:
— Immortals (@Immortals) July 12, 2017
That’s right, the Immortal Overwatch team is now the Los Angeles Immortals, for the purposes of the Overwatch League. But they weren’t drafted, they didn’t go through a rigorous evaluation or testing process, and there wasn’t any sort of Combine to speak of involved in the decision. The CEO of Immortals, Noah Whinston, had his team already, because Immortals is an eSports organization that already has an Overwatch team, and, assuming there are no roster changes before the League begins, this will be the team that plays in the Overwatch League.
In an interview with VentureBeat, Whinston said “We’re fortunate to already have a team signed that’s already active in Overwatch esports […] we’re not looking to do a complete rebuild, any kind of tear-it-all-down approach. We’re very happy with where the team is at right now.”
This is an approach that many are likely to mimic. Two other eSports teams, Misfits and NRG eSports, are among the seven team owners recently announced. Why would they want to sunder their rosters to engage in this “combine,” when they already have a team? It’s also worth noting that this announcement of the seven teams by Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer did not once include the word “combine.”
Now, this is not to say that the combine won’t happen, necessarily. We have reached out to officials at the Overwatch League for confirmation, but Blizzard has been especially tight-lipped about the details of this project outside of official announcements. They did announce a “scouting report” last month that would highlight players who finished in the Top 500 of last competitive season and anyone who is especially active in Overwatch tournaments or eSports teams. But, while a scouting report usually precedes a combine, they are not one in the same, and this announcement again neglected to even include the word “combine.”
But if the combine does happen, will it even be necessary? Like the scouting report, the combine won’t mean anything to team owners if they already know who their team members are going to be. Noah Whinston didn’t wait around for the Combine, and he certainly didn’t take a hard look at the scouting report before deciding who his team was going to be. While this is especially the case with Overwatch League team owners who own an already-existing eSports team, I can’t imagine that team owners such as Robert Kraft (who also owns the New England Patriots) aren’t going to partner up with an established eSports team, combine or no combine.
I’m sure there’s a story waiting to be written and turned into a movie about a team owner that takes a chance on a band of misfits and no-names who rise to the top under the guidance of a grizzled coach who uses the team’s success as a vehicle for redemption for past failures, becoming more of a whole person along the journey, but the real Bad News is that the Overwatch League appears thus far to be status quo.