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Despite some bumps in the road along the way, the Overwatch League’s inaugural season received both critical and commercial praise, skyrocketing Blizzard’s hero shooter to the forefront of the esports conversation. However, such a level of success doesn’t exempt OWL officials from improving the league and addressing its issues, and Wednesday the Overwatch League announced format changes ahead of its second season.
The Overwatch League will welcome eight new teams when the second season kicks off on February 14, 2019. Clubs from Atlanta, Paris, Toronto and Washington, D.C. will join the Atlantic division and Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, and Vancouver will join the Pacific division. The expansion of the league means that scheduling will be altered as well. Now every team will face its own division members twice and teams from the opposite division once over the course of four, five-week stages.
The stage format received its own tweaks as well in an effort to address concerns over player burnout and adverse health issues as a result of over-intensive training schedules. The new format will see teams receive bye weeks during stage play with longer breaks between stages to better facilitate player recovery and allow teams to visit their home cities more frequently. Teams will play no more than two matches per week during stage play.
Stage finals are returning with an expanded bracket. Each stage final will now feature eight teams: the top teams in each division along with the remaining top six teams. The teams will be seeded by their stage record.
The Overwatch League playoffs are also being tweaked with the addition of two playoff teams, bringing the total number of playoff spots to eight. The top six will still populated by division champions and the next top four teams, but the final two spots will be up for grabs in a sudden death play-in tournament between the teams ranked seven through twelve in the overall standings.
Finally, the OWL All-Star celebration will be held during the season rather than after the Grand Finals. Akin to traditional sports leagues, the OWL All-Star game will now be contested between the second and third stage of the season.
Speaking to ESPN, OWL director of franchises and competition Jon Spector confirmed that the changes were just the first to come as the Overwatch League continues to innovate and evolve in the future. “Everything that we’re announcing around the new format is part of our effort to tinker around the edges of the league… We want to continue to be a league that innovates.”
[Featured Image: Blizzard PR]