OVERWATCH LEAGUE was thrown into turmoil during the mid-season break when its commissioner suddenly quit to join Epic Games.
Nate Nanzer revealed on Monday that he was leaving the league after a rocky first half to the second season.
Carlton Beener for Blizzard Entertainment Nate Nanzer (middle) hands over the Overwatch League trophy to London Spitfire owner Jack Etienne
Shortly after he announced he was quitting, ESPN revealed he was joining Epic Games, news the Fortnite-maker later confirmed officially.
Nanzer was the league’s leader, most public face and the driving force behind its creation.
“This has been the toughest decision of my life, because it means I won’t get to work with the best staff, players, teams, owners, partners, and fans in esports anymore,” Nanzer said.
He was key to signing up the owners of the league’s 20 teams, who are rumoured to have paid up to £20 million for the rights.
He was also involved in setting up the $90 million two-year broadcast deal with Twitch, as well as the arrival of big-money sponsors including Toyota, Coca-Cola, Intel, T-Mobile and many others.
The league is one of the highest profile esports organisations in the world, and is pioneering the global use of the city-based franchise model that’s ubiquitous in American professional sports.
The players are all full-time professionals, with full-time training regimens, weekly matches and millions in prize money.
Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for Blizzard Entertainment The first Grand Finals overseen by Nanzer packed the Barclays Center in New York
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
This season that full-time training and full-on competition has taken its toll on several players and staff.
One of the season’s stand-out stars, Hyeon-Woo “Jjanu” Choi of the Vancouver Titans revealed on Twitter he was planning to check himself into hospital during the all-star break.
“I couldn’t get a healthy schedule going, couldn’t sleep, pulled all nighters, my neck strain worsened, couldn’t maintain a good condition. I’ll be going straight to the hospital in Korea for treatment and show better performance next stage,” he said on Twitter, as translated by @gatamchun here and verified by Sun Online.
Choi had posted the previous day saying that the stage 2 playoff schedule had left him exhausted and without enough time to eat.
Neither Overwatch League nor the Vancouver Titans responded to requests for comment on Jjanu’s comments or on player pressures and burnout.
Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment Nanzer has been heavily involved in the management of Overwatch League since its inception
Earlier in the season Dallas Fuel star Hyeon “Effect” Hwang and Toronto Defiant ace Dohyung “Stellar” Lee both quit citing mental health issues.
Hwang revealed his struggles with self-harm and thoughts of suicide led to his decision to quit, and said he would “consult with doctors” before returning to professional gaming in any form.
It has not been limited to players either.
Kate Mitchell, assistant general manager of the Washington Justice, quit just before the break “to take better care of [her] mental health.”
The level of abuse Mitchell said she received as a member of the Justice management “outpaced anything I saw in years in gaming and politics”, revealing she had needed to see a therapist and suffered frequent panic attacks.
Another prominent woman in the league, Susie Kim, also left her post in May.
She was general manager of London Spitfire, and left to become Director of Youth Esports Education and Training at Cloud9, Spitfire’s parent company.
This year all 20 teams are still based around Los Angeles and playing most of their games at the Blizzard Arena there – but from next year all 20 teams will be playing home games in the cities they represent.
That is likely to increase the stress on players as hostile away crowds, international travel and preparation in unfamiliar environments add to the current woes.
HOW DOES OVERWATCH WORK?OVERWATCH is a relatively simple game in principle — you have teams of six players fighting for control of certain areas of any given map.
The six players can choose any of Overwatch’s seven ‘tanks’, six support and 16 damage-dealing heroes to get control of those spots and force their opponents off.
‘Tanks’ are the game’s most defensive heroes — generally large, heavily armored and not particularly mobile. They can take up space, deploy shields that stop their team taking damage.
Support heroes are there to help out the rest of the team — this is mostly healing, but also includes the ability to boost the damage your team does, reduce incoming damage, make it easier to see the opposition and suchlike.
Finally, your damage-dealers are there to dish out punishment. They may have secondary abilities that enhance those abilities and boost the damage output of other players.
There is overlap, with all the heroes able to do some damage to defend themselves. The way characters defend themselves also differs — some can deal damage from long range and are highly mobile and hard to hit, but are very weak when cornered.
Right now, the strengths of the game’s tank and support heroes has led to very defensive tactics being deployed, with many teams favouring set-ups with no dedicated damage-dealers at all.
This means that some of season one’s best players have ended up in bit-part roles as the offensive skills and huge plays that made the first season so exciting have faded away.
Blizzard Entertainment The colourful characters in Overwatch are now part of some very serious business
THE NEW BOSS
Pete Vlastelica, the president and CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues, is stepping in “effective immediately” to steady the ship and act as league commissioner for the foreseeable future.
“We have the best team in the business working incredibly hard to realize the vision we set out to create years ago, and I’ll be working very closely with our staff, the teams and partners to do just that,” Vlastelica said.
Before joining Activision-Blizzard, Vlaselica was Fox Sports executive vice president.
Activision-Blizzard’s other big esports venture at the moment is it’s new upcoming Call of Duty league.
That is going to follow the Overwatch League pattern of city-branded franchises when it launches next year, with teams confirmed for Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Paris and Toronto.
Franchises in the Call of Duty league reportedly start at £20 million, with reports suggesting the Los Angeles franchise could go for as much as £60 million.
Former NFL vice president Johanna Faires is lined up to lead that league.
Overwatch League has all the trappings you would expect of any professional sports league, right down to the merch
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Epic Games, meanwhile, has simply confirmed that Nanzer would be joining them to work “on competitive Fortnite.”
The £30 million Fortnite World Cup is the firm’s first serious attempt at esports competitions after announcing it was going to throw £74 million in prize money at players.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing, with players kicked out en masse for cheating, pro players blasting the game for being unplayable, and top stars being eliminated from tournaments by bugs.
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