After a long off-season, details of the Overwatch League 2021 season schedule have finally been released.
The season will officially begin on April 16 with a match between the Houston Outlaws and Dallas Fuel. The league schedule will follow a series of four-week tournament cycles with off weeks between each of them. Teams will be divided into two divisions, East and West, and play four qualifier games per tournament cycle. Wins accrued during qualifiers will count towards final standings in the form of League Points. Extra points will be awarded to high placing teams in tournament playoffs.
The four tournaments — the May Melee, the June Joust, the Summer Showdown and the Countdown Cup — are a returning feature from the 2020 season. The year 2020 wasn’t initially conceptualized with tournament play in mind. However, with the shift to online play, the league implemented tournaments in order to make regular season matches more exciting. Though it began as a necessity, fans ended up embracing the new format. Now, going into 2021, tournaments will be there from the very start.
“We had a long off-season to think about the things that we did right and things that we might have stumbled on throughout the 2020 season,” said Senior Competition Operations Manager Adam Mierzejewski. “We had to make a major shift in the middle of the season, but there were a lot of big wins that came out of it. Listening to our audience and taking the time during the off-season to really fine-tune and craft an exciting 2021, we needed to have tournaments in our season. They create such great storylines and hype moments all throughout the regular season.”
Something else that the league has brought back from the 2020 season is the hero pools system. Hero pools remove certain characters from play in order to ensure more variety in team composition. At the start of 2020, the league used a weekly rotation of playable heroes. The system came under fire for the way it was structured as weekly hero removals were being perceived as too intensive for players and teams. This was gradually phased out during the season. This year, hero pools will be used for two of the four tournament cycles — the June Joust and the Countdown Cup. They will remain consistent all throughout those tournaments.
“Hero Pools were originally designed to maximize the variety that is so beautiful in Overwatch, and all the different heroes that can be played,” senior manager Sean Miller said. “But, at the same time, there’s a balance that we found last year that needs to occur. It does add some work and effort, and we don’t want to put too much burden on the teams to prepare for a bunch of different hero pools. We feel that now, with these month-long hero pools, it does minimize player and coach burden. It’ll also help give fans that variety while providing a nice, consistent meta for an entire tournament cycle.”
Game patches will follow a similar schedule. The latest Overwatch patches will only be implemented in the Overwatch League between tournament cycles. Patches will inevitably have an impact on the meta and Hero Pools, but league staff are constantly working with Overwatch developers to ensure that teams are well-informed ahead of time.
“Patches create some unknowns,” Mierzejewski said. “We do work very closely with the developer team on a lot of these topics — Hero Pools, game patches, map pools — and we want to make sure we give teams enough notice on what the patches are going to be. By the end of the first tournament, for example, they’ll know their patch and their Hero Pool, and they’ll have an off week between tournaments for them to be able to prepare. I think we’re giving them a lot of time and transparency on how these things are going to happen.”