10 Reasons To Start Watching Overwatch Contenders

RunAway after winning Contenders Korea Season 2 / Photo: Blizzard Press Center

Contenders season is upon us. It’s a very exciting time, but for many fans who are new to the Overwatch League and the Overwatch esports scene as a whole, entering into the wide open world of Tier 2 competition is daunting. I’ve heard a lot of excuses.

“I don’t know any of the players, who do I root for?”
“When is it even on? Isn’t it ALWAYS on?”
“I only know OWL, I feel like I’m not informed enough to start Contenders now.”

Good news. I’m here to get you on the Contenders train.

I’ll be blunt with you, especially those of you who have only watched the Overwatch League. There’s still another two months until OWL returns, there’s nothing else on, and whether you admit it or not, you’ll miss the action of games eventually. Luckily for us, there are seven – yes, SEVEN – active regions of Contenders that are almost always playing. Here are ten good reasons, from Contenders talent, coaches, and analysts, to stop crying into your stack of Outlaws jerseys and join the Contenders party.

10. You are supporting up and coming talent who become well-known talent.

English-language coverage for Contenders over the aforementioned seven regions is split between two groups. First is the official Overwatch Contenders Twitch channel, staffed by Blizzard, which covers Korea, North America, Europe, Australia, and Pacific. Second is volunteer broadcast talent community Broadcast.gg, which covers South America and China.

The talent that casts, analyzes, and produces Contenders, whether from Blizzard or BGG, becomes the talent you know and love. Multiple casters that started out working for BGG have moved up to the big leagues, including EU caster Harry “Legday” Pollitt and new NA Contenders casters Chris “Boop” Lessard and Evie “HamTornado” Feng. Jaws and Legday, Tridd and Dezachu, Wolf and Achillios – all of these Contenders casters also casted multiple World Cup matches this year. By watching these games, you find new favorites, because let’s face it: the world is bigger than Monte and Doa.

9. You choose what to watch.

RunAway after defeating KongDoo Panthera in an 8-game set / Photo: Blizzard Press Center

Much like crafting a Starbucks order, you can tailor your Contenders experience exactly the way you enjoy it most. Each region of Contenders has its own strengths and weakness, with specific focuses. Europe, for example, has a recent reputation for being GOATs-heavy, but likes to focus on its tanks. “If you want to see how the best tank teams in the world play, watch EU Contenders,” says DreamCastsOW, analyst for London Spitfire’s academy team, British Hurricane.

Korea is arguably the most competitive Contenders scene; last year’s spectacular 8-game final between RunAway and KongDoo Panthera is more than enough to make that clear. North America and Europe are next, with the most potential for name recognition and likely future OWL signings. If you like wild team comps, watch China or Australia. If you want to support a scene that has potential, go for South America or PAC. Specialize in a few regions, or watch them all. You pick.  

8. Academy teams give an “OWL Lite” experience.

Miss your favorite team in the Overwatch League? Follow their academy team. Academy teams are Contenders teams that are sponsored by an OWL team. The sponsoring OWL team gets first pick of its Academy members when signing Contenders players to OWL, and can even choose players on its academy team to designate as two-way players (see #7). Most academy teams play in the North American Contenders region, which includes:

  • Fusion University (Philadelphia Fusion)
  • Mayhem Academy (Florida Mayhem)
  • Gladiators Legion (LA Gladiators)
  • XL2 (NYXL)
  • Uprising Academy (Boston Uprising)
  • Team Envy (Dallas Fuel)
  • NRG Esports (SF Shock)
  • ATL Academy (from expansion team Atlanta Reign)  

British Hurricane (London Spitfire) competes in the European region, while Team CC (Shanghai Dragons) competes in the China region and Gen.G (Seoul Dynasty) competes in the Korean region.

7. You may recognize some Academy players…and see them move back up.

Mayhem Academy’s Season 3 Roster / Photo Courtesy @MayhemAcademy

After the first season of the Overwatch League was finished, the inevitable happened: players started getting cut from teams for a variety of reasons. Fans were concerned their careers were over. Luckily, Contenders exists, and Academy teams were there to pick up dropped players.

Notable examples are former Houston Outlaws main tank FCTFCN and Florida Mayhem off-tank Manneten, who were signed to Mayhem Academy. North American Contenders team Skyfoxes also picked up a host of players, like support Verbo (formerly LA Valiant), tank Kalios and support Snow (Boston Uprising), and main tank IRemiix (LA Gladiators).

In addition, this season of Contenders introduces “two-way players,” who are allowed to play a certain number of Overwatch League games in addition to Contenders games. How well this will work remains to be seen, but it means that OWL knowledge will cross over to Contenders, and vice versa. Two-way players to watch this season include support Elk (Philadelphia Fusion) and Team UK tank Fusions (Boston Uprising).

6. Contenders team compositions are way more fun.

This depends a little on the region, of course, but teams are far less “stuck” into meta the way that OWL is. Remember entire stages of the Overwatch League where teams would play nearly mirror compositions every single match? The stakes were so high that very few teams were willing to step out of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mindset. But Contenders teams are here to impress, and certain regions take it to the next level. China, in particular, does not care about your meta. I’ll let these team compositions speak for themselves:

5. You witness history…before it’s history.

Xu “guxue” Qiulin / Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

“Guxue surprised everyone in World Cup except those of us who watched Contenders China,” explains Peggy “Moirai” Forde, a producer and observer for Broadcast.gg. Fans also wildly underestimated the power of Contenders players, expecting clean sweeps from World Cup teams full of OWL players.

Forde continues, “UK’s team for World Cup shocked everyone by taking out the US, and it was (nearly) a full Contenders roster.” Many World Cup players were plucked straight out of their respective Contenders regions, and their performances were no surprise to those in the know. 

Watching all this talent play weekly makes it easy to figure out how the pro Overwatch scene will develop, and where to bring the hype. “If you want to see who the world will be cheering on next,” Forde says, “Contenders is the place to be.”

4. You are part of a journey.

If you were a fan of any player before they were signed to an Overwatch League team, you know the feeling of watching an athlete you care about finally get the recognition they deserve. There’s nothing quite like it. Following a Contenders journey is an easy way to get that feeling back again, or understand it for the first time.  

“You should watch Contenders if you want to get excited about the future of the League,” says Ash “Adashtra” Parrish, Overwatch esports journalist and Contenders expert. “Finding a new player or team to watch and support as they progress through the Contenders season and eventually (hopefully) ending up on the main stage is one of the greatest feelings in sports, traditional or otherwise.”

Son “CoMa” Kyung Woo, formerly of KongDoo Panthera / Photo: Blizzard Press Center

Many players signed to Overwatch League teams for Season 2 are examples of this kind of journey. Take former KongDoo Panthera players Decay, coMA, and DDing. After a stunning Korean Contenders grand finals match against RunAway, they showed their worth despite losing the match. Many dedicated fans hoped they would be brought to North America because of their standout performances. This year, Decay is with the LA Gladiators, while coMa and DDing are part of the rebuilt Shanghai Dragons.

3. The future of Overwatch League is in Contenders. Right now.

Have you ever met one of those fans who knows the entire history of a player, having followed them from their humble beginnings? You could be one of those fans in the future…if you watch Contenders. “Contenders puts on display the next generation of talent that will be in Overwatch League,” says Jen “LemonKiwi” Pichette, a caster, host, and analyst who has covered South American Contenders for Broadcast.gg. 

ZachaREEE of Fusion University, who later played for Team USA / Photo: Robert Paul, Blizzard Entertainment

The best part is that your support encourages these players to keep going. “By committing to watching Contenders, you’re helping to create the next generation of OWL players,” explains Thomas “Maid” Mok, coach of NA Contenders Team Second Wind. And there’s an extra bonus involved if you get your support in early: “Then you can say you knew about him before he was famous.”

If anything, Contenders players exude the kind of personality you’d hope for in any future Overwatch stars. As Pichette says, “In any region, you will find incredible passion, unmatched dedication, and a diverse range of talent determined to prove themselves.”

2. Contenders is love, passion, and dedication embodied.

I asked Contenders enthusiast and Broadcast.gg analyst Brandon “Thibbledork” Padilla for a quote convincing people to take the jump and start watching. His answer, I believe, is the best example of the kind of dedication and passion that Contenders brings out in talent, players, and fans.

“Here’s the deal. If you haven’t been watching Contenders, you’re missing out. Some of the best games in Overwatch history have come from the T2 scene, and will continue to come from the T2 scene for years to come. RunAway’s 8-game series to win it all last season, Fusion Uni’s stomp against XL2… the list goes on. There are at least 80 new players joining OWL this season that have come from T2. Have you ever seen them play before? You’ve maybe heard about them on Reddit, watched a Twitch clip or two, or read the occasional article. Unless you’re actively watching the games yourself, though, you’re not getting the full picture. You owe it to yourself to watch these games – it will make you a more informed (and more entertained) Overwatch fan.

Players from Fusion University after their win against XL2 / Photo: Robert Paul, Blizzard Entertainment

“More than anything, though, watching Contenders directly supports Contenders players. These guys aren’t making that $50k OWL minimum yet. Many aren’t making anything at all. They’re juggling school, work, and a social life with their dreams to go pro. It’s not easy. By watching these games, though, you give every player in the scene a chance to be noticed. A chance to generate a fanbase and increase their marketability. A chance to be picked up by a team that will make their dreams come true. YOU give them that chance. YOU have that power. Don’t waste it!”

1. Contenders, and all of Tier 2 competition, needs our support – or Overwatch League may cease to exist.

The stage for North American Contenders finals in LA / Photo: Robert Paul, Blizzard Entertainment

If nothing else I’ve presented in this article convinces you to watch Contenders – not the data, the dedication, the fun metas, the chance for hipster cred – I hope this does. It sounds like a dire and overly dramatic warning, but it’s true. For the Contenders seasons that start in 2019, Blizzard has enacted some changes, and not all of them have been beneficial for the Tier 2 community. Each region will have the number of teams cut from 12 to eight, except for North America, which will be split into two regions. While this leads to more serious competition, it also leaves less spots open for aspiring Contenders players.

Prize pools have been redistributed, and many regions will only be rewarding the top few teams. While this is good for winners, this gives less incentive for players to commit their (often unpaid) time to Contenders. Rumors also abound about the future of Contenders in 2019. LAN finals are only, so far, confirmed for South Korea, which holds all of their matches on LAN to begin with. Nearly every region covered by Blizzard (except for EU) has dropped the analyst desk and switched to having casters do post-game analysis. In many places, it seems that budgets have been slashed.

The only way fans can ensure that Overwatch Contenders is prioritized by Blizzard is very simple: by watching it. We catch the streams or the VODs. We hype up the best plays and make a fuss over the best players, ensuring they have the support to someday make it to the Overwatch League. We make noise about fair chances given to teams who may not have the same financial backing as academy teams, but have just the same amount of passion, like Last Night’s Leftovers or Orgless and Hungry.

At the end of the day, Contenders is a direct pipeline of players looking to join the Overwatch League. The best thing we can do for the future of our League is to support the tiers below it. Tune into Contenders. I promise you won’t regret it.

If you’d like to start your Contenders journey, here’s where you need to go: 

Liz is an educator and huge nerd from Chicago, IL who specializes in humor writing and personal essays. Her favorite thing is Overwatch esports; her second favorite thing is pretending iced coffee is a meal. She can be commonly found banning people on Twitch, running Discords, and making bad life choices at Target. Follow her on Twitter!
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