The Overwatch League has finally released the full schedule for the 2021 season, and it will look quite different from previous years.
The season kicks off April 16, and the opening games will see the two Texas-based teams and two of the California-based teams go head to head. The Houston Outlaws will play the Dallas Fuel followed by the Los Angeles Gladiators and the defending champions, the San Francisco Shock.
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From four regions to two
This year the league will be split into two regions based on the teams’ location for the season.
The teams for each region are as follows:
- Shanghai Dragons
- Chengdu Hunters
- Seoul Dynasty
- Hangzhou Spark
- Guangzhou Charge
- New York Excelsior
- Philadelphia Fusion
- Los Angeles Valiant
- Atlanta Reign
- Boston Uprising
- Dallas Fuel
- Florida Mayhem
- London Spitfire
- Houston Outlaws
- Los Angeles Gladiators
- Washington Justice
Seasonal tournament structure
The Overwatch League schedule will adopt one of the formats fans saw last year after the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person events. There will be four seasonal tournaments. May Melee starts May 7, June Joust starts June 11, Summer Showdown starts July 16 and the Countdown Cup starts August 20.
Teams from both regions will compete in all four tournaments, but unlike last year, teams must first qualify to enter the tournaments. Four teams will compete in each tournament weekend in a double-elimination bracket.
If it is safe, the top two West teams will head to Hawaii for tournaments, where they will play against the top two teams from the East via a directly routed connection from Hawaii to Asia. If safety conditions aren’t met, the League will revert back to a regional tournament model with separate champions for each tournament.
How points will work toward the playoffs
This year will work differently than years past in scoring points. Each team will play in 16 qualifiers which will accrue League Points to determine seeding and qualification for each tournament.
All League Points a team earns throughout the season will be used to determine qualification and seeding for playoffs. Map differentials will still remain the tiebreaker, and there will also be additional tiebreakers added.
The prize pools for this year will total a cumulative $4.25 million. There will be a prize pool for each tournament, and a large prize pool for the playoffs, including $1.5 for the season champion.
The prize pool is the same size as last year, but there are more opportunities for teams to score a big prize with the tournament format.
At the end of the year, the League will host a play-in tournament for each region which will determine which teams advance to the playoff bracket.
The highly controversial Hero Pools mechanic is here to stay. Hero Pools are going to be implemented for two out of the four tournaments. The June Joust and the Countdown Cup will feature Hero Pools, which encompasses all qualifier matches for those tournaments as well. The May Melee, Summer Showdown and playoffs will not be using Hero Pools.
When Hero Pools are in play, four heroes will be removed from play. One tank, one support and two damage heroes will be chosen from a group of eligible heroes based on play-rate data from previous tournament cycles. Heroes that are being played most regularly will be eligible for removal.
The biggest change with Hero Pools for the 2021 season is that no hero can be removed more than once for the entire season.
Each map pool will encompass 14 maps and the same four game modes in each tournament. The game mode order will change with each tournament.
OWL has already released the map pool for the May Melee tournament:
Control — Lijiang Tower, Busan, Oasis, Nepal, Ilios
Hybrid — King’s Row, Blizzard World, Eichenwalde
Escort — Dorado, Watchpoint Gibraltar, Havana
Assault — Hanamura, Volskaya, Temple of Anubis
During each tournament, the higher-seeded team will select which map will be played first, but it must be a control map. Then, the loser of that map will select the next map.
The Overwatch League will, as always, implement patches between tournament cycles during bye weeks in order to ensure fair play.
Matches can be watched on the Overwatch League’s website or on their YouTube channel starting April 16.
Lead image credit: Ben Pursell for Activision Blizzard