The first season of Blizzard’s Overwatch League is set to start in January next year. Twelve organisations have picked up most of the best teams and players in the world. A staggering 45 of the 113 players come from South Korea and many would argue that it could have been even more. In fact, the favourites for many fans and experts are the teams with entirely Korean rosters. With Seoul Dynasty and London Spitfire but also New York Excelsior sitting in many people’s top 4, the expectations for Korea players are high. The reasons we are told as to why that is and why it has been this way ever since EnVyUs’ victory in APEX Season 1 have been numerous. I argue that because of the structure and ruleset of the first season, these excuses are now all but moot and therefore I can only come to this one conclusion: There are no excuses left to hide behind.
One argument I frequently encounter is the difficulty Western players face culturally and socially when trying to actualize a playing career. This is then contrasted against the assumed level of acceptance of esports in South Korea. Surely in the Mecca of esports, where pro players are seen as pop stars, friends and family are supportive of these career choices! However in reality, while the PC bang culture certainly helps with access to an unsupervised gaming PC and finding like-minded peers, Korean youth often has to dodge the eyes of their parents who are incredibly invested in the academic success of their offspring. The salaries of South Korean APEX competitors were and are low in comparison to many Western players who were overpaid over the last two years, merely on the faintest whiff of potential. Western players had access to more resources than the ecosystem realistically produced to make fulltime employment possible. I’m not doubting that some have faced similar hardships as their Korean counterparts and I don’t doubt many were worth their salary, though I am not convinced that Westerners had it worse at any point in this regard. Be that as it may, with the salary requirement of $50000 for every Overwatch League player and the assurance of already having “made it” to the Overwatch League, all doubts should be gone. Surrounding circumstances of this nature should be a lot more muffled now and the focus should be on winning the League only. There are no excuses left to hide behind.
We also heard about the circumstances that Western teams had to live in when they travelled to Seoul to play in OGN’s APEX Seasons. Hotel room life – and reportedly a bad one at that – was repeatedly mentioned as a motivational black hole. Being away from home for months at a time put those teams to the test. With the first season of Overwatch League entirely taking place in Los Angeles, however, now South Koreans are in that position, though granted with probably better living conditions. They tend to have a harder time when being away from home and without their own cuisine. This time around, it’s stacked in favour of Western players. Now they are on their cultural home turf. There are no excuses left to hide behind.
Often a lack of tournaments, worse internet and hardware as well as other infrastructural issues and therefore worse practice and opportunity to develop is cited as a possible reason why the Western regions weren’t at the level of South Koreans in the past. South Korean esports infrastructure has been praised as one of the most important factors in their reign over games they locked into as a community. Meanwhile, especially Europe suffered from demotivating draughts of tournaments and organisations backing the esport and it forced large swaths of players to travel across the pond and try their luck there. Season 1 of Overwatch league equalizes all these circumstances as Blizzard has created LAN client practice environments for all participating teams. Once again the advantages the Koreans had have been nullified. There are no excuses left to hide behind.
When you play in Korea, you play against Korea. Every scrim you get against Korean teams had a possibility to be leaked to your direct opposition. Now you are in the driving seat to make sure this doesn’t happen anymore and you have plenty of teams to play against instead. Making sure this doesn’t happen in Overwatch League is one’s own responsibility. There are no excuses left to hide behind.
Westerners were creative in naming their own downfalls and justifying their own mediocrity, from Assault maps not being practised enough to maps being incredibly close but ultimately in the favour of their opponents. With the rules and map selection system clearly outline in advance and a high amount of games being played in Overwatch League, variance should be considerably smaller and luck should play a much lesser role over a whole season. All is plannable and mostly fair. There are no excuses left to hide behind.
Perhaps the best excuse one could attempt to muster are the residual advantages there still could be because of the aforementioned factors. How could you be expected to catch up this quickly? Here, I’d like to point to GC Busan, a team that wasn’t anything special in APEX challenger and took the royal road to two trophy toot sweet. If a team is able to become arguably the best team in the world in the span of three months, there are no excuses left to hide behind.
The playing field has been all but levelled and this is an incredibly important reality to internalize for both fans and players. The determining factors of who will be winning the Overwatch League Season 1 or at the very least who will be making playoffs, will be nothing but sheer talent, smarts and power of will. Who, out of pure determination to win it, sits down the longest on the practice PCs? Who outwits the opposition? Who uses equal tools the most effective and who puts himself in a position that Lady Luck graces him with achievements much like she did when EnVyuS brought home the trophy as the first Western team ever in a major Korean esports title? These are the questions that will be answered with the name of the eventual winner.
If it is indeed again the Koreans who triumph and dominate the first season of Overwatch League, it is incredibly likely that the reasons for that are to be found within Western organisations, coaching staff and players themselves and is up to them and us to accept their full responsibility for their performances. Western victimhood of the circumstances is not a narrative anyone should accept after Season 1 concludes. There are NO excuses left to hide behind.
Text read by Yiska here (feedback appreciated):