The Overwatch League announced Wednesday that change would be coming to the league. In addition to eight new expansion teams, each of the league’s 20 teams will play 28 matches across five stages.
After breaking down the successes and failures of its inaugural season, Overwatch League officials have announced an adjusted season format accommodating the growth they’ve seen throughout the offseason. Opening day is set for February 14th, one month later than last years kickoff.
“We wanted to look at the way things affect the league as a whole,” director of franchises and competition Jon Spector told ESPN. “With eight new teams coming in we’ll be broadcasting more content, but we’ll also be able to give players more of a break.”
While details around scheduling are still unknown, Spector confirmed teams will have bye weeks and longer breaks between stages to combat burnout and give teams more chances to visit their home markets during league play. The All-Star Weekend, for example, has been moved to the middle of the season between stages 2 and 3 to give players more downtime to rest and prepare for upcoming games.
“One thing that we constantly heard from coaches and players is that they needed more time to gameplan and strategize for each opponent,” Spector said. “Giving them this time will hopefully lead to a higher level of play in 2019, on top of combating burnout.”
New additions to the league will be added to the two existing divisions with Paris, Toronto, Washington D.C. and Atlanta joining the Atlantic Division while Vancouver, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Hangzhou join the Pacific Division. Each team will play every opponent in their own division twice and every team in the opposite division once.
“These new additions fit perfectly into our existing divisions and the exciting thing is seeing the natural rivalries come out — last year we had Boston vs. New York and the battle for LA,” Spector said. “Next year we have new chances with face-offs between Vancouver and Toronto, the battle for Canada. We want to emphasize those rivalries.”
While the regular season is fronting the bulk of these changes, the postseason is adapting as well with eight teams qualifying for the playoffs. Like last year, the two division leaders, along with the four runners-up, will automatically make it to the playoffs. An unknown number of the remaining teams will face off in a single elimination-style play-in tournament for the final two playoff seeds.
Officials hope the play-in tournament will give teams another chance to gain playoff momentum — similar to London Spitfire’s miraculous run last year — even if they have a poor start to the beginning of the season. While some of these changes seem unavoidable with a league nearly doubling in size over the offseason, Spector emphasized that things would continue to change and evolve as Overwatch League grows.
“Everything that we’re announcing around the new format is part of our effort to tinker around the edges of the league,” Spector said. “Even during the season we were pretty iterative about noticing things and making small changes where we can. We want to continue to be a league that innovates.”