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Hawaii is a stepping stone through 2021 for the Overwatch League

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On Sunday, May 2, after the first round of regular season games concludes, two teams from the West Region will qualify for the first international tournament of the 2021 Overwatch League season. Whether it’s the San Francisco Shock or the London Spitfire, two teams will have to prepare for a long flight to Hawaii.

“We will only work with a couple of finalists,” Overwatch League Commissioner Jon Spector said of how only four teams will compete in each of the four tournaments for the season. “Once they qualify on Sunday, we will move quickly, we will have information about the flights that we can book and the hotels that they can stay ready.”

Western teams will need to receive a negative COVID-19 test to prove they do not have the virus before entering Hawaii. Once there, they won’t have to compete until Thursday, May 6. Spector has spoken with the general managers of each team to confirm that it was enough time to deal with the jet lag and prepare to play.

“I don’t think jet lag is a problem,” Grant “Moth” Espe said of the Los Angeles Gladiator. “I think I’m good at adjusting my sleep schedule now. “

The two qualifying teams will fly to Hawaii to play from a facility at the University of Hawaii, where Overwatch League officials have been able to directly route ISPs from school computers to a server in Tokyo. Teams in South Korea and China can connect at the same ping levels that are less than 90 ms. The connection helps teams compete across the Pacific with little impact from delay.

A partnership with the University of Hawaii

Hawaii will be a lifeline for the Overwatch League in 2021. The move to the island state is part of the league’s effort to limit the impact latency has on the game and provide a way for international teams to play each other more frequently. It is a way to ensure that all teams can play against each other more regularly.

“The only way to improve the structure we used in 2020 was to add that global competition,” Spector said. “In the May Melee tournament, the Shanghai Dragons won in Asia, the SF Shock won in North America. The question was who was better between the two. We couldn’t answer that question last year. “

The Countdown Cup, Summer Showdown, and May Melee tournaments were held separately in Asia and North America last year, meaning the teams rarely played against international opponents. That changes with the five tournaments of 2021, including the playoffs and the grand finals.

Spector doesn’t know if anything will change before this May tournament, even though the league kicks off on April 16.

“One of the most important lessons we learned from 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, was that setting plans in stone is not the wisest course of action,” Spector said. “We are trying to preserve our ability to change during a pandemic.”

Revention Music Center

The Revention Music Center held the OWL 2020 event in Houston before the pandemic forced organizers to switch to online play. Credit: Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment

“Project Aloha is plan A,” he added, referencing the league’s name for its Hawaii-based tournaments. While Spector did not elaborate, he said the league has several backup plans in place in case Hawaii experiences another COVID-19 outbreak or travel restrictions to the change of status.

“If necessary, maybe this will happen for one of the tournaments, the default endorsement is regional tournaments,” he said. “But before that, maybe there are programming solutions, maybe there is a solution to travel elsewhere.”

Discussions on how to make the switch from the Overwatch League to online gaming more palatable for both gamers and fans began last March when the pandemic first struck. Spector proposed the idea of ​​a minimum latency function, which sets a target latency between two teams that levels the playing field, on the development team’s radar. Then the Activision-Blizzard legal team began surveying several Pacific islands to find a location that would serve as a bridge between North America and Asia.

“We knew Hawaii was the best option once we completed the server testing,” he said.

The 2021 Overwatch League Grand Finals Aren’t “Set in Stone”

Spector and his team explored a number of possibilities, including returning to the game in person in South Korea. Last season, both the Philadelphia Fusion and the San Francisco Shock flew to Seoul, quarantined for two weeks in government housing, and then practiced on laptops before the grand finale.

“We found that sending teams from North America to South Korea works,” Spector said. “But it also adds three weeks of downtime to the season due to quarantine requirements.”

The plans for the 2021 grand finale are the “least set in stone” of any tournament this season, according to Spector. While he hopes the league can host some live events sometime in 2021, he notes that it is not necessary to be successful.

“The fact that We don’t have to compete in person it’s unique to esports, “he said.” The NFL and MLB can’t do that. We don’t need to take unnecessary risks in the same way that the March Madness finals don’t exist unless you can lead to both teams at the same gym. “

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