The Overwatch League has announced a delay in free agency. This has been necessitated owing to the uncertainty about the future of Chinese teams in the Overwatch esports title.
The news was broken by the Head of the Overwatch League, Sean Miller, who took to his Twitter page to inform fans of the development on November 18. He stated that the league’s free agency period will commence on December 2 and not the earlier-slated November 19 schedule.
“Due to the latest regional licensing updates, we’re delaying the start of the free agency period to 12/2 to afford our teams and players additional time to prepare for the 2023 season,” Miller said.
“This does not impact other current 2023 plans, which we look forward to sharing at a later date.”
This development will, in turn, delay the timing for teams to commence their search and signing of free agents. Having to comb through a pool of 90 free agents just a few weeks into the offseason.
Game developer and organizer Blizzard Entertainment had earlier broken the news to Chinese fans that some of their esports titles, such as Overwatch 2 and World of Warcraft, may not be accessible in the coming future. The developer stated that there was a broken partnership between them and the Chinese company NetEase. The almost 15-year partnership has afforded Blizzard the opportunity to publish titles in mainland China using NetEase, but the offer is currently on shaky ground and could be headed for a halt.
The termination of this partnership could cause further complications for the Overwatch League. The league currently has four Chinese teams as members of its East Region division and also a fifth team that is being run by a Chinese operator.
The Shanghai Dragons, which are owned and operated by NetEase, are one of the Overwatch League’s championship teams. While the team will clearly be affected by a partnership break-up, there has not been any information from Blizzard on how they will be affected.
The other three Chinese teams in the Overwatch League include the Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, and Chengdu Hunters. Their inability to access the game in their region will likely impact their ability to partake in the league. Also predicted to be affected is the Los Angeles Valiant, which is operated by a Chinese company, LinGan e-Sports, and in 2021, the franchise moved to China.
While more details surrounding the situation were not shared, Miller’s reference to “regional licensing” signifies a break or possible issues surrounding the partnership between Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase. The sales of Overwatch 2 and some other games in China have been placed on hold. This in turn could see players in that region lose access to their accounts in the coming weeks, with professional players not left out.
However, the two-week delay afforded by Blizzard Entertainment is expected to give Chinese teams an opportunity to weigh their options and draw up a plan for the 2023 season. Chinese free agents, who would certainly be affected if their access to their gaming accounts is lost, as their scrimmages and trials with interested teams will be inaccessible. They would also have two weeks to find lasting solutions or get some offers made to them by Blizzard.