Varsity Overwatch Will Change Everything
Last week Blizzard’s collegiate esports branch, Tespa, announced a revamped Overwatch league aimed directly at Varsity Esports Teams. Now anyone who follows Popped Off knows my heart will always be in Collegiate Esports. I always tell people my alma mater is not just Penn State, but Penn State Esports. I believe this Varsity Overwatch League marks the start of a whole new era of collegiate esports.
Though they did something similar from 2018 – 2019, there are some major differences. Tespa says on their website that key changes include:
- A tiered Invitational format to highlight the best varsity programs
- An accelerated announcement timeline
- 12-person rosters and a formalized roster-swap schedule
This means that it’s not going to be an open bracket free for all. It looks like they are going to match similar programs together to duke it out, which makes sense considering different colleges have different levels of support. Personally, I think this is great, I assume the top tier will include big names schools that everyone can look to for being the peak of what an officially recognized collegiate esports team looks like.
To vet these teams Tespa will be taking a look at the following characteristics of each program:
- Program health & stability
- Infrastructure and facilities support
- Staffing & other player support systems
- Community collaboration & career development
- Esports-related scholarships
To me, this is a great way to have everyone on equal footing. I know a lot of smaller schools that have programs, but no real infrastructure, which would put them at a major disadvantage against the more well funded California schools.
The final thing to note is the prizing structure. There is a zero dollar prize pool for this. Winners get items from trophies, custom jackets, and lanyards. While normally I’d be up in arms around this, I think it’s actually ok.
Why This League is Important:
Though the nonexistence of a prize pool would normally be incredibly concerning, I think the good this league will do will offset that. Now I don’t want to make comparisons to NCAA sports, and how they don’t get paid, cause fuck the NCAA. Instead, I want to lay out what we stand to gain from this.
Though many schools are starting to pick up Varsity Esports teams, a lot are starved to find a “go-to” league. Many are spread between Tespa, CSL, and a variety of amateur leagues. What this will lay the groundwork for is a new series, backed by Blizzard, that can scale and support any of their games. No more joining random open brackets here and there. Instead, a school will have a slot for them. This is put the spotlight on schools with amazing programs, driving students to these schools specifically to play in the league and for their teams.
Not only is this going to benefit already existing program, but also bring to life new ones. By having a stable, prestigious league like this one, students and facility can now approach their administration and say “Hey University of Utah and Michigan are in this, why aren’t we?”. I know that this league is going to be a wonderful talking point during program requests. I expect to start seeing more big names schools field an esports team over the next few seasons.