For most of the world – especially among the international Overwatch scene – it’s been an unusually warm winter. The draft of warm, humid air coming in from the shores is akin to the bated breath of something powerful hungrily chasing up right behind you.
Perfect weather, in other words, for a British Hurricane. The Overwatch Contenders team named such is a sister organization to the London Spitfires, the champions of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season – and the Hurricanes themselves aren’t just blowing hot air. They’d made their mark as well, securing the Contenders Europe Season One title back last May, with alumni found on both Chinese and American teams as of Season 2.
Hurricane DPS player Daniel ‘Damnedd’ Rosdahl is one of the newer professionals to the game – not just on the squad, but in general. “I’ve always loved playing the game, and [playing competitively] was a natural step. I didn’t take that step until Season Two of Open Division,” he recalled. “At that time, the goal was only to get into Contenders Trials, then that goal became to get into Contenders – and now the logical next step is to get into Overwatch League, and that is what currently drives me.”
The Contenders to Overwatch League route is simplicity in of itself – get good enough at the game’s baked-in ranked mode to attract teammates, prove yourselves at the Trials, and you too can be the next major esports star! But as simple as that narrative is, the more veteran players are notably more nostalgic for what came before.
“I personally enjoyed the pre-OWL era a lot,” said Seb ‘numlock’ Barton, a former reserve player for Los Angeles Valiant and now main tank for the Hurricanes. His professional career in Overwatch is nearly as old as the game is, originally signing on with European organization G2 Esports all the way back in November 2015 – when the game was still in beta. The pre-OWL days were dominated by third-party ventures, hoping (ultimately in vain) to make the professional Overwatch scene something akin to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a scene notably defined by its multitude of third-party circuits.
Barton continued: “there were lots of tournaments all over the world to consistently travel for; it was much better to be part of a North American team than an EU one back then, though, as EU tournaments started to dwindle.”
Blizzard’s centralization of Overwatch’s professional scene didn’t exactly help them thrive either. And the League’s natural tendency to monopolize the field’s uppermost talent has its natural consequences on the Contenders circuit too, as wryly remarked upon by those looking to prove themselves.
“Most of the good players went to OWL, so I am considered good now,” said Support player Joni ‘Jofi’ Ilves self-deprecating, and his colleague in the role also has his issues with the non-OWL scene in the aftermath of Blizzard’s circuit launch.
“[The Overwatch League] hasn’t changed non-OWL at all except the scene losing talent,” said Jakob ‘bock1’ Kleveland. In fact, in some fundamentally important ways, the Contenders and Overwatch League circuits are in their own separate worlds. “There was never a tactical reason [to watch] OWL, since it was behind us in patches.”
Similarly, as noted by Barton, even sister teams formally under the same organization don’t necessarily interact much. Not just in terms of patch differences making scrims between the Spitfires and Hurricanes meaningless, but also due to the differences between the LA-centric OWL and the Hurricanes’ efforts in the European Contenders circuit. “We’re an EU team, and [the Spitfires] are in LA, so there’s never much interaction between the two,” he notes.
But the biggest difference, per Barton, isn’t in patches or region. More vitally, it’s “the fact that they’re constantly playing on LAN, whereas any new T2/3 player won’t be getting any LAN experience compared to what was available pre-OWL.”
That puts newcomers in a Catch-22. If they want to replace OWL players, they need live tournament experience; to get live tournament experience, they need to already be in the OWL. For veterans, it’s yet another pressing reason to prove themselves in Contenders as soon as possible, so that their experiential advantage over their newer rivals doesn’t become obsolete.
It helps, of course, that the League itself is in a growth phase, with over eight new teams announced for Season Two, representing as much as 80 new player slots up for grabs. But that in itself is no guarantee of future trends – you can only add so many regions and so many franchises before the talent pool gets diluted – and Blizzard is thus far silent on how they plan to restructure Contenders to allow for long-term talent development.
Barring unannounced developments, then, there’s only one thing to do for those seeking glory and prestige under the OWL limelights: brew up one hell of a storm, and leave the wreckage of everybody else’s dreams in their wake. The British Hurricanes are in position to do just that.