The world is adapting on the fly to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Overwatch League is no exception.
Today brings the announcement that all Overwatch League matches originally scheduled for weeks 9 and 10 have been shifted to online, as has the rest of the season for the foreseeable future.
With folks around the globe being asked to self-quarantine to help stop the spread of COVID-19, competitions will be broadcast live and on-demand on YouTube.
Teams affected include, of course, the Vancouver Titans, the Overwatch League team that operates under the umbrella of the Aquilini Investment Group's Canucks Sports & Entertainment.
Prepandemic, this was supposed to be the year when the Overwatch League established itself as a sport with fans who would pack brick-and-mortar arenas, just like they do for NHL hockey and NBA basketball games.
Overwatch League games in North America were previously played in Los Angeles's Blizzard Arena during seasons 1 and 2. Regardless of whether they were based in London, Dallas, or Shanghai, all teams therefore lived and played out of L.A.
That was to change this year.
Teams for the 2020 Season 3 were going to host weekend-long homestand events over the 27-week season. That move was important for reasons that should be crystal clear to anyone who has ever attended a Canucks game.
There's a very real difference between watching a game online versus feeding off the energy of other amped-up fans in an arena. Think of it this way: no one buys a team jersey if the only place they'll be wearing it is a home-media room.
Six homestand live events had taken place across the United States before COVID-19 hit North America, prompting the season to be halted and then reimagined for the pandemic.
Vancouver was scheduled to host Overwatch League homestand weekends at Rogers Arena on May 16-17 and July 4-5. Both would have seen multiple Overwatch League teams playing each other over those days.
In a statement on the Vancouver Titans' Instagram account, the team announced that all purchased tickets will be fully refunded.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Aquilini Entertainment's eSports director Tim Holloway noted that the Vancouver Titans had understandably been excited about bringing the Overwatch League to Vancouver with its two homestands.
"It was going to be an incredible celebration," he said. "How I like to describe it was that it was going to be kind of related to something like the South by Southwest Music Festival, where we would be engaging and hopefully growing a lot of small different communities that otherwise weren't aware of each other.
"Growing them into one holistic community, if you will," Holloway continued. "Everyone from your core that's loved the team since their team RunAway days to someone that would be having their first eSports experience. Then you add in other things for just the gaming community. Whether you like the cosplay aspect, or the music element in eSports or smaller community, there was going to be the integration into a more massive Vancouver gaming community."
The silver lining to all this? There will be Overwatch League homestands once all this blows over.
The league issued the following in announcing the move to online for 2020: "The Overwatch League was built to deliver season after season of live, city-based events in front of our amazing fans. While we are collectively facing an incredibly challenging time, we hope to get back to live events before 2020 season concludes, and we are working hand-in-hand with all our teams to make this happen as soon as it’s safe and logistically feasible.
As far as Vancouver hosting, Holloway added, "It's not a matter of if this happen, it's when. And I for one can't wait for that day to come."
Future Overwatch matches and schedules will be announced as the COVID-19 pandemic is monitored, as will information on playoffs and the finals.
A statement from the league includes the following: "Players, teams, staff and production personnel may continue to compete and work from locations of their choosing, safely—without any fan attendance, travel, or unnecessary interpersonal contact—and in accordance with current health and safety recommendations and governmental mandates."
Here's this week's schedule.