Overwatch League and the Competitive Scene; How Do They Work?

24 June 2019

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Getting into any type of esports can be a bit daunting at first. There’s a lot of mechanics within professional circuits that can be a bit hard to follow for the casual player, or someone watching a match for the very first time.

In case you didn’t realise, we love esports over here at WomANZ. We’re super keen to help newcomers understand how to follow along with their favourite game and teams in the pro scene.

To start off our esports explainers, we’re talking about everything Overwatch!

Overwatch League, Overwatch Contenders, and the Open Division: What are they?

Thanks to Blizzard’s ‘Path to Pro’ initiative, Overwatch league can be neatly divided up into 3 different pro scenes. Overwatch League (OWL) represents the top level of play. Overwatch Contenders (Contenders) represents the Tier 2 competitive scene, while the Open Division (OD) is made up of up-and-coming players and teams. We can safely refer to the top 32 teams in OD as the Tier 3 Overwatch scene.

The OWL is split into 2 divisions: Atlantic and Pacific. All teams in the OWL fall under either the Atlantic or Pacific division depending on location.

Contenders on the other hand is split into regions. There are 8 regions worldwide: Australia, China, Europe, Korea, North America East, North America West, Pacific and South America.

Open Division uses different methods for determining whether a team has achieved Tier 3 status. First of all, the team needs to have had a stable core of 4 members over the previous month. They then need to match one of the following 3 criteria:

  • Reach top 25% rankings in 3 online tournaments recognised as official tournaments over the last month (e.g. For 32 participants: reach Top 8; For 16 participants: reach Top 4);
  • Reach the Open Division Top 32 (for EU, NA and South Korea) or Top 8 (for all other regions);
  • The team roster already includes several players who’ve been granted the ‘Top Tier Competitive’ role in the competitive Overwatch’s main Discord server, ‘The O.W’
Overwatch League (OWL) – the Tier 1 Scene

As we mentioned, there are 2 divisions within OWL, Atlantic and Pacific.

Within these 2 divisions Overwatch teams are based around cities, similar to football or basketball teams competing in the AFL or NBA.

Currently the Vancouver Titans are our top Tier 1 team in the Pacific Division, while New York Excelsior are leading the Atlantic Division.

OWL Tournament structure

Regular-season OWL season matches are played live at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles each Thursday through Sunday. This year our regular season began on February 14, 2019.

After each stage the 8 teams with the most match wins qualify for the Stage Playoffs, a seeded playoff bracket. This is where teams duke it out for the prize money and the glory.

Our third stage of competition in OWL just ended at the start of June, so we can expect to see our top 8 teams battle it out in the Stage Playoffs from July 11 -14.

After stage 4 of the season, the Postseason playoffs begin. The 2 division winners, along with the next best 4 teams by match record (regardless of division), will automatically qualify for the playoffs.

Two additional teams will qualify through a play-in tournament between the seventh-through-to-twelfth place teams. A total of 8 teams will compete in a double-elimination bracket for the league championship, as well as a share of the massive USD $5 million prize pool.

The 2 teams that survive the postseason playoff bracket will meet in the Overwatch League Grand Finals with the winner crowned our season champions.

This year the OWL Grand Finals will be held September 29, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Game structure


The structure of the games in an Overwatch League match stays the same throughout each stage of the season.

Regular season matches are four-map sets. Teams will play a total of four maps: one of each type.

The first match will be a Control (Paris, Volskaya Industries or Horizon Lunar Colony), second match will be an Assault (Ilios, Nepal or Oasis), third match will be Hybrid match (Hollywood, Numbani or Eichewalde). and the fourth match will be an Escort type match (Havana, Dorado or Watchpoint Gibraltar).

Each match won scores one point for the winning team. Draws and losses score zero. After all 4 maps have been played, the team with the highest match points (map wins) is declared the winner.

If the score is a draw, then a final control map is played.

All 4 matches are always played in a competitive game of Overwatch. So, even if a team smashes their first 3 matches and snatches an early victory, the final match will still be played. This is because seasonal rankings are based upon a teams Map Score. That’s the total map win/loss records. It means every single map will count when it comes to teams qualifying for the playoffs.

Stage and postseason playoff matches are played in a “first-to” format. Either first-to-3, or for grand finals, a first-to-5. Basically, this means each team must win a specified number of maps or matches to progress.

Overwatch Contenders – the Tier 2 Scene

As mentioned above, Contenders is divided into 8 regions. The professional circuit for Contenders includes qualifiers, (known as Contender Trials), a regular season and a seasonal playoff round.

In the qualifying phase, Contenders Trials, Blizzard invites 16 teams to be a part of the competition. Eight teams gain entry thanks to their performance in the previous Contenders season. While 8 additional teams can compete for the remaining spots.

Each region can have up to 12 teams competing during the Contenders regular season. All teams will play between 5 to 7 matches throughout the season in a single round robin group stage.

Like OWL, each match will consist of 4 competitive maps and a winner is determined by majority map wins. As with OWL, all 4 maps will be played regardless of the outcome of the first 3. The only exception to this is a first-to-3 competition, where the result of the final map is not needed.

Each region also features a single elimination bracket style playoff, made up of the top 6-8 teams from the Contenders regular season.

Open Division – Where Tier 3 Teams are Forged

As mentioned, the top 32 teams in the Overwatch Open Division are considered the Tier 3 scene of the competitive league. This is the crucible where up and comers have the chance to prove themselves and take a shot at reaching the next stage in Blizzard’s ‘Path to Pro’ system.

Ranking of the top 32 teams is achieved by ranking their number of match wins in an order of highest-to-lowest priority using a system known as OMW% or Opponents’ Match Win Percentage.

Only the highest four-win percentage opponents are counted towards each team’s OMW%.

To give an example, if “Team WomANZ” competed in the Open Division and went 9-1 over 10 matches, the records of their top 4 opponents will be used to calculate their OMW%.

Let’s say Team WomANZ top 4 opponents had final win/loss records of 6-4, 8-2, 8-2, and 9-1. The total of the top 4 opponents (.6 + .8 + .8 + .9) divided by 4 = 77.5%. Team WomANZ ranks higher than any other team with a 9-1 record, but an OMW% lower than 77.5%.

The competitive scene in Overwatch is one of the easiest esports to jump into and watch along as a casual player. Blizzard’s ‘Path to Pro’ initiative makes it easy to follow along with the top teams in each tier of competition. If you haven’t checked out a game yet, there are still plenty of matches to be played this season! We hope this little primer will help you make more sense of them.

Got any other esports circuits you want us to cover? Let us know!

This information was verified by an active member of the Overwatch competitive community, Andrew “RQT” Haws.

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