Blizzard is facing another walkout of sorts; this time, it’s players in the regional Overwatch Contenders tournament. After a competitive ruling ended a match prematurely, players in the European Overwatch Contenders Summer Series tournament refused to play.
In the off-week of the Overwatch League as teams rest up from the beautiful chaos of the Midseason Madness tournament last week, Blizzard ran an Overwatch Contenders tournament to fill the time. Just like Midseason Madness, the Overwatch Contenders Summer Series is a double-elimination tournament with a winner’s bracket and a loser’s bracket. Today’s European winner’s bracket final — the game that would determine which team would go on to the grand final and which team would fall to the loser’s bracket final — was between 01 Esports and Munich Esports and was, according to several players involved and the tournament’s rules website, listed as a best of seven.
In Overwatch League proper, it’s not typical for matches other than the grand finals to be a best of seven. Knowing that, a player from Munich Esports reached out to a Blizzard tournament administrator to confirm if the match was indeed best of seven and received confirmation and reassurance that the winner’s finals match was best of seven.
And with that, the two teams played.
Munich Esports went up 3-0, however 01 Esports hit the gas and started to turn it around winning the next two maps bringing the score 3-2. It’s here when all hell breaks loose.
Blizzard tournament admins abruptly called the match, citing that the game was intended to be a best of five, not a best of seven. Since Munich Esports was the first team to three maps, they were awarded the win. This caused a major and furious backlash against Blizzard on social media as players from Munich Esports and 01 Esports started sharing screenshots of conversations with tournament admins confirming that they had been told the match would be best of seven.
Since 01 Esports was immediately scheduled to play in the loser’s bracket against another team, they coordinated with their new opponents, Ex Oblivione, to essentially strike.
Aron “ANJ” de Jong, a main tank player on 01 Esports, spoke to The Verge about what happened.
“Because of our loss, we had to play against Ex Oblivione in the losers bracket,” he said. “We made an agreement with them that this was unacceptable, and that Blizzard can’t treat the players like this. We agreed with Ex Oblivione to not play the game, but we wanted to make a statement so we decided to play the game but not actually compete.”
In the broadcast below, you can see that neither team is playing earnestly; players stand around and refuse to play the objective. It’s a fantastic bit of collective action that’s also pretty funny, especially as the casters start to realize that nobody’s taking this seriously.
After this demonstration, the broadcast was paused and subsequently ended. Shortly after that, a tweet from Ex Oblivione player Helv text of an in-game chat in which a tournament admin threatened to disqualify both teams if they refused to play.
Players and fans starting using the hashtag #ContendersStrike to bring attention to the issue, and it gained enough traction to become a trending topic on Twitter:
Overwatch Contenders did put out a statement on Twitter explaining what happened and the next steps.
Ex Oblivione and 01 Esports will not be disqualified for their demonstration, and Munich Esports and 01 Esports will be able to continue the match as a best of seven. Though this is players’ desired outcome, others feel that the miscommunication and subsequent fallout is indicative of a larger problem of Blizzard and its treatment of semi-pro Overwatch esports.
“[Blizzard] needs to own up to their lack of communication between Blizzard staff and the teams,” @kevhx_, general manager of Ex Oblivione, tells The Verge over Discord. “It happens way too often that we lack semi-critical information or receive it very late.”
Think of Overwatch Contenders as minor league baseball. It has its own structure, is run by third-party tournament organizers, and it’s the well from which future Overwatch League players are tapped. Unfortunately, players, coaches, and fans of Contenders feel like it’s not given the proper support from Blizzard, especially given that without a thriving amateur ecosystem, teams in the League would have a hard time finding talent to fill their ranks.
“It’s important to note that just this decision made by Blizzard isn’t the only reason for the out roar,” 01 Esports tank @kraandopOW tells The Verge in a DM. “Blizzard has done a polite put poor job at communicating with the [Contenders] participants and this felt like the last drop.”