Blizzards end in China – What will happen to the OWL?

Blizzards end in China – What will happen to the OWL?

25. January 2023 by Andrew Williams

What has been brewing for the past few months has now really happened: you can no longer play Blizzard games in China. As we reported last week, the game developer is still looking for a new publisher in China. The contract with NetEase, the previous partner, has expired and negotiations for a six-month extension have failed. While Blizzard continues to search for a new publisher in China, there is now no Overwatch besides World of Warcraft. This also means that the Overwatch League can no longer be played.

What will happen to the OWL teams now?

Blizzard already announced that Warcraft III: Reforged, Heroes of the Storm, the StarCraft series, World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Hearthstone and also Overwatch 2 will not be continue to be supported in November last year. So it wasn’t real news when the shutdown finally happened. The agreement between the Chinese “Sub-Publisher” NetEase and Blizzard simply ran out and wasn’t renewed. Every company that wants to release something in China needs a Chinese company as partner to do so. In this case it was NetEase for Blizzard. Now five teams of the Overwatch League are out in the rain, another heavy blow for the game that sadly never became the big title that Blizzard wanted it to be. The Hangzhou Spark, Hunters, the Shanghai Dragons, Guangzhou Charge and interestingly the Los Angeles Valiant are affected, the latter have their Headquarters in China.

Many gamers’ hearts were broken yesterday as they no longer have access to their accounts and characters. Simon Zhu, the president of global investment and partnerships at NetEase regrets the whole situation: One day, when it can be told what happened behind the scenes, developers and gamers will have a whole new understanding of how much damage one idiot can do. I feel terrible for the gamers who lived in those worlds. NetEase had rejected the license extension because they felt the proposal was unfair, as it stipulated that Blizzard would continue to search for a new partner during that period. After the failed negotiations, NetEase recently dismantled an orc statue in the livestream.

Is the Overwatch League coming back to China?

At the moment, unfortunately, Overwatch teams can’t do much because they don’t have access to the game. OWL officials have not yet announced a new date when the league will start this year. The Overwatch 2 community is concerned on what is going to happen in the future. The Free Agency period has already been lengthened and delayed numerous times now, everyone is in limbo. The OWL won’t start again for a few months at the earliest, but at least there is a deadline for player transfers, which gives us a rough orientation. Teams didn’t have until Jan. 16 to set their rosters, which has been pushed back to March 13. This means that the league will start in April at the earliest, if not later.

Teams will unfortunately not have the option of playing in another region to try and stay competitive. They will simply have to wait until Blizzard finds a new publisher. But at least it looks like the league will be returning this year, as Overwatch League director Sean Miller had this to say about it, “We can’t wait for the 2023 season to begin and have been working hard behind the scenes to iron out the details. We hope to share more with the community in the coming weeks, and look forward to the sixth season of the OWL, where we expect a full lineup of teams from the East and West.”