The weeks immediately following the crowing of the Overwatch League grand champion are generally a stressful and melancholy time for fans. Not only do they have to contend with long winter months without League matches (which is a fine time to catch up on the goings on of its academy league, Contenders) but they also have to deal with teams letting some of their favorite players go as contracts expire and the free agency period begins. Even my Shanghai Dragons are not immune from Rosterpocalypse 2020, as earlier today the team announced the departure of five beloved players, including Geguri, the only female Overwatch League player.
In addition to Geguri, the Shanghai Dragons released DDing, Luffy, Diem, and Diya—the last remaining member from the Dragons’ original all-Chinese squad. Bittersweet as this is for me and other Dragons diehards, the move isn’t unexpected amidst the current trend of either gutting a team en masse and starting over (aka “pulling a London Spitfire”) or releasing most of a team to rebuild around a single player (aka “Dallas Fueling”). The Shanghai players released today were integral to their 2019 comeback from 0-40 losers to stage champions, but all were then benched or sent to play for Shanghai’s academy team in favor of a mostly new squad that went on to dominate the 2020 season. As of right now, the 2020 core of Izayaki, Lip, Fleta, Void, Stand1, LeeJaeGon, and Fearless are still signed on, suggesting the Dragons want to keep the team that nearly won them a championship.
I’m less sad to see Geguri leave than I am that I didn’t get to see her play for most of two out of the three years she was a Dragon. This year, I can count the number of times she played on one hand using half my fingers. As the only female player, she was a source of inspiration for other women who aspire to Overwatch’s highest stage, as well as to the female fans who watched her play. There have been women in professional Overwatch; the Paris Eternal’s manager Avalla and the Florida Mayhem’s translator Swingchip for example. On the player side, Win98 made history as the first woman to win a Contenders title back in May, though sadly she has since retired.
Other teams across the league are also breaking up the band. The Los Angeles Gladiators released their life bonded support duo Shaz and BigG00se. The Los Angeles Valiant released star-player McGravy days after winning the Dennis Hawelka award (an award given to the OWL player who, as Blizzard describes, is “the player that we deem to have had the most positive impact on the community”). In a surprise move, Paris released head coach Rush, DPS player Sp9rk1e, and tank player Hanbin—all three credited with Paris’s rise from their mediocre debut in 2019 to top-tier status in 2020. In an even more surprising move, the terminally bad Dallas Fuel snapped up the released Paris players after letting go of their current roster except for Doha—the former teammate of Hanbin, Sp9rk1e, and Rush from their days in Korean Contenders team Element Mystic. In other shocking pickup news, the Washington Justice announced the arrival of Mag, one of the best tanks in Korean Contenders, and re-signed Decay, the DPS ringer who helped the team go on a playoff bracket tear that spoiled both Paris and Florida’s chances for a grand finals appearance.
The Toronto Defiant took a more scorched earth approach in the offseason, releasing all of their players save one, the DPS specialist and longtime Overwatch veteran Logix. The Philadelphia Fusion and the San Francisco Shock—teams that dominated 2020’s standings and tournaments—both lost parts of their coaching staff to lesser performing teams, with Fusion’s KDG joining the Toronto Defiant and Shock’s Junkbuck going to the Houston Outlaws.
Retirement is also seeing a number of players not only leave their teams but Overwatch altogether. Earlier this year, the Shock lost their MVP Sinatraa to retirement (and Riot’s new team-based FPS Valorant) and, more recently, their jack of all DPS heroes Rascal. All around best pet dad Gamsu of the Dallas Fuel similarly retired, choosing to go back to League of Legends where he began his professional career.
The departure of League Commissioner Pete Vlastelica and the persistence of covid-19 do not bode well for the continued health of the League. According to the Washington Post, Blizzard deferred the franchise fees for both the Overwatch League and the Call Of Duty League due to financial constraints caused by the pandemic. Also, the mass player exodus combined with the comparatively small number of player retentions and pickups puts an overwhelming burden on OWL’s feeder league, Overwatch Contenders, to infuse the League with fresh talent. However, the health of that league is also in question, as a lot of fans feel Overwatch Contenders suffers from a lack of institutional support from Blizzard. Only seven of the 20 OWL teams have an active Contenders team, with the vast majority of those teams residing in Korea or China. Not having a robust pool of new players to call up puts the League at risk of being unable to fill its rosters.
The Shanghai Dragons losing Geguri brings the total number of pro female Overwatch players from one to zero. Though I remain hopeful she’ll find a new team (that is, if she doesn’t retire), she should not be the only female player the League has. The problems plaguing Overwatch Contenders, as well as the pervasive negative attitude about women in esports, makes it difficult for there to be more Geguris and Win98s. Though despite it all, I love my Dragons, I love Geguri and I will follow both wherever they go.