Recent coronavirus outbreak brings concerning challenge for Overwatch League


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Attendees of the 2016 New York Comic Con gather in celebration of pop culture. Overwatch featured under the video games section, but its increasingly popular league schedule is now under threat from the coronavirus.

As the Overwatch League moved into its new home-away system for its third season, the novel coronavirus became a daunting hurdle to overcome. Just before the start of the season, the league announced that it was canceling the home events scheduled from February to March in China, citing health concerns for both the players and fans.

As the coronavirus begins to spread outside of China, reverberations can be felt even by those not affected directly as our daily lives begin to be disrupted. According to NPR, the novel coronavirus, officially classified as COVID-19, has a confirmed presence in 50 countries. Most of these cases are found in China, despite the worldwide number of cases swelling to over 83,000.

Among the countries affected are Japan and South Korea, both vital components to the international sporting scene, though in different ways. Japan is meant to host the Olympics this summer, and South Korea is a hotbed for international esports competitions. While Japanese officials are playing the waiting game to see whether or not hosting the Olympics is viable, South Korea has pulled the plug on multiple large scale Overwatch League events  in Seoul due to health concerns. 

The outbreak isn’t affecting esports in Asia alone;  a Counter-Strike event in Poland was modified to be played without a crowd in attendance to protect the health and safety of players and fans. 

The Korean events, meant to be both the debut of the Overwatch League on Korean soil and home of the previously canceled Chinese matches, show just how serious the officials in South Korea and at Blizzard and Overwatch League see the risks of COVID-19. This third season of Overwatch League has been dubbed a make or break year by many in the industry. After all, the league didn’t cancel a game or two, they canceled three weeks’ worth of events. That is potentially 18 matches, not including the originally scheduled Chinese matches, that the league will miss out on for the foreseeable future.

These decisions show that the league definitely cares more about the wellbeing of their fans and players than they do making a quick buck, and members of the league are starting to notice as much.

In a statement on their official twitter page, the Hangzhou Spark, one of the Chinese based teams affected by COVID-19, thanked the league for their response, saying, “We appreciate everything @overwatchleague have done to protect our fans, players and staff. The team is focusing on scrims recently. Hope to see you all soon. Please stay safe!” 

Every day, the decision to cancel the homestands in Seoul is looking more and more like the best decision the league could have made, as Korea has been seeing hefty rises in confirmed cases, including a surge of more than 500 new cases in a 24-hour period this week according to NPR. As the rate of new cases begins to slow in China, the rest of the world should eventually follow suit.