Special thanks to my co-author riojestin.
Team WE (World Elite) has traditionally been one of the strongest esports gaming clubs in China, with several teams in addition to Overwatch, competing in some of China's most popular titles such as Warcraft 3 and League of Legends.
Their Overwatch team, WE.White had been ranked as the best team in China by GosuGamers earlier in the year. In January they had finished 2nd at China's previous major, Team Story Chapter 1, losing 4-0 Star Horn Royal Club in the Grand Final but still earning roughly $21,000.
However, in the months since their fortunes had changed and after WE was eliminated from Overwatch Premier Series (OWPS) Spring Preseason, they announced that both their Hearthstone and Overwatch teams would be formally disbanded on April 7th.
The backdrop to all these events begins last year when Tencent released a mobile game called King of Glory that became the most popular game in China, generating an income of ¥6 billion CNY (~$890 million USD). The 5v5 competitive MOBA title has already established a whole tournament scene for pro gamers.
The runaway success of King of Glory has impacted many Chinese online games, not only Overwatch, with Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends and Dota 2 also being impacted. Even the dedicated playerbases of these established PC titles couldn't resist the convenience of this mobile sensation. Now in China you can just walk into any restaurant, barber shop, supermarket, and there will be someone playing it - they are calling it a phenomenon.
Although there is still a lot of love for traditional esports gaming, many wonder if the next generation of Chinese players will feel the same way? As a result there is a worrying trend of clubs just abandoning Blizzard and throwing themselves into mobile games.
Several teams that failed to qualify for the ~$100k OWPS Spring season have already reportedly disbanded including Snake eSports and QG Zen. Like us, you may be wondering what exactly is happening on Chinese Overwatch scene? Is this the impact of investment in mobile games or problems with the Overwatch scene itself? We spoke with the former WE.Overwatch manager Zhang "Revtime" Lu to learn more about what has been going on behind the scenes:
Hello Revtime, we feel sorry about WE.Overwatch disbanded, thanks for taking our interview. From the glory in Overwatch Team Story (OTS) to the defeat in OWPS, was there a particular reason that led to the dissatisfying performance?
Revtime: We have made some roster changes after OWPS, but it wasn’t quite effective. We aren’t in a poor condition but we don't have much advantage against local Chinese teams anymore.
Why did the team disband?
R: The organization’s operation focus has shifted, they hold a pessimistic view on Overwatch’s development in China.
Is the structure/scale of OWPS actually ruining the Chinese pro scene if ,as we observe, teams that didn’t qualify for OWPS just disband right after?
R: OWPS was just a trigger. Right now the market in CNOW isn’t big enough for all these esports organizations, considering almost every club is suffering a loss on Overwatch. The return on investment is low and the business cycle hasn’t been fully established. On the other hand, the average competitive level in China is notably lower than Korea, yet there were so many small tourneys before OWPS that invited Korean teams and we got crushed on. That just discouraged Chinese viewers to watch tournaments, and further accelerated the shrink of CNOW market.
What do you see in the future of Chinese Overwatch?
R: Unless there is a world-class team appearing in China, or Overwatch changes into a free to play title. Otherwise I don’t see Overwatch having a bright future in China.
There have been rumors saying Team WE is planning to shift focus on mobile esports. Does that explain why their Overwatch and Hearthstone teams have disbanded?
R: Kind of. But the main reason is that the professional Overwatch scene is underdeveloped in China.
Are the players still under contract with Team WE? Can they play Overwatch for other clubs or even other games?
R: Our team members are still thinking about their career direction. We respect the players’ will. We will offer support as much as we can within the contracts and let them choose their own future.
As a former professional player turned manager, what advice would you offer new players who are aspiring to become esports professionals?
R: Apart from prerequisites to become an outstanding pro player such as working hard and developing your talent, it’s very important to choose a good game that is a popular esports title within your country, maybe it’s the most important thing now.
Is there a Chinese team or player you consider as the best in the current CNOW scene?
R: Among the Tier 1 teams in China, there isn’t any one that clearly dominates right now - the results between CNOW teams merely depends on the players’ mentality when playing. VICI Gaming's Diya is always the #1 player in my heart, unfortunately it seems there isn’t much room for DPS players to carry the team in the current meta.
Update 13th April: Revtime would like us to clarify that the contents of his earlier interview represent his opinions, not facts, and that the views expressed are not those of his former employer, Team WE.