September will mark the end of an era for Chinese Overwatch as Invictus Gaming (iG) and NGA have both announced the termination of Overwatch operations, with most players transferring to Team CC or Lucky Future (LF).

iG had historically been the most popular team in China. They signed the strongest Chinese team in beta and early competitive scene to play under iG.Fire, along with popular streamers that would later form the sister team iG.Ice. iG.Fire would further cement their reputation as China’s top dogs by winning the scene’s first major LAN championship, the Gold Series League in Shanghai.

NGA, on the other hand, instantly gained a huge fan base due to the fact that the NGA forum was (and still is) one of the largest gaming forums in China. So NGA Club had a following right from their formation and a later upset over iG would reinforce their standing as one of the best teams in China. They were also the highest placing Chinese team in the APAC Premier 2016, placing joint 3rd-4th alongside NRG Esports.

Although there is no debating the excellent competitive pedigree of the teams that represented these organizations, several public allegations of mismanagement and non-payment have been made following their disbandment, which have in turn brought out further claims of wrongdoing from alleged victims who had long remained silent.

Back in early July former iG.Ice coach XiaoYao was kicked by manager Edison without prior notice or any valid reasoning. At this time JamLee, an original iG.Ice member, was found to be responsible for leaking their group chat in which they criticized the manager’s proposal to merge Fire and Ice into one team – a plan which implied kicking or benching most iG.Ice’s members. JamLee subsequently retired and most iG.Ice players were disheartened and decided to leave iG alongside their well-respected coach. As a result, the only remaining player on iG.Ice, 5King, joined the other iG.Fire members to form the roster that would later be acquired by Team CC.

During that incident, XiaoYao revealed in his Weibo post that iG had not actually signed any employment contract with him. After that, former iG members Roy, Yuan7 and YjjPP publically disclosed on stream that the old members had not signed any contracts at all. Although they still received their payment, they claimed that iG did not distribute some of the prize money.

A few days ago NGA Lemon took to Weibo to expose that NGA have been not paying their salaries. In response NGA claimed they had already transferred the operating rights and responsibility of the Overwatch team to the Remember Me organization, whose Overwatch manager has vanished for the past month. In a repost of Lemon’s Weibo post, further revelations were made by ex-NGA.Titan DPS player RLE (A.K.A. Riddle) who claimed that NGA had not paid their former coach, TaiRong, his share of prize money during APAC. LittleCat, another ex-NGA player, also added that his wages and prize money have not been fully paid since July 2016.

Last we learned, Lemon and some NGA players’ salaries had been settled. It also appears that some NGA members have joined LF’s new sister team, Lucky Future Home, revealed by a scrim lobby screenshot posted by LF’s official Weibo account.

While Team CC will continue their journey in OWPS, NGA has actually returned their Overwatch Team Story spot to the tournament organizer and it’s anyone’s guess as to what the future holds for LFH. Nevertheless, the management practices of Chinese esports organizations are causes for concern for fans and players alike. As per screenshots posted by Lemon, it seems that Newbee and Star Horn Royal Club may also have outstanding issues from deferring salary payments.

Many Chinese pro players are teenagers who may not have even finished high school and lack sufficient knowledge on how to protect their own rights. If an esports organization cannot assure the players’ benefits, who else should watch over or can offer help? Many hope that the NetEase Overwatch League team – reportedly having registered the Shanghai Dragons brand name – can provide a better approach and set an example for the rest of the China’s orgs. Will Blizzard’s esports division extend some of the guidelines and player protections offered by Overwatch League’s Player Agreement to enforce players’ welfare?

From the outside, Chinese Overwatch may appear to be in a position of strength with over half a million dollars of prize money set to be paid out before the end of the year, spread across Premier Series, APAC and Team Story events. But it seems there are more questions than answers over the future of professional Overwatch in China. There is a very real public perception that the scene is in decline, with overall interest, player numbers and stream audiences down. A significant number of pros have been leaving for other titles and recent rumours suggest that Team Celestial and ViCi Gaming may soon be departing Overwatch too. Even the future of tournament circuit itself is uncertain. The scene is nervously waiting for the details of 2018’s Premier Series to be announced, following suggestions that it might be downgraded to a minor tournament.