In early August, Dep and Patiphan played each other in the semifinals of Contenders Pacific Season 2. The two DPS players dueled each other in an effort to advance their teams to the grand finals, trading big play after big play. In the end, Dep's team, CYCLOPS athlete gaming triumphed over Patiphan's team, Xavier.Young. However, few saw the match and the two players remained under the radar.
Fortunately, neither would remain a secret for long. Dep showcased his abilities in the Incheon qualifier while Patiphan captured hearts and minds at the Bangkok qualifier. The world was finally being exposed to two of Contenders Pacific's emerging stars.
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The World Cup is a fantastic showcase of talent from around the world, as new names make headlines year after year. However, it is not without its flaws and plenty of talented players never get their chance at stardom. In fact, had Thailand not been a host country, they would not have qualified for this year's World Cup. Patiphan would still be unknown if Bangkok wasn't hosting a group stage.
The Exposure Problem
The Contenders system is supposed to be the other showcase of talent for Overwatch League teams to draw from, but for players like Dep and Patiphan, it may not be enough. Unlike the minor league system of Major League Baseball, there is no path to progression through the minor league tiers to eventually land in the majors.
Baseball's minor league system is divided into lettered tiers. The highest tiers, the ones with the best players who are closest to the MLB, are marked with the letter A. AAA is the highest, AA is the second highest, and Single-A is the third highest.
A young baseball player can move up from Single-A to AA to AAA as he gets better, getting the opportunity to further prove himself against tougher and tougher competition. If the player excels in AAA, the highest tier of competition within baseball's minor league system, he gets promoted to the MLB.
With talent interspersed across the world separated by regions, such a system doesn't exist and almost certainly can't exist within Overwatch. A player in Contenders Pacific can't work their way up to Contenders Korea. There is no direct line of promotion.
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Of course, this isn't always the case, sometimes stars from regions with less support and less competition do get picked up by teams in the more competitive regions. Just recently, Sydney Drop Bears DPS Colourhex was picked up by Toronto Esports Toronto Esports Inactive . In addition, Contenders North America is filled with European and Korean talent, becoming a sort of melting pot of top Contenders action.
However the likelihood of players from South America, Australia and the Pacific being brought into North America as regularly as players from Korea and Europe is low. While a baseball team has the opportunity to send a player back down a tier lower if they aren't looking good after a month, an Overwatch League team has only one academy team and must commit themselves to a player they're relocating from one side of the world to the other.
Top players in regions with less attention and less competition not only lack an opportunity to prove themselves, but can also have their growth stunted by their available competition. A team that rolls all of its normal scrim opponents is going to have a hard time improving at the same rate as an equally skilled team in another region with more even scrims.
It's hard to gauge the ceilings of Brasil Gaming House Brasil Gaming House Inactive and Sydney Drop Bears Sydney Drop Bears Contenders AU Rank #1 when none of their competition can push them to their limits.
Players from different Contenders regions should get a chance to prove themselves against players from other Contenders regions. This shouldn't be limited to just one international LAN of all the top teams, but more regular tournaments and LANs pulling from various levels of competition.
Why shouldn't the top four from Contenders Australia and top four from Contenders Pacific get a chance to play Korea's top eight? Why can't the top two of South America play the top six from North America? Why can't the Atlantic Showdown between North America and Europe contain four teams from each region?
International competition outside of Contenders allows teams to compare Contenders players from different regions with each other. In a global league that is meant to contain the best players in Overwatch from across the world, it only makes sense that teams can scout official tournaments that aren't confined to just one region.
No one was sure of just how strong the Korean Overwatch scene was until western teams began playing Korean teams in APEX. Since the end of APEX, there has been no competition to pit western teams and Korean teams against each other. There has been only one LAN in Overwatch's history that included both western and Pacific region teams. There have been no LANs in the game's history that have allowed for Australian or South American teams to play against top North American, European or Korean teams (with the exception of Blank Esports playing against Korean competition in Pacific tournaments).
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The system would be effective regardless if the tournaments were hosted by Blizzard or third parties. While Blizzard would be the more likely host given how sparse third party tournaments have been since the start of the Overwatch League, there are other opportunities for these international events outside of Blizzard's domain.
While only containing RunAway RunAway Contenders KR Rank #2 from outside of China, NEXT Summer allowed for a pair of top Chinese teams to take on the champions of Contenders Korea. The host of the tournament was NetEase, the owners of the Shanghai Dragons Shanghai Dragons OWL Rank #16 .
During the Overwatch League offseason, teams have began scheduling joint events with each other and have even announced exhibition matches. Nowhere are the academy teams of the Houston Outlaws and the London Spitfire mentioned in the description of their joint event, the Gilded Gala.
While Blizzard has an interest in promoting international talent and growing the global fanbase of the league, Overwatch League teams should be equally as interested in international competition. Watching a wider range of players play each other on stage should allow for better scouting for franchises to add to both their Overwatch League and academy teams.
The cost of running regular international LANs would be an obstacle, but the return on investment would not come from the profitability of these tournaments. Instead, these tournaments could help lead the way to a better Overwatch League truly representative of the best talents across the world. Diamonds in the rough can be discovered more easily and fanbases eager to support local talent can be cultivated.
While the World Cup remains a fantastic way for unknown players to get exposure, it should not be the only way. International LANs between Contenders teams should become a more common occurrence for players around the world to get a chance to prove themselves against the best talent in Contenders.
No one notices when Patiphan has a fantastic game against Machi Esports. People would notice if he did the same against Runaway or Fusion University.