“There are some really great players at this World Cup that aren’t signed to Overwatch League teams,” Elliot Hayes tells me.
We’re in Paris, at the final Group Stage of the Overwatch World Cup, where France and the United Kingdom are dominating the competition. France won all their matches, and team UK won four of theirs, with their only loss coming at the hands of their French hosts. The Netherlands and Germany gave it a good go at times, but for the teams at the bottom like Italy and Poland, who won just nine maps between them across a total of 10 matches, was it even worth them turning up?
To an outsider, calling this competition a “World Cup” looks like something of a misnomer. The team that eventually wins the World Cup, which will most likely be Korea for the third time in a row, will be filled with top tier, Overwatch League talent. So will the second and third place teams. For the OWL players at the World Cup, the prize money is a pittance compared to what they’re usually competing for. It’s the OWL that’s the pinnacle of Overwatch competition.
However, there is a certain sense of national pride on the line, and it’s bringing together a global community that is front and centre of Blizzard’s ambitions with Overwatch esports. Plus, for some of these players, the World Cup represents a golden opportunity.
It’s easy to dismiss the lower ranked teams as simply making up the numbers, but, just because they had next to zero chance of qualifying for Blizzcon, it doesn’t mean there aren’t good players on the team.
Hayes is one of the coaches of the Philadelphia Fusion, the second placed team from the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. He’s also the head coach of the UK Overwatch League team at the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean his day job duties are on hold. He sees the World Cup as a potential scouting ground for new talent.
“I’m always looking at other players,” he says. “Scouting is a part of a coach’s job. Here I get to see the UK players in more detail and see who would be a good fit for Fusion or Fusion University. Even if it’s not for those teams, the World Cup is going to be a great opportunity for other players to show themselves too.”
Team UK has just one Overwatch League player, Isaac “Boombox” Charles. However, the rest of the team are on various Contenders teams, and so have a better chance than most to become full-time pros one day. It’s not guaranteed though.
“Contenders is where you should be looking for up and coming players, not so much the World Cup,” says Tom “Stylosa” Stewart, Team UK’s General Manager. “All the teams are not on the same level, and it’s not a fair showcase of the players’ abilities.”
However, it’s the World Cup that’s often the best place to get noticed. Hayes explains: “It seems like the Overwatch World Cup is a better opportunity to get into Overwatch League than Contenders. That’s the general consensus from a lot of scouts. Fans get very hyped watching World Cup, and if they see a new player popping off, that attention brings him trials. A player might play well in Contenders but he might not get attention.”
Stylosa does admit that there is a benefit in scouting players from the World Cup thanks to the extra viewership and scrutiny. Performing well also shows you have more talents, beyond just being good at Overwatch. “It shows you can perform in a LAN environment, which you don’t get in Contenders other than the finals.”
The Overwatch World Cup might not be the top tier of competition, it might not even be the second tier, but for a lot of the people at the event, this could be their best shot at getting into the Overwatch League, and that’s worth a lot.