The Overwatch League announced its 2020 playoff format on Wednesday.
All 20 Overwatch League teams will have a chance at qualifying for postseason play. The teams in Asia and North America will have separate tournaments, with seeding based on league standings and teams' results in three 2020 tournaments: the May Melee, the Summer Showdown and the Countdown Cup.
On Sept. 3, the lowest seeds will face each other in a single-elimination play-in bracket to qualify for their respective playoff tournaments. Double-elimination play will begin on Sept. 5, where the play-in teams will face the higher seeds in their regions.
The four remaining teams from the winners and losers brackets, two apiece from North America and Asia, will meet in an online grand finals in Asia, where they will play each other for the 2020 season title. Teams qualifying from the North America bracket will be flown to South Korea and comply with all health restrictions and quarantine/self-isolation procedures before playing in the online grand finals against the two qualified teams from the Asia bracket. Teams in China and South Korea have already played online in the Asia bracket from their team houses in both countries.
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According to Adam Mierzejewski, senior manager of competition operations for the league, the most important part of the back-and-forth discussion on how to crown a winner and have teams from both regions face each other in an environment that was as safe as possible.
"We think it's right due to the known and ongoing changes that COVID has presented to us that going into a LAN environment is too much of a risk that's not worth taking," Mierzejewski said of why it was decided to still hold the grand finals online despite flying out teams. "We think it's right for us to minimize those risks by keeping ourselves isolated."
Overwatch League lead strategy manager Aditya Rudra reiterated that playing from an online server allowed them to have a set schedule in place for teams and fans regardless of any added complications.
"It's the right thing to do for our players," Rudra added. "And also the right thing to do for our fans. There's an element of travel complexity here, it being online and playing on the Asia server relaxes." As an example, Rudra said if United States citizens were not allowed in South Korea, that they would still be able to adjust accordingly and house teams in China while playing on the same online server for grand finals and preserving competitive integrity and scheduling.
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to cancel all homestand events, the Overwatch League was separated into two separate, smaller leagues, one in Asia and one in North America.
"Everyone has had their own unique situations, their own struggles or challenges during this pandemic," Mierzejewski said. "We think that what we put together is the right thing that would work for them and as we get into the final rounds it's going to be something really exciting for our fans."
Since May, the league has experimented with three weeks of league play followed by a tournament. This format has been met with stronger investment and viewership from the Overwatch League community. In Asia, the Shanghai Dragons won the May Melee tournament and the Guangzhou Charge won the Summer Showdown. In North America, the San Francisco Shock won May Melee and Paris Eternal won the Summer Showdown.
League play continues for the Overwatch League on Friday with the Vancouver Titans taking on the Paris Eternal. There will be three weeks of league play prior to the Countdown Cup, the final Overwatch League tournament before playoffs, on Aug. 2-9.