Overwatch Contenders (OWC) is an international esports league for the video game Overwatch that is organized by Blizzard Entertainment. The series acts as the development league for aspiring Overwatch League (OWL) professionals. Founded in 2017, Contenders was created in part to consolidate existing regional tournaments into a structure to support the Overwatch League, including the Overwatch Apex tournament, Overwatch Premier Series, and Overwatch Pacific Championship.
The Contenders league was launched in 2017 to be a developmental league for players aspiring to play in the Overwatch League, with regions in North America and Europe. Teams competed in an online open qualifier known as 2017 Season Zero, where the top eight teams from Europe, the top six teams from North America, and invited teams Team Envy and Rogue would compete in 2017 Season 1.
In 2018, Blizzard merged Contenders with existing regional tournaments into a structure to support the Overwatch League; it was divided into five divisions with 12 teams each: Korea (replacing the Overwatch Apex tournament), China (replacing the Overwatch Premier Series), and Pacific (replacing Overwatch Pacific Championship for other Asian-Pacific countries), and adding in North America and European divisions. Prior to the second 2018 Contenders season, Blizzard added two additional divisions, Australia and South America, bringing the total to seven. Further, Blizzard gave the opportunity to the top eight teams from the Open Division within each region to compete in Contenders Trials, which would be held at the end of each Contenders season; the qualified teams would take place in a promotion-relegation tournament for the chance to compete in the next Contenders season.
For its second year in 2019, Blizzard adjusted the format by reducing the number of teams in each region to eight, while dividing the North American region into East and West divisions. Blizzard also added a regional limit of the number of "import players", which are those that live outside the division's region, to a maximum of three.
Blizzard made several changes for Contenders for the 2020 year. The North America East and West regions were merged back into the single North America region, reducing the total amount of regions back to seven, and the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions were renamed to the Atlantic and Pacific Conferences. Aside from China, the regional player restrictions was also reverted, now allowing any number of players from any region to be on a team in any region. The number of two-way players allowed to compete on a given day for a team was increased from two to four. Blizzard also made a major format change for 2020 year. The qualification to make regional playoffs was changed from a round-robin format to a point system, which includes four Contenders tournaments that will dictate the number of points a team earns based on their finishing place.
Structure and seasons
The league is divided into two conferences, the Atlantic Conference and the Pacific Conferences. Each division is divided into a total of seven regions; the Pacific Division consists of the Australia, China, Korea, and Pacific regions, and the Atlantic Division consists of the Europe, North America, and South America regions.
Each region is broken down into three divisions:
- Open Division: a six-week Swiss-system tournament open to any player of any skill level. The Swiss culminates with a one-week, single-elimination tournament.
- Contenders Trials (or simply Trials): a one-week, twelve-team, single-elimination tournament.
- Contenders: a twelve-team, single-elimination tournament.
- Open Division: The top eight (8) teams advance to Trials Week 1.
- Trials Week 1: The top eight (8) teams from advance to Contenders Week 1, while the bottom four (4) move to Trials Week 2.
- Contenders Week 1: The top four (4) teams move to Contenders Week 2, while the bottom eight (8) drop into Trials Week 2.
- Trials Week 2: The top eight (8) teams advance to Contenders Week 2, while the bottom four (4) drop into Open Division.
- Contenders Week 2: The top four (4) teams move to Contenders Week 3, while the bottom eight (8) drop into Trials Week 3.
- Open Division: The top four (4) teams advance to Trials Week 3.
- Trials Week 3: The top eight (8) teams advance to Contenders Week 3, while the bottom four (4) move to Trials Week 4.
- Contenders Week 3: The top four (4) teams move to Contenders Week 4, while the bottom eight (8) drop into Trials Week 4.
- Trials Week 4: The top eight (8) teams advance to Contenders Week 4.
- Contenders Week 4.
Points are awarded only in Contenders and are based on placements in the tournament. First place is awarded 100 points, second is awarded 50 points, third and fourth are awarded 25 points, fifth through eighth are awarded 20 points, and ninth through twelfth are awarded 10 points.
Championship and interregional play
Each region's playoffs, known as the Contenders Playoffs, is a double-elimination tournament. The top eight teams, based on points, from each region will qualify for their region's playoffs. Each playoff match winner is determined by which team win three maps first until the Grand Finals, which is first-to-four. The top four teams from Playoffs move on to the next season's Contenders Week 1, while the bottom four teams drop to the next season's Trials Week 1. Additionally, the top performers in each regional playoff has the chance to qualify for international events.
Since 2019, the top teams from the Pacific and Atlantic Conference in each year's first season have competed in double-elimination tournaments, called the Pacific Showdown and Atlantic Showdown, respectively. Similarly, at the end of each year's second season, the top teams from the every region compete in The Gauntlet, which consists of group stages culminating in a double-elimination tournament.
Ownership models vary across Overwatch Contenders. Any team that moves from the Open Division to Contenders Trials must have a proper team owner; that is, the owner must not be player or by an individual acting as a proxy for a player. Contenders teams may be affiliated with an OWL team, known as an "academy team", and players can be freely moved between these affiliated teams during set periods of each OWL season. As such, there are three main models for ownership of a Contenders team: OWL affiliates, third-party sponsored teams, and unsigned rosters.
|Academy team||OWL team||Region||Years active||Relationship||Ref|
|Bilibili Gaming||Hangzhou Spark||China||2019–present||Ownership|||
|British Hurricane||London Spitfire||Europe||2018–present||Ownership|||
|Gen.G esports||Seoul Dynasty||Korea||2018–present||Ownership|||
|Ignite One||Guangzhou Charge||China||2020–present||Ownership|||
|Team CC||Shanghai Dragons||China||2018–present||Ownership|||
|Uprising Academy||Boston Uprising||North America||2019–present||Ownership|||
|Academy team||OWL team||Region||Years active||Relationship||Ref|
|ATL Academy||Atlanta Reign||North America||2019–2020||Ownership|||
|Eternal Academy||Paris Eternal||Europe||2019, 2020||Ownership|||
|GG Esports Academy||Houston Outlaws||North America||2018||Ownership|||
|Gladiators Legion||Los Angeles Gladiators||North America||2018–2019||Ownership|||
|Mayhem Academy||Florida Mayhem||North America||2018–2019||Ownership|||
|Montreal Rebellion||Toronto Defiant||North America||2019–2020||Ownership|||
|NRG Esports||San Francisco Shock||North America||2018–2019||Ownership|||
|Team Envy||Dallas Fuel||North America||2018–2020||Ownership|||
|XL2 Academy||New York Excelsior||North America||2018–2019||Ownership|||
- Ended partnership with OWL team but did not disband
While there is no limit to how many players may be signed to a team, all Contenders teams may have only eight players designated as eligible to compete in a given week. The minimum age to play in Contenders is 13, except in the China region, where the minimum age is 16.
In 2018, the Overwatch League allowed OWL teams to sign up to four players to two-way contracts with their associated academy team. A maximum of four of the two-way players can play in a single Contenders match, and a two-way player cannot play in a Contenders match and Overwatch League match in the same week. These players will spend the majority of their time on a team's Contenders roster, but can freely move to their respective OWL team for up to two matches in any stage of regular season. Players under two-way contracts count against both the OWL team's roster limit and OWC team's roster limit. In addition, two-way players must be paid the same minimum salary ($50,000 as of 2018) and benefits as any other Overwatch League player.
Any Overwatch League team may contact, tryout, and sign any player competing in Contenders during specified periods, but must give a one-day notice to the player's current team before doing so. Should the OWL team decide to sign a Contenders player, the OWL team may have to pay a one-time buyout fee to the Contenders team, which is up to 100% of the players annual base salary. Contenders teams and their affiliate OWL team have "right-to-match" clauses, which will allow the parent team to match any other OWL offer within seven days of the offer being made.
|Australia||China||Korea||Pacific||Europe||North America||South America|
|1||–||–||–||–||Team Gigantti||Team EnVyUs||–|
|2018||1||Sydney Drop Bears||Lucky Future Zenith||X6-Gaming||DeToNator.KOREA||British Hurricane||Fusion University||Brasil Gaming House|
|2||Sydney Drop Bears||Lucky Future Zenith||RunAway||Talon Esports||Eagle Gaming||Fusion University||Brasil Gaming House|
|3||Sydney Drop Bears||The One Winner||RunAway||Hong Kong Attitude||Team Gigantti||Fusion University||LFTOWL|
|2019||1||ORDER||LGE.Huya||Element Mystic||Talon Esports||Angry Titans||Fusion University[NA 1]||Team Envy[NA 2]||Lowkey Esports|
|2||ORDER||LGE.Huya||RunAway||Talon Esports||HSL Esports||ATL Academy[NA 1]||Team Envy[NA 2]||Lowkey Esports|
|2020||1||Mindfreak||Team CC||O2 Blast||Talon Esports||British Hurricane||Team Doge||Dignity|
|2||Ground Zero Gaming||Flag Gaming||WGS Phoenix||–||–||–||Majestados|
|2018||1||Atlantic Showdown||Alwernia, Poland||British Hurricane||3–1||Fusion University||$0|
|2019||1||Pacific Showdown||Shanghai, China||Element Mystic||4–2||O2 Blast||$125,000|
|Atlantic Showdown||Krefeld, Germany||Fusion University||4–0||Team Envy||$125,000|
|2||The Gauntlet||Seoul, Korea||Element Mystic||4–1||ATL Academy||$250,000|
|2020||2||The Gauntlet||Online||Team CC||4–1||Gen.G||$150,000|
|British Hurricane||4–0||Obey Alliance||$100,000|
- North America East winner.
- North America West winner.
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Our cooperation with LGE.Huya has come to an end.
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