Despite the Overwatch League (OWL) kicking off to huge success over the weekend thanks to consistent, top-tier esports action, a small section of the Overwatch community were complaining about the numerous stomps taking place, mostly involving Korean-based rosters. The joke was that ‘the more Koreans a team has, bigger the chance (or even certainty) that they’ll win’, followed by ‘I can’t relate to these teams because these players aren’t even from my city’.
These two points of arguments, in my opinion are hogwash, shallow and comes from folks who have never followed professional sports before nor even realize that most of the teams in the OWL feature players NOT originating from the city they represent.
So What If There Are Too Many Koreans?
This issue stems from the fact that teams such as New York Excelsior and London Spitfire fully consist of Korean-born players. Top that up with Seoul Dynasty who obviously field an all-Korean lineup, this roster ‘trend’ leads to huge disparity in quality and performances as seen in all teams fielding 100% Korean players finishing Week 1 with 2-0 records. But is having too many Koreans in the league even an issue to begin with?
The main reason OWL was created was to gather the cream of the crop in pro-Overwatch under one banner. This was to answer the big question – which Overwatch team is the best in the world?
At a time where several top-tier circuits such as Contenders North America, Contenders EU and the Chinese Overwatch Premier took place, the Koreans stood heads and shoulders over everyone else with their OGN APEX scene. Many touted this circuit as the best of the lot and this fact was compounded by Team Korea’s rampage at the Overwatch World Cup. To be the best, you got to beat the best out there and the OWL is exactly what not only Blizzard, but the esports scene in general needs if they ever want the scene to be taken seriously going forward.
I hate to be picky about nationalities and countries of origin but the case against the Spitfire and Excelsior players’ nationality is borderline discriminatory as well. Apart from Seoul and Shanghai who obviously field Korean and Chinese players, a majority of the remaining eight teams have rosters carrying high percentage of players NOT originating from the city they represent.
None of Dallas Fuel players come from Dallas; the 10-men LA Valiant and Boston Uprising only have two Americans in their teams and just like Spitfire and Excelsior, Gladiators don’t field anyone the United States and Florida Mayhem have an all-European lineup! The ‘Most American’ team label goes to Houston Outlaws who have a 60% North American roster and are closely followed by San Francisco Shock who will have a 55% American representation once both Super and Sinatraa come of age.
How Do You Relate?
Michael Jordan wasn’t a Chicago native. He was born in New York and studied in North Carolina. Lionel Messi isn’t Catalan nor Cristiano Ronaldo born in Madrid yet all three became the faces of the teams and cities they represent over time. If a player is good enough, then they deserve a spot. Professional sports (and esports) is the pinnacle of human ability and if you want to be picky about origin and nationalities, I suggest you stay out of sports and stick to politics.
We agree that (e)sports thrive on the whole tribalism of things which in turn cultivates loyalty, rivalry and the spirit of competitiveness but you do not support a team simply by geo-location. Support and fanbase are rooted much deeper than that. The team’s philosophy, style of play, approaches to games – all are varied across the board. You may even support a particular team just due to liking a particular player.
It’s just the first season for the OWL and one can expect to see more players from these respective cities emerge in following seasons thanks to the progression system put in place. Having a franchise in a particular city leads to organic growth and with most OWL teams fielding their own Overwatch Contenders team, it would not be long before we see London or New York natives break into these main OWL teams.
Race and ethnicity should never cloud the buildup of any team roster and instead, should be used to showcase diversity and the borderless potential of the scene. Jeff Kaplan once famously said – “It’s less about nerf South Korea, and more about buff the rest of the world.” It would be a disservice to any esport scene to deny full-Korean teams – or any nationality at that matter – from participating if the main goal was to find the best team possible.