The 2021 Overwatch League playoffs have hit a slight snag. Yesterday, the League announced it will no longer host live playoff matches in Dallas and Los Angeles.
“Due to significant changes in the environment affecting travel for some teams, we’ve decided to pivot away from originally scheduled live events in Dallas and Los Angeles,” the League wrote in a statement on Twitter. “Instead, postseason competition will return to Hawai’i for playoffs.”
The move is likely in response to the COVID-19 delta variant surge that’s spreading across the globe and the diminishing ability for travelers to obtain visas to and from the United States.
Last season, the League split into two regions: North America and Asia Pacific, or APAC. Regular season play and the playoffs were sequestered within the regions, with each sending their top team to Korea to play in an online broadcast LAN grand final. This year, the League decided to introduce cross-regional play by sending qualifying NA teams to Hawaii. Dubbed “Project Aloha,” the Overwatch League partnered with the University of Hawaii Manoa to provide facilities and support for visiting Overwatch League teams to play against teams in Asia on servers designed to reduce game latency.
While Project Aloha was a great way to introduce cross-regional play — something the Overwatch League community greatly desired during the 2020 season — it wasn’t a perfect solution. Teams still had to travel to Hawaii, a problematic solution since COVID numbers are surging there and the governor is currently urging visitors to stay away. And though teams were playing on servers at as low a latency as possible, latency cannot be totally eliminated, affecting the quality of play.
After the announcement, Overwatch League players voiced their concerns on social media with some remarking that it was unfortunate because they believed the setup disadvantaged North American teams.
The Verge asked the Overwatch League why it decided to resume sending teams to Hawaii for games. A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that visa difficulties and the constantly evolving situation with the delta variant necessitated a solution that reduced international travel.
Esports organizers are finding it increasingly difficult to plan live events as the world opens and shuts back down again due to the delta variant. League of Legends’ Worlds tournament and Dota 2’s The International both made changes to their venues as countries restrict international travel and live event gatherings.
The Overwatch League’s decision to abandon live events comes amid Blizzard’s continuing legal battles against the state of California for enabling harassment and discrimination. Earlier this week, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) accused Blizzard of “withholding and suppressing evidence.”
The League is currently taking a short break as it prepares for the playoffs that begin on September 4th.