Heading into 2020, the Overwatch League’s Vancouver Titans were heavy favorites to avenge their 2019 grand finals loss — but that now seems incredibly unlikely. Today, the esports club announced it has dropped its entire roster midway through the season.
The issue seems to stem at least in part due to complications around the league’s shift to an online-only format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While players and staff were originally based in Vancouver, the players relocated to South Korea, where the entirety of the Titans’ roster is from, once the league moved online.
In a statement, Tim Holloway, esports director for Titans owner Aquilini Group, said the shift created a number of issues that the club wasn’t able to work through:
Our initial plan was for the team to join the Asian division and continue to play the new schedule from the comfort of players’ homes, but it was quickly apparent that this created a whole new set of challenges. The time difference made it difficult for management and the home fanbase to connect with the team and technical challenges for the players playing from home further exacerbated the situation.
With the organization unable to meet the players expectations in Korea, and after much deliberation and conversation with the players, the difficult decision was made to move the team back to the North American division and both the players and management agreed that finding a new home for the players would be in everyone’s best interest.
While the move is significant, there were signs of issues leading up to it. Last week, the team let go of both its head coach, Hwang “PaJion” Jisub, and top player, HyunWoo “Jjanu” Choi, with no explanation. The team also had a middling record of 2-2, a far cry from their dominating 25-3 season in 2019.
The move also means the Titans currently don’t have a roster to compete with, despite being scheduled to play two matches this weekend. According to a report from ESPN, the club plans to sign the roster of team Second Wind, which competes in the second-tier Overwatch Contenders circuit. “We look forward to announcing our new roster of Titans in the coming days,” Holloway said in a statement.
The Titans collapse is the latest in a string of bad news that paints an uncertain future for Blizzard’s ambitious esports league. While OWL was originally slated to begin its much-anticipated shift to home-and-away matches this season, the league — along with its contemporaries in esports — was forced to shift to an online format instead. The league has also seen a decline in viewership after switching from Twitch to YouTube.
More recently, reigning league MVP Jay “Sinatraa” Won of the San Francisco Shock — the team that defeated the Titans for the 2019 league championship — abruptly retired mid-season to switch to Riot’s new team shooter Valorant, which is still in closed beta.