Activision said in May that its Overwatch and Call of Duty pro leagues were in trouble, and that efforts to turn them around "may prove unsuccessful." And it sure looked like that's how Activision expects it to work out based on a message shared by caster Soe Gschwind at the end of the recently-concluded Overwatch League 2023 grand finals, in which she paid a heartfelt tribute to all the people who helped make the league happen. It had the distinct ring of a final farewell—but in a message posted the following day, the Overwatch League said that plans for a "revitalized esports program" are in the works.
The 2023 Overwatch League grand finals were won by the Florida Mayhem, who defeated the Houston Outlaws 4-0 to claim the trophy and the $1 million prize. But it was Gschwind's message that came after, "look[ing] back at six incredible, unforgettable years," that really got attention.
"This was not just a show, this was a shared dream that was uniting us across borders, languages, and differences," Gschwind said. "It was the hard work and commitment of everyone out there who was bringing the teams and the fans alike the best possible experience each and every show, and all of that has been nothing short of remarkable."
The message, which also included tributes to casters, fans, and Overwatch League teams, could be read as simply a farewell to the 2023 season, but the teary faces on the Overwatch League team members behind her suggest that something more final is afoot. So does Gschwind's choking voice as she approaches the end of her address.
"Now that we close this chapter, I think we should all just look back at this and remember the moments that took our breath away," she said. "We have to remember the friendships we got to form, and the lessons that we learned. So from all of us, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being part of this incredible journey. It's been an honor, a privilege, and a joy to share this experience with all of you."
🧡🖤 pic.twitter.com/IFP2y9YHR7October 2, 2023
Gschwind also suggested that the end had arrived on her personal Twitter account, writing, "Still processing the past 24h or rather, the past 6 years, lol ... For now, I gotta go home, rest up, hug my little girl and figure out what the future has in store for me."
It's all quite poignant, and in light of Blizzard's clear uncertainty about the future of the league, came across like an all-but-explicit acknowledgement that the Overwatch League, at least in its current form, is done for. Activision doesn't seem quite ready to take that next big step: Less than 24 hours after sharing Gschwind's farewell video, the league posted a different message indicating that there's more to come.
"With the completion of the 2023 Overwatch League season, we will be focusing on building our vision of a revitalized esports program," the league said. "We're eager to share more with you as details are finalized."
But the league ultimataely may not have much say in the matter. Activision said in July that upon the completion of the 2023 season, Overwatch League teams will vote on a new "operating agreement" for the league; if the teams do not vote in favor of the new agreement, they'll be eligible for a termination fee of $6 million per team. Given the league's struggles, and the likelihood that it's not going to get better anytime soon, it's not hard to imagine that at least some of teams involved will opt to take the money and run.
Without teams, there is no league—and given this iteration of the Overwatch League has worked out, I don't imagine too many orgs will be as eager to throw money at new teams as they were six years ago.