As COVID-19 continues to complicate travel and event planning, Overwatch League's 2021 season will divide its teams into two regions, West and East. The teams in the West group will play in North America and Europe, while teams in the East group will spend the season in China and Korea. The Los Angeles Valiant is one of the teams headed to China with the East group—except the team is being left behind in the move.
"We want to thank all the players and staff moving on today from the LA Valiant due to COVID-related visa issues, as we prepare to compete in China this season," wrote the team on Twitter. "We've worked to facilitate the best available next steps for our players and staff and wish them all the best moving forward."
2021 Roster Update: pic.twitter.com/wLegf51MAIJanuary 29, 2021
The Los Angeles Valiant is owned by Immortals Gaming Club, which recently denied a rumor that the team had been purchased by a Chinese organization. "IGC will continue to own the LA Valiant, and we are excited about the opportunity to grow the brand's global reach this year," said the team on January 14. The team is still owned by IGC.
According to Immortals Gaming Clubs CEO Ari Segal, his organization and Overwatch League both concluded that "it would be impossible to secure visas for [the team's] players to get to China."
"This isn't really a choice," Segal said in an interview with The Washington Post. "Obviously, it's a challenging situation. Obviously, people's livelihoods are involved."
"We recognize that our teams have had to make tough decisions as they prepare to compete amidst a global pandemic," said an OWL spokesperson in a brief statement sent to PC Gamer. "We will continue to stay in close coordination with franchises as they finalize their plans."
The Post also reports that Valiant coach Michael "Packing 10" Szklanny will have a new role in the organization, and that "multiple players" from Valiant's former roster will be going to other OWL teams.
According to the US Embassy in China, "China currently allows foreign nationals with valid residence permits and visas to enter the country under certain conditions." Those conditions include two COVID-19 tests prior to departure (PCR NAT and IgM antibody tests), and 14-days of quarantine upon arrival, possibly with more testing in China. That's after getting a valid visa in the first place, however, which is where the LA Valiant says the problem is.
Former Overwatch pro Scott Kennedy, who is now an OWL desk analyst, expressed frustration over the move. "Pls pick up these players they don't deserve this," Kennedy wrote on Twitter.
Moving your entire LA based team to make a Chinese team and then using COVID-related visa issues as the reason you're dropping the team???????????????????????????????pls pick up these players they don't deserve this https://t.co/aQpYJ7o83fJanuary 29, 2021
Many OWL fans are also unhappy, expressing on Twitter that they feel IGC used visa problems as an excuse to dump the team's roster and rebuild it as a Chinese organization. The Valiant finished 12–10 in the 2020 regular season and were defeated in the playoffs in double-elimination after winning their initial matchup against Florida Mayhem.
The Philadelphia Fusion and The New York Excelsior are also in the East group this year. Excelsior is currently training in South Korea, and its active roster is entirely made up of South Korean players. The Philadelphia Fusion announced in December that it was relocating to Seoul, and its roster includes players from South Korea, Denmark, Israel, France, and the UK.
You can read more about the league's 2021 season structure on the OWL blog.