Most Overwatch League fans know Jon Spector from his regular cameos on the League’s video updates, wielding a whiteboard full of plans and a fake “script” of plot twists to spice up the season. In reality, as vice president of the league, he’s worked with an extensive team of experts, organizing this year’s grand finale, and rolling towards the start date of the fifth season in April 2022, which has been confirmed to be played in an early build of Overwatch 2.
Before the Overwatch In the league season playoffs that begin September 21st at 6 p.m. CT, Spector sat down with Dot Esports to discuss last year’s victories, how they will shape the future, and how a wide-open pitch after that Season looks. He was open about how much professional players will see Overwatch 2 in Hawaii (a lot) but we still can’t confirm or deny that he actually has a script on hand.
How do you think the 2021 season went compared to 2020?
Viewers: In my head I split 2020 into two parts: there is the pre-pandemic part of 2020 and the post-pandemic part of it. If you compare the post-pandemic stage of 2020 to what we’ve done this year, I think we’ve made a lot of really big steps forward. I’m still very proud of the team for that, but we had two or three weeks, not even to re-create a complete plan for the 2020 season in the middle. It showed in a way. It was a tremendous achievement to be able to finish the season safely and crown a champion.
This year the team had a decent off-season to do all of the planning work for 2021, and that meant I could do whatever I thought was featured on the show every day that year, such as the overall tone the league, freshen up our broadcast graphics, and keep the desk looking great.
The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, if you look in viewership. Our tentpole moments with tournaments this year are literally almost twice as many as last year. I’m really proud of how it went. Of course we have to finish the season strong, but so far I think it’s great.
How, if any, have the latest sponsorship changes affected the season?
We continue to work closely with our partners and there have been a number of changes in general for the postseason. You go back to the plan from a few months ago that we did Yes, really We wanted thousands of fans at the Galen Center in LA.
When you look at how partners want to activate, a lot of that is often [related to] a live audience or the signage in the great arena, and we won’t have such opportunities this year anyway. Our focus for playoffs and finals has been to finish the season as strong as possible, hopefully get the best audience of the year and put on a great show for fans all over the world, but doing it in a safe and compliant way.
Looking ahead to the next year, what was the schedule for the next season? Overwatch 2?
It has been a lot of work over the past few months, especially with our partners on the development team, putting together what I will call “an incredibly complicated puzzle”. Every time you get something from Overwatch for the early construction of Overwatch 2..
What we have done, and I think this reflects an approach that we have generally taken in the pandemic, is [doing] our best to stay flexible. Over the course of spring and summer, I think we felt really good when we even had a tournament or two in 2021. Then, after thinking that kind of, “OK, things are in good shape this year,” the schedule becomes, “What do we want to build on next year? How do we handle it successfully to start using it? Overwatch 2 if we are able to? ”
We have done our best to be fairly flexible in the face of the ongoing uncertainty about what the world will be like. In retrospect, I think that probably [caused] some of the bad phone games that led to what I “misreport” by some people about the Overwatch League season 2022. Instead of “the league is trying to be flexible and considering a number of options and has not decided anything”, there is “there is no season 2022” and other absurd and sensational headlines.
The whole time we were mostly in pencil, marking out various options and plans for the next year. We have been trying to figure out how we can coordinate things as best we can with our partners on the development team so that things work next year.
How do you think the change to five versus five will affect players and staff?
When you come back when we first revealed the switch to five versus five, one of the goals there was to make sure players and staff had ample time to plan and adjust to this reality. One of the other pieces of feedback, especially from some of the (I call it) “competitive” community of the game, but also from our pro players, was, “Well, that’s really interesting and it seems cool, but I too want to see what professionals can do with it. “
We have really been working towards the moment that we announced yesterday, when we will have the chance at the Grand Finals to present a five-on-five pro player match on one of the new push maps for the past few months.
[Next week]Once each team is eliminated from the playoffs, we’ll be setting up a setup at the University of Hawaii where they can test some of the five-on-five experiences. We will collect feedback from the professional players on this. Even if we will only broadcast the one complete show card with professionals in five-on-five, we will also have the opportunity to tell the professionals about their experiences: How did it go, what did you like, what is your feedback?
What is your personal favorite Overwatch 2 changed so far?
I’ve been playing Reinhardt a lot lately, so I’m excited to see some of what we showed on the last public stream [of Overwatch 2]. The changes to Charge and Firestrike are just really cool for a pure gamer, so I’m excited about that. That’s on my list of things to look forward to seeing what the pros can do with some of these adjustments.
After all, what two teams do you have in the Grand Finals?
[laughs] I cannot take a public position and prefer one team to another.
Let the script leak out, Jon.
To be honest, what I’m most happy about when I watch this final is that it is really more open than it has ever been in four years.
In the first season, NYXL had to lose and then they actually managed to lose it. And season two, you’ve got the superiority of [San Francisco] Shock and this rivalry against that [Vancouver] Titans who have played all year. You knew halfway through the season that you would end up seeing Shock vs. Titans. Last year the Shock managed to stay at the top. It was a cool story but they were the best team in the world again [other than] maybe the Shanghai Dragons, for the whole season. Their playoffs and finals, while still great and fun, are in some ways more of an icing on the cake.
This year is from my point of view and from what I’ve heard from people who are much smarter than me on our team that each of these eight teams can and do to win. We saw it this year, we’ve done four of these tournaments and we’ve had three different winners. A few months ago I would have told you we were going to get Dallas [Fuel] vs. Shanghai again in the final that these two teams are the best. But I don’t know anymore. Gladiators looked amazing in the Countdown Cup, the Fusion started to heat up at just the right time. Washington, if they can shake some of the inconsistency, they looked incredible in the play-ins against Houston. I really don’t know and that got me incredibly excited.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.