Overwatch League delays free agency period as Chinese teams face uncertain future

The breakdown between NetEase and Blizzard Entertainment has far-reaching effects for the league and its players.

Earlier this week, Blizzard Entertainment broke the news to Chinese fans that some of their favorite titles, like Overwatch 2 and World of Warcraft, may not be available in the future thanks to a broken partnership with NetEase. For nearly 15 years, the deal with NetEase allowed Blizzard to publish titles in mainland China, but those days may be over. 

Further complications from this situation have apparently arisen for the Overwatch League, which has four Chinese teams in its East Region division as well a fifth team run by a Chinese operator.  

Sean Miller, head of the Overwatch League, informed fans on Nov. 18 that the leagues free agency period would now begin on Dec. 2 instead of the previously-announced date of Nov. 19. This delays the period in which teams can begin signing free agents, of which there are nearly 90 just a few weeks into the offseason. 

Due to the latest regional licensing updates, we’re delaying the start of the free agency period to [Dec. 2] to afford our teams and players additional time to prepare for the 2023 season, Miller said in a Twitter post. This does not impact other current 2023 plans, which we look forward to sharing at a later date. 

Other details were not immediately shared, but the reference to regional licensing clearly points to the break between NetEase and Blizzard Entertainment. Sales of games like Overwatch 2 have been halted in China and players may see their access taken away sometime soon, including professional players. 

One of the Overwatch Leagues championship teams, the Shanghai Dragons, is owned and operated by NetEase. No information has been announced as to how the break between Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase will affect the team. 

The league has three other Chinese teamsthe Guangzhou Charge, Chengdu Hunters, and Hangzhou Sparkthat will likely be impacted by this situation. LinGan e-Sports, a Chinese company, also operates the Los Angeles Valiant, which moved to China in 2021. 

This two-week delay in signing free agents will likely give Chinese teams a chance to assess their plans for 2023. Chinese free agents, who may be facing a complete loss of game access that would affect scrimmages and trials with interested teams, will also have two more weeks to come up with solutions or wait out other options from Blizzard.

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