The Overwatch League has announced that, due to “the Covid situation happening in China right now,” the beginning of the 2022 season in the East region is being delayed by two weeks, and will get underway on May 20.
The change will impact the Chinese teams Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, and Shanghai Dragons, as well as the US teams Los Angeles Valiant, New York Excelsior, and Philadelphia Fusion, and the South Korean team Seoul Dynasty. The West region will not be impacted by the change, and will begin the season on May 5 as originally scheduled.
“We'll be delaying the East's schedule two weeks, until May 20,” Overwatch League head Sean Miller said in a video update released today. “So all 21 matches will still be played, but across two weeks, and with both regions's Kickoff Clash tournaments taking place in June.”
The fate of live Overwatch League events also seems somewhat less than certain right now. Blizzard began cancelling Overwatch League events in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic, before transitioning to online-only play for the remainder of the season. It attempted to ease back into live events in 2021, but plans for in-person events for the 2021 playoffs ultimately fell through.
Blizzard will try again this year with three live events currently scheduled to take place in the West: The Battle for Texas between the Houston Outlaws and Dallas Fuel at the start of the season on May 6, and two regional tournaments being hosted by the Dallas Fuel and the Toronto Defiant.
“Given the rapidly changing Covid conditions, we're exploring the best avenues for global competitions this year, with the goal of returning to the LAN events,” Miller said. “So depending on what's possible, safety and fair competition are always going to remain our top priorities as we look to build the most exciting thing we can do.” More details will be revealed in the coming weeks, he added.
Miller noted that this will be the first live appearance of the Overwatch League in Toronto, but the situation could be complicated by Canadian Covid-19 vaccination rules: The Major League Baseball team Boston Red Sox will be forced to leave behind players who aren't vaccinated when it plays in Toronto next week, for instance. The Red Sox are also currently dealing with an outbreak of the virus.
China has been grappling with a major resurgence in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, resulting in a weeks-long lockdown in Shanghai, a city of 25 million people. Municipal authorities recently tightened restrictions in an aggressive pursuit of a “zero Covid” strategy, but residents are reportedly growing angry with the strategy: A Guardian report says many in the city are facing loss of income and shortages of food and other essentials, while large numbers of residents have been ordered to relocate so their neighborhoods could be disinfected.