Overwatch Contenders (OWC) is a major series of professional Overwatch tournaments held around the world, organized by Blizzard Entertainment. Contenders acts as the development series below the Overwatch League for aspiring pro players.
Beginning in 2018, Contenders expanded to seven regions:
- North America
- South America
In addition to expanding to seven regions, the Trials system was introduced, and relegation between Contenders and Open Division was revealed. The top 4 teams from the previous Open Division season, and the bottom 4 teams from the previous Contenders season, would play in Trials to determine who would play in the next season of Contenders.
Beginning in 2018 Season 1 of Contenders, Overwatch League teams were given the opportunity to establish Academy teams to develop talent in Contenders. All Overwatch League teams except for the Los Angeles Valiant, Dallas Fuel and the Seoul Dynasty established Academy teams for the first season of 2018 Contenders, with the Dallas Fuel establishing their Academy team during the second season.
On October 30th, 2018, Blizzard announced changes to Contenders for the 2019 Season. The number of teams in all regions would be reduced from twelve to eight, and North America would be split into two regions, North America West and North America East, bringing the number of Contenders tournaments to eight. A number of other changes were also introduced.
- Reducing the number of Seasons from 3 to 2.
- Making each Contenders Season longer.
- Adjusting the prizing to better reward top teams.
In addition to these changes, Blizzard announced that they would be introducing a "soft region lock" for Contenders 2019. Contenders teams will be restricted to a maximum of three non-resident players on their roster.
Widespread changes were announced for the 2020 season on October 10th, 2019.  North America West and North America East were merged back into one region, North America, reducing the number of regions back to seven. Regions returned to twelve teams. The soft region lock was removed. The tournament format was also changed. There would be four weeks of Contenders play per season. Every two Contenders weeks, there would be an Open Division season. In between each week of Contenders, there would be a Trials week to determine who is promoted to Contenders. Instead of a traditional group stage system, there would be a single-elimination bracket each week, where teams competed for points that would determine playoffs seeding, where the 8 teams with the most points in their region play in a double elimination playoff bracket. China strayed from this format, with their first week consisting of an 8-team single elimination bracket. All subsequent weeks consisted of a 12-team group stage (4 groups of 3) into an 8-team single elimination playoff.
More changes were announced for 2020 Season 2 on June 23rd, 2020.  The Pacific region was cut, with the Season 1 victors, Talon Esports, receiving a direct invite to Trials Korea. Europe and North America would shift to five monthly double-elimination tournaments consisting of eight teams, with Trials in between each month and Open Division every two months, preceding the August, September, and November tournaments. There will be no playoffs. Korea would move to a 10-team round robin (2 groups of 5) followed by a 6-team single elimination playoff bracket. Australia would shift to a similar format, with an 8-team round robin (one group) followed by a 4-team double elimination playoff bracket. South America would play four "tournaments", a 10-team round robin (2 groups of 5) with a 4-team single elimination playoff bracket, to compete for points for playoffs seeding, with a Trials tournament between each Contenders tournament and Open Division every two Contenders tournaments. China saw no changes.
Changes were announced for the 2021 Contenders season on March 4th, 2021.  The South America region would not be returning. North America and Europe would consist of eight-team double elimination brackets roughly every month, with Open Division and Trials every other tournament. There would be no playoffs. Korea would stick with the 10-team format but with changes to their playoffs system by introducing an inter-league stage to determine seeding between the two regular-season groups as well as changing playoffs to a stepladder format. China would have eight teams compete for points in two regular-season tournaments, consisting of a round robin (one group) and a four-team double elimination playoff. The 6 highest-point teams would compete in a double-elimination playoff bracket. Australia would retain the same format from 2020 Season 2, except with 6 teams instead of 8.
As professional Overwatch transitions to Overwatch 2, Contenders got a format overhaul to accomodate for the Overwatch 2's release cycle and to "open up the ecosystem and create an accessible Path to Pro for all players". Instead of a promotion-relegation closed league system, all regions would pivot to an open tournament system. Open Division would no longer be the only pathway to Contenders. All five regions from 2021 would return for 2022.
Summer Series, the first Contenders event of the year, would consist of two parts, A-Sides and B-Sides. A-Sides consist of a 64-team single-elimination "qualifier" bracket, where the top 8 teams are seeded into a double-elimination "main event" bracket. B-Sides are invitation-only events where top teams from A-Sides automatically qualify. Top Open Division teams during the Summer Series cycle would get early access to Overwatch 2 and priority registration to A-Sides alongside prize money. This move drew controversy, as many teams competed for the Overwatch 2 access--performance would not heavily alter their odds in the Contenders event due to the open bracket format--dampening the competitive integrity. While each region's A-Sides event is the same format, not every region has the same B-Sides format. The table below breaks it down:
Precursor leagues ran in 2016 and 2017, before Contenders was expanded to each respective region.
|Shanghai||OWPS||Overwatch Premier Series|
|Seoul||APEX||OGN Overwatch APEX|
|Taipei||OPC||Overwatch Pacific Championship|
- Currently, 4 of the 20 Overwatch League teams have active Academy teams in various Contenders regions.
|ATL Academy (Inactive)||Atlanta Reign|
|Uprising Academy (Inactive)||Boston Uprising|
|Team Envy (Inactive)||Dallas Fuel|
|Mayhem Academy (Inactive)||Florida Mayhem|
|GG Esports Academy (Inactive)||Houston Outlaws|
|Gladiators Legion (Inactive)||Los Angeles Gladiators|
|N/A||Los Angeles Valiant|
|XL2 Academy (Inactive)||New York Excelsior|
|Montreal Rebellion (Inactive)||Toronto Defiant|
|Team Chaser (Inactive)||Chengdu Hunters|
|UP Academy (Inactive)||Guangzhou Charge|
|Bilibili Gaming (Inactive)||Hangzhou Spark|
|British Hurricane (Inactive)||London Spitfire|
|Eternal Academy (Inactive)||Paris Eternal|
|Gen.G esports (Inactive)||Seoul Dynasty|
|O2 Blast||San Francisco Shock|
|Team CC (Inactive)||Shanghai Dragons|
Starting with the 2019 Overwatch League season, teams and players may negotiate the right to designate the player as eligible to compete in Contenders on their affiliated Academy team. Any player on the roster may agree to be eligible for Contenders play, but a maximum of four players may be designated as “two-way” players during each Overwatch League stage, and those players must be identified and submitted to the League Office prior to each stage.
Two-way players are eligible to compete in Contenders, subject to the following rules:
- Regardless of where they play, two-way players count toward the Overwatch League roster limit of 12 and must earn the same salary and benefits. Two-way players also will count towards the eight-player Contenders roster limit for weeks in which their Contenders team designates them as eligible to compete.
- Two-way players lose their Contenders eligibility if they appear in more than two Overwatch League matches in a stage.
- A maximum of two designated two-way players may compete in any single Contenders match.
- No player will be eligible to appear in both Contenders and Overwatch League matches in the same week.
- CONTENDERS RETURNS IN 2019
- A Peek at Overwatch Contenders in 2020
- Changes to Overwatch Contenders Season 2
- Regional Format Changes for 2021 Overwatch Contenders
- Path to Pro Update: Overwatch Open Division and Contenders Summer Series
- Here’s What’s in Store for Path to Pro in 2022
- Path to Pro Update: Summer Series Tournament Details