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Overwatch League returning to University of Hawaii for esports championship grand final – Pacific Business News – Pacific Business News (Honolulu)

After hosting four successful professional esports events over the summer, the University of Hawaii will again play host to the Overwatch League — this time for Overwatch’s postseason playoffs and championship.
The Overwatch League had intended to make a return to live, in-person playoffs with cheering fans in Dallas and Los Angeles. However, recent Covid-19 case numbers have surged and the OWL decided that UH, with its ability to act as a digital bridge between its far-flung franchises in North America and Asia, was the next-best choice for remote play.
The playoffs and Grand Final will be held between Sept. 17 to 25. Five teams will come to the Manoa campus and matches will be played in the Innovation Lab (iLab) and Information Technology Center buildings against each other and teams in Asia.
“We’re all very happy to do this and hold events here locally,” Sky Kauweloa, head of the UH esports academic task force, told Pacific Business News on Thursday. “It’s a big deal to have the finals here.”
Esports in Hawaii, including the fledgling UH esports program, received an unprecedented level of exposure from hosting the four midseason tournaments and having them go off successfully. UH was able to establish a workable level of latency, or lag, for the team-based shooter matches by routing the game data straight to the game server in Tokyo through an undersea cable. That was a necessity for OWL; data going back and forth between North America and Asia would have created unplayable conditions.
Jon Spector, vice president of Overwatch esports, previously described playing at UH over the summer, “a silver bullet solution for us.”
UH was paid a nominal fee by OWL to host its summer events, and 20 students benefited from the pros’ presence through a summer internship program for credits. It also established ties for the future. In a sense, the summer served as an esports internship for UH as a whole.
On Thursday, Spector emailed PBN: “We had a very positive experience working with the U of H to run our four regular season tournaments from Hawaii in the 2021 season. We were able to meet all of our goals for these competitions while following strict safety protocols for all participants. And the students in the University’s Esports program in particular have been a pleasure to work with. They are enthusiastic and engaged and their partnership has been incredibly helpful to our staff on site. So once we needed to look into contingency plans for our postseason — knowing that we have been successful on four previous occasions this year, and that we have a great partner to work with — we knew we could confidently return to Hawaii to cap off this great season.”
The stakes are definitely higher this time. While each of the four tournaments UH hosted had a $100,000 prize for the winning franchise, the prize pool in last year’s OWL Grand Finals was $3 million and is expected to be in that range again. The number of eyeballs on the product is expected to take a commensurate jump.
Kauweloa hopes the decision to return to the Islands for publisher Activision Blizzard further generates conversation with the state government on funding for esports infrastructure.
“It’s not a lie to say that we really sustained the league for 2021 on campus,” he said. “A majority of events have been on our campus for 2021, and now we’re going to close it out on our campus. This conversation is something that should perk the ears of our representatives. We are competing with one of the biggest esports stadiums in the United States — [Esports Stadium] Arlington — but we don’t have any dedicated location.
“Overwatch told me they would like to have more events now in Hawaii. But they’re saying there needs to be some kind of infrastructure.”
Kauweloa said the two rooms in the ITC building where UH held OWL matches are two of the bigger rooms that are also scheduled for events like UH Board of Regents meetings and other reserved research purposes. That’s among the logistical hurdles to be faced. About 15 students are on board to help for the playoffs, he said.
“We’re pulling this off in very precarious circumstances. And we can pull it off,” he said. “We did it for the summer and we have students who are well-versed in running the league. We’re quite celebratory about it, and we’re very happy, but at the same time the league knows we’re on a shoestring here trying to figure this out. And they’re very thankful for the efforts that we put in.
“But after this is done, we have to kind of wonder, if we want to do this again, it can’t be this way — it has to be a situation where these publishers have confidence in coming to Hawaii and saying, ‘you know what, we can pull off a Grand Finals here. Not just five teams, but the entire 10 or 12 of them from North America and from Asia, have a place to stay, have the entire computer setups that they need.’ That requires infrastructure. I’m quite blown away that we’re doing this at all, to be honest. Overwatch is taking a risk that they can’t avoid; it’s do or die for them right now.”
Eventually, he’s hoping to secure about $300,000 from the university to build out the UH iLab into a multi-purpose facility for gaming, broadcasting and content creation.
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