Blizzard today unveiled Overwatch Contenders, the official developmental league for the upcoming Overwatch League. The intent of Overwatch Contenders is to offer a persistent environment for new talent to show off their skills in the hopes of eventually being recruited by an Overwatch League team.
In order to do that, Overwatch Contenders will feature a seasonal league with open qualifiers. All players who have attained Master-tier or higher in ranked Overwatch can form a team and play.
Overwatch Contenders will play a unique role in the months to come. Since the Overwatch League has yet to begin, Overwatch Contenders will mark the beginning of Blizzard-sanctioned competitive Overwatch (beyond last year's Overwatch World Cup). And while it isn't explicitly stated, Season 1 of Overwatch Contenders is likely the culmination of the "Preseason" phase of the Overwatch League. Details regarding player recruitment into the Overwatch League remain unannounced.
Starting today players can form teams and sign-up for Season Zero's Open Qualifiers, with registration closing at 11:59pm PT on June 2. Over 200 teams have registered in North America so far, and Open Qualifiers will be held on June 3 and 4 in North America, featuring two different single-elimination online tournaments. Between the two Open Qualifier tournaments, 15 teams will pass on into the Group Stage along with one automatic berth.
On June 17th and 24th, the Group Stage begins, splitting teams into four groups of four based on placement in the Open Qualifier. Each group will play each opposing team twice online, and the top two teams from each group will pass on to the final stage of the tournament, the Playoffs.
In the Playoffs, the remaining eight teams will face-off in an online single-elimination bracket using a Best of 5 format, with the finals being a Best of 7. Europe will mirror the same tournament format, just on different days.
It's best to think of Season Zero as a qualifying tournament for Season One, with both preceding the Overwatch League. The top six teams from Season Zero will join two automatic berths in Season One's league-play. Season One is then six weeks of round-robin play, with the top four ultimately meeting in Overwatch's first major competitive offline event and a chance at the $100,000 prize pool.
How the Overwatch League will populate itself with players from Overwatch Contenders remains to be seen, but Contenders will continue into the future. Blizzard's clear goal is to offer all players a path from casual Overwatch player to professional Overwatch player - for those that have the drive, at least.
Sign up for Overwatch Contenders or read more information about the event via the official Blizzard Website.