Overwatch League owner Blizzard Entertainment has canceled league matches in China through March, citing concerns over the novel coronavirus in the region. The announcement comes after multiple other esports events, including the start of two League of Legends leagues, were halted.
Blizzard posted its statement to Twitter on Wednesday night. “We have decided to cancel our February and March matches in China in order to protect the health and safety of our players, fans, and staff,” it said. “We hope fans have a safe and happy Lunar New Year, and we remain incredibly excited to play Overwatch league matches in China later this season.”
Information about future matches will be shared “at a later date.” A Blizzard representative told Polygon is has “nothing more to share at this time.”
On Tuesday, Chinese Overwatch team Guangzhou Charge moved its non-Chinese players to South Korea indefinitely. Team officials are working to expedite visas for its Chinese players and move them to South Korea, as well. On Wednesday, the Shanghai Dragons announced that its players will also temporarily relocate to South Korea “effective immediately.”
“Since the escalation of the outbreak, we and other teams in the Pacific East Division have been discussing solutions together and with the Overwatch League,” a Guangzhou Charge representative wrote on Twitter. “The reality is that the situation is unpredictable, complex and urgent — we hope our fans can understand what the Chinese teams and the league are faced with.”
Another Chinese team, Chengdu Hunters, posted an update on Weibo noting that the team will remain in China but take precautions against the virus.
The Overwatch League is scheduled to kick off on Feb. 8 in New York and Dallas. The canceled matches in China were currently scheduled for Feb. 15-16 in Shanghai; Feb. 22-23, March 14-15, and March 21-22 in Foshan, China; and Feb. 28 to March 1 in Hangzhou, China.
The new strain of coronavirus originated in Wuhan City, China late last year. It’s since spread within mainland China, with the majority of cases remaining in China’s Hubei province, which is where Wuhan is located. In the past few days, the number of infected patients has increased, with cases in over a dozen countries, including the five patients in the United States. (The risk for the U.S. remains low, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) By Jan. 29, 6,057 cases were reported — 5,970 of which are in mainland China, with 3,554 of those patients in the Hubei province. According to Vox, 132 people have died from the virus.
Chinese officials issued a quarantine for Wuhan, which is home to 11 million people, on Jan. 23. Since then, the quarantine has expanded to the area surrounding the city, which impacts 35 million people, Vox reported. Hong Kong has since issued a state of emergency and closed schools until Feb. 17.
Other esports events have been impacted by the spread of the coronavirus. This week, the League of Legends Pro League and WESG’s Asia-Pacific Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments have been postponed. English LPL casters have left China citing fear of the virus’ spread.
“We don’t really know the extent of how dangerous it is, but it seems like it could be a lot worse than people are saying, so we’re getting the fuck out of here,” Joe “Munchables” Fenny said in a video posted to Twitter earlier this week.
On Jan. 29, the League of Legends Pacific Championship Series’ upcoming season was postponed. PCS officials cited safety considerations and travel restrictions for the postponement. Updates on the season’s start will be shared as soon as they’re available.
Korean esports website FOMOS reported on Wednesday that League of Legends Champions Korea, which is held in Seoul, will be held in absence of an audience. Riot Games confirmed to Polygon the league is taking “precautionary measures due to the virus.” The LCK is scheduled to begin in early February.
None of the impacted events have been rescheduled.