Blizzard’s Overwatch League announced today that all planned matches taking place in South Korea are hereby cancelled (for the time being), over safety concerns stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic. This is the second time since the coronavirus emerged that Blizzard has had to cancel Overwatch League matches — earlier plans to host games in China were similarly discarded just over a week ago.
“In order to protect the health & safety of our players, fans, & staff, we are canceling plans to host #OWL2020 matches in South Korea in Weeks 5, 6, and 7, including the @SeoulDynasty home event,” Blizzard said through the Overwatch League’s official Twitter account. “We’ll share more info about when and where matches will take place at a later [sic].”
In addition to several matches originally planned to take place in South Korea, these cancellations also affect rescheduled games moved out of China earlier this month. Currently, the official Overwatch League calendar shows weeks five, six, and seven of the 2020 season taking place in Washington D.C., Miami, and Atlanta, respectively.
The coronavirus situation in South Korea has grown wildly, at a rate not seen in any other part of the world, save for COVID-19’s birthplace in China. As of today, February 24, there are 893 confirmed cases of the virus in South Korea, with eight deaths on record. Compare this to the 51 cases that were confirmed just six days ago, and you can see why Blizzard might be bullish about hosting several events there in the short term.
The government of South Korea has enacted its highest-possible alert level, for the first time since the H1N1 epidemic 11 years ago. Right now, the epicenter of the South Korean outbreak is the city of Daegu, which is the fourth largest city in the nation with a population of roughly 2.4 million people. While Daegu is around 150 miles from the capital of Seoul, South Korean Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip today told press that “if authorities fail to contain the spread of the COVID-19 in Daegu, there is a high possibility that COVID-19 could spread nationwide.”
Despite the fact that most confirmed South Korean cases originate in Daegu, additional infections have spread to “every major city and province in the country,” according to NPR. One of the earliest confirmed cases is a member of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a South Korean cult masquerading as an esoteric sect of Christianity. This patient attended a large church function during their virus’ incubation period, and now the government of South Korea is attempting to track down and test more than 9,000 other members who were in attendance.
The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which was founded in 1984 by Lee Man-hee, believes that Lee is the second coming of Jesus Christ, and that the Bible is a collection of metaphors that can only be accurately interpreted and communicated by Lee. The cult has a generally negative reputation in South Korea, and as such members work to hide their affiliation and maintain the anonymity of other members, obviously compounding the South Korean government’s attempt at tracking down those that might be infected.
According to Shin Hyun-uk, the director of Guri Cult Counseling Center, an anti-Shincheonji deprogramming institution, Shincheonji’s specific worship practices involve packing believers tightly together and requiring them to shout “amen” at the top of their lungs with great frequency, both of which could easily have contributed to the rapid spread of the virus.
But hey, uh, video games, right? Video games are still pretty cool. Definitely gonna play some of those while I stay indoors for the rest of my life!