Since it’s release in May of 2016, Blizzard’s team based shooter Overwatch has been absolutely dominating my game time. It’s a bit odd, considering I’ve only written about the game a couple times here, but I’ve been playing fairly consistently for almost two years now (only on PS4, currently around Player Level 300, and Competitive Season 8 SR 2500). Recently, Blizzard also started up the Overwatch League (OWL for short), which took the previously disjointed tournaments, teams, and players from around the world, and brought them in to one definitive league where the best could truly shine. The move to start an eSports league not unlike major league sports seems strange, even now that we’re a month in, but after my initial skepticism about OWL, I’m pleasantly surprised how fun the League has become!
Perhaps the greatest achievement OWL has done is draw me in. Don’t take that as a fully egotistical statement: let me explain. Before Overwatch League started, the best players from around the world would occasionally compete in tournaments here and there. I’d read about a few on Kotaku and other sites, but never really cared enough to watch them. There would be a “World Series” or some other glamorous tournament one month, only to be upended by another similar caliber tourney the next month. This lead me to not understand the structure, nor know who was actually the best player or team. Some names and teams stood out as repeat winners, but nothing that I’d associate with major sports teams.
Blizzard move to incorporate all these teams and players into just one league took a lot of effort, but it addresses many of the issues myself, and I’d predict many others, had with the pre-OWL Overwatch pros. Firstly, there are defined teams, players on said teams, schedules of play, and tournament structures. The process looks kind of like one you’d find for the NBA or NFL: each season, every team will play every other team, sometimes more than once, and whichever team has accrued the most wins will be at the top of the playoff brackets. After the initial season ends, the tournament playoff starts, and a champion is crowned. The key to this structure is familiarity: if Blizzard is wanting Overwatch and eSports at large to pick up in the mainstream sense, they need to tread some familiar territory in order to get casual gamers and sports fans lured in to the game. The current system, while kind of bare with just a few teams, does this.
The second major achievement of Overwatch League is the production itself. If you have previously watched tournaments for any video game via Twitch or YouTube or what have you, you’ve likely run in to some rudimentary camera work, barebones production, and a general lack of ingenuity and flair. OWL treats every match as an event, much like you’d see in a traditional sporting event. There are replays, color commentary, player highlights and bios between games, on-floor interviews, and more. We all watch sports to see the game played by the best of the best, but we stick around for those juicy tidbits of information that make the stakes that much higher, or make your favorite player that much cooler! Overwatch League makes sure these aspects of major sporting broadcasts carried over to OWL, and again the familiarity makes a somewhat-sports fan like myself feel comfortable and welcomed. It’s the right move.
Lastly, and perhaps the best part of OWL, are the teams themselves. The move to destination teams based in cities around the world again mirrors traditional sporting teams, and it makes for some easy rivalries. The difference with Overwatch League however is the world wide appeal: teams aren’t just from the United States, but from all over the globe. So we have teams like the Shanghai Dragons, Seoul Dynasty, London Spitfire, Dallas Fuel, and Los Angeles Valiant to name a few. Due to the rules for how these teams could be built, many players from said cities aren’t even from those nations, let alone cities themselves. This leads to some strange instances where the London Spitfire team consists entirely of South Korean players, but hey, even Major League Baseball has players playing in Chicago from Japan, Puerto Rico, and so forth. The benefit of this method, however, is the creation of some great rivalries.
Many of the best players in the Overwatch League were already well known players before the league was founded. Some of them were former teammates in pre-OWL matches, but have since joined different teams after the league’s formation (unfortunately I don’t know any good examples, seeing as I didn’t watch pre-OWL matches, but those commentators let me know it was the case!), creating rivalries from the very beginning. Also, some fan favorite players and teams have already started their own following just four weeks in to the first season! If there’s a theme for this article is familiarity, and once again it shows its head here!
What would a sporting event be without remarkable moments and matches, and the Overwatch League has had plenty. Standout plays from players like Seoul Dynasty’s Fleta, as well as upsets like New York Excelsior handing the aforementioned Dynasty their first loss are two huge highlights from the inaugural season. Underdogs the Shanghai Dragons have yet to win a match, but still remain fan favorites for their wherewithal to put up a great fight regardless of opponent. For me personally, seeing all these video game playing nerds (let’s be honest) getting the limelight is absolutely amazing. And then when we’re treated to top tier performances and epic matches, it’s even more reason to love the league!
Overwatch League wasn’t something I thought I’d give much time too. I thought I’d watch a few matches here and there, and that’d be it, but here I am writing this article a few moments before today’s matches start up and realizing I’ve done my work earlier than usual today just so I can have more time to watch the games. I’m getting invested in the players, the drama, and the spectacle of the sport. Honestly though, I wouldn’t want it any other way!
What are your thoughts on the Overwatch League? Have you seen any matches yet? Better yet, do you have a favorite team or player? Also, since you may have played the actual game Overwatch yourself, does seeing all these absolutely excellent Widowmaker players make you want to get better at her? Let me know!!