Overwatch League has its issues but should only get stronger with time

Adam Heap Roar Rookie

By Adam Heap, Adam Heap is a Roar Rookie

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    Has its problems, but it's only going to improve. (Wikimedia Commons)

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    The much-hyped Overwatch League enjoyed an incredibly successful first week, peaking at over 440,000 viewers – but critics had plenty to say about its viability.

    There has been plenty to like about the league’s debut. Even the matches which ended in clean sweeps were exciting. The production value, which was through the roof, helped keep those games interesting.

    There were no major technical hiccups (save for an unfortunate close-up camera shot of a Pepe the Frog sign) and perhaps most importantly the count of nearly half a million simultaneous viewers would have more than likely exceeded expectations at Blizzard.

    Being that this was the opening salvo of Blizzard’s foray into the unknown, those view numbers aren’t likely to get that high again until finals time. What’s brand new is exciting, so it’s only natural that those figures will decrease for a little while.

    But the doubters and detractors put forward some reasonable worries which are more pressing than the viewership concerns.

    Firstly, one of the most common complaints was that in almost every instance from week one, the team with the most South Korean players won, often by a large margin. It’s no surprise to anyone that Seoul Dynasty and London Spitfire – two teams with rosters comprised entirely of South Koreans – both won both of their opening matches. The New York Excelsior also won both matches with six South Korean players.

    Even the most optimistic of fans hoping for a very competitive season between all twelve teams would struggle to put money on any squad other than Seoul or London winning the inaugural season.

    However, those who criticised this particular aspect are missing the trick. While Seoul did win their opening match against the well-regarded Dallas Fuel outfit, they were kept to a 2-1 scoreline with some incredibly close maps fought between the two teams.

    Neither were the Spitfire invincible – they dropped their first map of the season to one of the league’s weakest teams, the Florida Mayhem.

    The less immediate and more important counterpoint to that this complaint is that said criticism is based on four days’ worth of competition. Balance takes time.

    In Formula One, for example, when a new rule set is introduced, one team tends to come out far ahead of the others before the margins get closer over time.

    This is a feature of a number of other sports and now that every team will play each other four or five times a season, the gap between these South Korean powerhouses and the rest will naturally begin to close.

    Time is perhaps the bigger issue for the Overwatch League. Many are worried about whether the fast-paced and chaotic nature of Overwatch itself might make it difficult to attract fans who are not already players of the game.

    Some consider the issue to be even wider: that first-person shooters do not lend themselves well to eSports. This is Blizzard’s biggest challenge when it comes to the Overwatch League.

    As a player, I understood what was happening when I watched the games during week one. I’d be concerned if over 500 hours of playing time meant that I couldn’t follow the action, but that wasn’t the case. And stepping back from my own experience, I saw potential in the debut week.

    Overwatch has perhaps the best chance of any shooter to make it as an eSport. First and foremost, it’s fun. The characters are immediately likeable, there are a wide variety of strategies and individual plays which can change games in a heartbeat and it’s bright and colourful.

    What Blizzard are putting into that mix is just beginning to show. They’ve started strongly with great production value, which make the concept of a league exciting.

    In the last six months Blizzard have worked hard to improve the spectator experience: an AI-controlled cameraman which follows the most important action at any given time, a top-down map which gives perspective to the game and team skins and colours which have simplified and improved the viewing experience dramatically even from the end of Apex Season 4, which was only three months ago.

    Overwatch character D.Va, wearing the colours of the Seoul Dynasty Overwatch League eSports team.

    (Image: Blizzard Entertaiment)

    If Blizzard has done all that in a matter of months, it would be silly to assume they consider themselves done and dusted and are 100% happy with the current spectator experience. It’s much more likely is that this first season will be one where kinks are ironed out, observations are made and new tools tested which will only make the game better to watch.

    There certainly are challenges to the long-term future of Overwatch as an eSport, and it’s good that commentators have recognised and reported on these issues. They deserve to be discussed.

    Blizzard, though, has shown more than enough to earn them a certain level of trust that they will work hard at making Overwatch League better with every passing match, and it wouldn’t surprise me if in five years’ time the Overwatch League is one of eSports’ greatest success stories.

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    The Crowd Says (3)

    • January 18th 2018 @ 9:10am
      Corinne said | January 18th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      ‘Some consider the issue to be even wider: that first-person shooters do not lend themselves well to eSports. This is Blizzard’s biggest challenge when it comes to the Overwatch League.’

      ‘Overwatch has perhaps the best chance of any shooter to make it as an eSport’

      Has everyone forgotten about a little game called CSGO?

    • January 20th 2018 @ 2:37pm
      moustache_twirler said | January 20th 2018 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

      In it’s current state, I am struggling to see how OWL can engage a fanbase that includes people who have never played the game. It’s outright hostile to a non-player, and just about comprehendible to a casual player.

      The changes that Blizzard have made to improve the spectator experience are the first baby steps in the right direction. I believe that ALOT more could be done. I’d like to see:

      – the commentators do a 5-10 minute pre-match segment on basic strategies, or even just to explain certain hero’s abilities/ultimates eg Mercy is a huge part of the meta right now. Therefore, a pre-match segment to help explain what her ultimate does, and why its such a vital part of team compositions, would go a long way to helping non-player viewers understand the action

      – more focus on support players. It seems that unless you are Ryujehong, you aren’t going to get any screen time if you are a support player. Support players are constantly in the midst of the action, always healing and doing work. Why not break up the action by spectating from the POV of a support player?

      • Roar Rookie

        February 4th 2018 @ 3:14am
        Adam Heap said | February 4th 2018 @ 3:14am | ! Report

        Both of those ideas are really good, actually. Explaining the game in such a way that even brand new viewers would understand certain elements and characters would be fantastic. And supports naturally sit toward the back so you’d have an all-over view – would be better than Genjis zipping around all over the place!

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