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Oh, Overwatch. From the absolutely hype-filled beta streams by popular Twitch.tv streamers to the controversy behind Tracer’s behind, we’ve seen the brand new Blizzard game do it all.
It has captivated audiences with a blend of fast-paced gameplay, dynamic playstyles and even a feature that motivates players to make flashy plays.
But is Blizzard’s Overwatch ready to be the next big eSport, or will it succumb to games gone past and left behind by the juggernauts of League of Legends, DotA2, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Smite and Rocket League?
To answer this, we need to break it down to why it can match up with the established eSport giants and where it might need some tweaking. We’ll look at three of the major ingredients for successful eSport titles; whether it’s spectator-friendly, accessibility, and developer support.
All for the spectators
With the aforementioned juggernauts above, they all have one thing in common. Brilliant spectator modes that allow people to watch it from a competitive point-of-view without compromises on things such as complicated gameplay and unexplainable in-game mechanics.
With CS:GO and CoD, the camera can switch from player to an overview, and spectators new and old can see what’s about to go down and know that players will shoot at each other to win (albeit with some difficulty with the speed of CoD). With League of Legends, players and spectators share the same birds-eye view of the action.
My personal gripe with the potential spectator nature of Overwatch is that compared to the other games, there’s a lot of corridors, nooks, and crannies. Factored in with larger maps and it may get confusing for viewers as production companies try and switch between relevant viewpoints for the spectators.
For example, on the map Hanamura, an AB Control Point Map, players can get to both control points multiple ways, depending on the tactics and characters.
While some might argue that CS:GO and CoD also have multiple ways to enter bomb sites and such, CS:GO has ‘call-outs’ which help players who have familiarity with the maps know where each player is.
Overwatch is quite open-ended in a way that it may need the same type of call-out system so commentators can easily relay to spectators where each player is pushing in, or defending.
With organisations already signing and seeking professional Overwatch teams, it’ll be up to the pros to push the scene upwards.*
After watching the show matches at ESL Australia, the spectator vision is quite fast-paced. With more characters on each team than CoD, another fast-paced shooter, it will be good to see how casters and production companies ,such as ESL, use the spectator system in a way that won’t disorientate the viewers.
Much like MOBAs (LoL, Smite, DotA2), the Overwatch spectator view does a good job making the health bars and ultimate status of each player clear and visible, an important aspect of the gameplay.
One thing we’ve truly lacked in competitive gaming are games that play fast in both pace and time. Call of Duty does it well, where spectators aren’t sitting, watching games for an hour. League of Legends matches take about 40 minutes (with even longer sessions in ‘best of x’ matches), CS:GO can potentially go for longer.
I found that the average Payload round in Overwatch lasted from five to ten minutes, where ten minutes was pushing it to the limit. One map rotation would last 15 minutes or so. If the two teams played a best of three series, we’d be looking at 45 minutes.
That’s around the same time it takes for a single game of League of Legends to be played. More games can be played, and spectators aren’t subject to being pinned down for long periods of time.
Blizzard’s biggest push
Overwatch feels like a game built to succeed in the competitive market. It seemed like the most popular streamers and YouTubers were given access to the beta, immediately giving it a push from a marketing point of view.
Competitive gaming circuits such as ESL and CyberGamer have already planned or are planning tournaments around the games. Even organisations such as the Chiefs and Team Expert have acquired Overwatch squads, believing in the future of its competitive scene. It’s a trend seen by every successful competitive game, and it looks to be leaking into Overwatch.
Blizzard aren’t strangers to pushing into the foray of competitive gaming. Starcraft (along with UT and Counter-Strike) is seen as one of the pioneer eSports games. Starcraft was even one of the biggest factors of the Korean economic revival, where the country remained dominant in the Starcraft scene for years.
With Overwatch, the competitive side was built to be open-ended, with new heroes and potentially new maps in the works. Like changes and patches in other games, I personally believe that Blizzard can keep the game feeling fresh, it just needs that constant support, attention, and treatment that other competitive games have, and Blizzard do have the resources to keep it up and keep it going.
Overwatch has the tools to succeed. Huge popularity, Blizzard’s resources, the backing of pro-gaming organisations, and dynamic and competitive gameplay. It’s up to the viewers and spectators of competitive gaming to see how much it succeeds, and if they’re ready for a 6v6, fast-paced, objective-orientated, TF2-like shooter game.
* This paragraph was written before the ESL Australia/Blizzard Overwatch launch event.