2018: The Year of the Overwatch League

Adam Heap Roar Rookie

By Adam Heap, Adam Heap is a Roar Rookie

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    Blizzard have gone all out for the inaugural Overwatch League. (Image: Blizzard Entertainment)

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    The inaugural Overwatch League is set to make 2018 a breakout year for Overwatch as a competitive eSport.

    That’s not to say, of course, that Overwatch eSports aren’t already a big deal. The Apex tournaments in South Korea attract a huge Twitch audience and the Overwatch World Cup proved a hit with fans for the second year running.

    But Overwatch League is a multimillion dollar venture and a tremendous step towards a wider public consciousness. It has all the world’s best players, the power of Blizzard’s marketing team and its own brand-new bespoke arena. It’s not hard to see Blizzard want to make Overwatch the global face of eSport.

    So what is the Overwatch League? If you follow any major American sporting code, you’ll recognise the formula: 12 franchised teams in two divisions (Pacific and Atlantic) compete in a regular season – in this case, four five-week long stages – with the aim of placing well enough to make the post-season finals.

    The top team from each division automatically secures a finals berth, with the next four best-placed teams facing off to determine which two teams join the division leaders.

    Overwatch League has all the hallmarks of any traditional professional sports league: players are signed in a specific window, professional commentators call the matches, there’s mid-game replays and analysis.

    Blizzard aren’t kidding around on the money front, either. All players are salaried at a minimum of US $50,000 and given health and retirement benefits as well as housing. Jay ‘sinatraa’ Won is earning a cool US $150,000 a year at the San Francisco Shock plus 50 per cent of the team’s bonuses, and he can’t play the first leg of the season because he’s legally too young. The total prize pool for the competition is US $3.5 million.

    The 12 teams competing in the inaugural season – who each paid approximately US $20 million for the license to join the League – have all been branded with tremendous precision. Nine teams hail from the United States, with one apiece from the United Kingdom, China and South Korea.

    From a competitive standpoint, Overwatch is the perfect eSport. The balance tweaks, new characters and maps and talented players have resulted in a constantly shifting metagame, and strategies brilliant and bizarre can both bring success. It’s the spectator side of games that a number of critics have taken issue with: Overwatch is fast-paced, frantic and if you don’t play, it’s hard to immediately understand and keep pace with what you’re watching.

    It’s not criticism that Blizzard have taken lightly.

    Since announcing the League, Blizzard designated team colours for every team which assist spectators in identifying who’s who. A top-down minimap has been introduced and it’s so good many spectators want to see it more often. Blizzard’s technicians even invented an AI cameraman to follow key moments in the game, select the best views and pick out what needs to be replayed.

    No expense has been spared, nothing left to chance. It’s a bold move and on January 10, Blizzard’s grand voyage commences.

    They’re not short of competition in the eSports world. Overwatch is by far the newest of its major competitors for viewership and doesn’t yet have the fan-base of more well-known games such as League of Legends, DotA, Call of Duty or Starcraft.

    Overwatch League, though, is not just any other eSports league. It’s a huge statement, not just to eSports but to the whole sporting world. It’s one of the first attempts to blend the best parts of both traditional codes and eSports. It’s unprecedented and a gamble – but a calculated one.

    Blizzard have a lot on the line here, but if their walk is as good as their talk, the 2018 Overwatch League could see Overwatch become the face of eSports across the world.

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