If someone told me ten years ago that people playing video games would generate a bigger audience than the NBA, NHL, and MLB, I…
The Overwatch Contenders is sort of like the minor leagues, but for Overwatch. It’s the official path for players looking to join the league and sees teams compete within their country.
It’s likely that how well players do in these matches will also help decide teams made up for the Overwatch World Cup later this year. This is where you can follow players a bit closer to home and get more Australian action in your Overwatch games.
Additionally, if you wanted to view a match in person at the ESL Studios in Australia you probably need to be watching Contender’s rounds while Los Angeles’ Blizzard Arena holds the monopoly on league matches.
This doesn’t mean Contender’s playoffs are small affairs as was proved last weekend when the first ever Overwatch Contenders Australia champions were crowned. The prize pool totalled $50,000 USD and four teams faced off in heated battle to try to claim the winning share.
The first game saw Dark Sided face off against the Sydney Drop Bears in a close battle won by the Bears in a 3–2 victory which knocked Dark Sided out of the race. Both teams had 3 – 0 victories over their previous match-ups so a close game to start off the semi-finals was expected and appreciated.
Watching the game at my local esports bar I heard many surprised fans of Dark Sided suddenly switch sides believing if Sydney Drop Bears could win this match-up they could take home the whole thing. One member of the crowd even talked about how he used to play with some of the guys on stage which is not the kind of treat you find when watching League matches.
This was followed by another semi-final match-up which featured the Masterminds GC versus Blank Blue and the Masterminds took the victory in a 3–1 scoreline. Most seemed to think Masterminds would take the game but both were incredibly new teams only founded this year, likely to compete in the contenders matches.
This doesn’t mean members are entirely without experience as a few of Blank Blue’s roster come from Monopoly Club who have taken out many smaller competitions and placed second in the ESL ANZ Season 1 April Finals last year. Unfortunately for them, this shared history didn’t help them take down the Masterminds this time.
It did, however, highlight another level of difference between contenders and league matches for the crowd. I’d hear spectators talking a lot more about individual members rather than teams as you do in league. People watching these games often form an attachment to the individual players, hoping they’ll make it to league.
Immediately following this match set the finals with Mastermind GC and the Sydney Drop Bears going to head to head to take home first place. Who’s to say if it was just too many games in a row for Mastermind but the Drop Bears won it in a 4–0 sweep much like those around me had predicted after their first victory.
Mastermind as a team go back to 2016 but most of their current line-up were added this year aside from Paul ‘CantuS’ van Hutten who’s been around for about a year now. None of this seemed to be of any help against the Drop Bears who’s roster is comprised players who all seem to be relatively new on the scene.
Again this was all a different vibe from what I’m used to in League. Audience members got behind their team because of the places they came from or in some cases because they knew the people playing. There was an intimacy which you don’t get when watching League games mixed with a bit of awkwardness which in a weird way felt quintessentially Australian.
This is the place where dreams are born and earned. Players involved in Contenders are beginning their careers striving to make the big leagues and pick up the big sponsors. It adds a stress and even an urgency which League can’t afford, and while the level of play may not be as high as in league it’s replaced with a sense of desperation you get when people are really fighting tooth and nail to prove themselves.
Contenders start back in a few months and I recommend you give it a look. Even if – like myself – you’re more addicted to Overwatch League than you’ll ever admit is healthy, there’s a charm to this competition which is well worth checking out. If you can, make your way to an esports bar or venue to watch the local teams play. It’s an atmosphere worth experiencing and almost shows a softer side of competitive esports.