Has Overwatch really struggled that much?
It's hard to say the Overwatch League has been struggling, with multi-million dollar investments a regular occurrence, be it from organisations buying in or sponsors looking to get involved. That said, there was initially a certain expectation of the Overwatch League – perhaps from fans, perhaps investors, or perhaps the league itself – that esports was finally going to see mainstream success. With a city-based franchise system, the league was set to appeal to traditional sports fans as well as esports fans, as the public see the amount of money being thrown around and their city's team as points of interest. Instead, Overwatch has continued to appeal inherently to an esports audience and has only seemed to reach mainstream voices when discussing the hundreds of millions of dollars invested into the league. Though the Overwatch League has a fairly steady and dedicated viewer base, the numbers have been decreasing and is not making quite the mark on lives as traditional sports do. It also must be considered that Overwatch does not work great as a spectator sport: the production value of the Overwatch League is incredible, but from experience it is incredibly difficult to follow, especially for viewers who don't understand the game objectives or have never played it. Without doubt the Overwatch League has to be looked at as a success, but arguably not in all of the ways it has wished to be.
Fortnite holds certain power over Overwatch already
In many ways you could argue that Fortnite is already more successful than Overwatch. It is the most popular game worldwide right now, seeing a large, dedicated player base that Overwatch could only dream of. Not only that, but Fortnite has reached a mainstream audience unlike any game in recent memory. Even my Dad sits and watches his usually non-gamer children playing Fortnite in the front room (though if I suggested he was somewhat engaging with esports, he may be more apprehensive about doing so). We've seen superstars such as Dele Alli, Drake and Travis Scott streaming with Fortnite and Twitch extraordinaire Ninja, and we've seen news clip after news clip about how Fortnite has 'taken over'. This is testament to how engaging the game is to both play and watch, as well as the scope of potential the game holds. However, something must be said of the spectator experience that battle royale games offer. Both PUBG and H1Z1 have held events and one of the most glaring issues is how difficult it can be to watch a match, with so many teams all playing at one time across a large map. The risk of missing something important is high, and as such the game can be hard to follow, much like in Overwatch.
Filling gaps the Overwatch League couldn't
Evidently, Fortnite already has some semblance of success in ways that Overwatch doesn't, not least because it already has a larger mainstream fanbase. As such, it is already doing exactly what the Overwatch League wanted to do from the start. Thousands of people are genuinely enjoying playing and watching Fortnite despite not considering themselves gamers, and this is the exact audience the Overwatch League wanted when it started in January 2018. Furthermore, the total $100m prize pool is a number that is attention-grabbing to no end. Aside from the amount of money invested externally, there is not often large-scale discussion about the prize pool of the Overwatch League (I looked it up so you don't have to - Season 1 has a $3.5m prize pool). The reason events like The International are so well-known and achieve such high viewership numbers is because the amount of winnings available to players is, to put it simply, absurd. It's almost a must-see event simply because viewers want to watch a group of five gamers win $10m.
There's still potential to fail
Despite all the positive aspects attributed to Fortnite, there is one thing they do not have that Overwatch does: experience. The team behind the Overwatch League have long, storied histories in esports, experience of running live shows and growing the industry in a multitude of ways. There was almost no way we could see Overwatch League fail. This is something Epic Games need to be completely aware of. Their inexperience in running major esports is no secret, and we have to hope that they have done their research prior to simply committing an incredible amount of money. If Epic can address this inexperience and collaborate with some great industry minds to make the game even more accessible and a stronger spectator sport, we could see Fortnite become the biggest esport in the world. But with so much pressure on their shoulders, we best hope it doesn't get to them. As the old saying goes: the bigger they are, the harder they fall.