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Overwatch Esports: How is 2018 shaping up?

2018 could make or break Overwatch esports.
Overwatch Esports: How is 2018 shaping up?
Professional Overwatch has been in and out of the spotlight over the better half of the last two years, but it will soon dominate esports conversations with Overwatch League right around the corner. Multiple millions of dollars have been poured into Blizzard’s league, and we’re about to see if it all pays off. Let’s look at how Overwatch esports can meet and overcome some challenges it faces in the new year.

Overwatch League aims to be more of a cultural force than a traditional esport

One of the most common issues with Overwatch discussions is that they often try to compare Overwatch esports to that of CS:GO or even PUBG. On the surface, it’s easy and seductive to get lost in these cyclical battles that ignore key differences between what Blizzard is doing, and what has already been done. It isn’t about looking at Overwatch League in terms of existing esports paradigms, but rather how Blizzard is hoping to transcend the old ways to bring about a new era of professional gaming. Don’t misunderstand me on this point. I’m not saying that this is what’s going to happen. Part of the excitement of 2018 is seeing if this becomes a sustainable reality. However, if the trajectory of Overwatch League is much different than that of existing LAN circuits, trying to force a traditional esports boot on its foot becomes pointless. Instead, look at the bigger picture - Blizzard is trying to make the esports product more appealing to mainstream culture. A large component of this will come from advertising and brand saturation in established, trusted, local sources. The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, published an article that introduced the Shock to a huge number of local readers. Likewise, the Los Angeles Times wrote a piece on the Blizzard Arena opening in Burbank, California, that featured Mike Morhaime, CEO of Blizzard Entertainment. Articles like these can help boost the visibility of Overwatch League to an audience that might not have cared much about esports before. Merchandising and brand recognition are also tied into the overall picture. You may have noticed in the preseason that all of the jerseys have the same basic design, though with team-specific colors and logos. Since Overwatch League is meant to emulate a professional sports league, this will help fans tell Overwatch League players apart from players in other esports. Of course, you can also buy a shirt or jersey of your own to help support the league and spread the word as well. Last, but definitely not least, Blizzard must find ways of proving to people that esports and Overwatch are more than “just games”. Collegiate esports are nothing new, but Blizzard has really amped up their presence in that arena. Announced just yesterday, Blizzard and Tespa will be bringing Overwatch to the Fiesta Bowl, an American college football event, next February 17. Earlier this year, University of California, Irvine, announced that it will be issuing Overwatch scholarships to students who qualify. If Blizzard keeps developing this side of esports, their goals for Overwatch League may be realised more sooner than later.

Overwatch is still a difficult esport to watch

Unless you’ve been watching Overwatch for a long while, the action is often incomprehensible. Flashy plays with multiple kills are easy enough to get hyped over, but the subtleties involved in any given play or push are often missed. Blizzard did implement some new tools during the Overwatch World Cup finals that subsequently made their way into the Overwatch League preseason, but it still doesn’t feel like enough at times. One way to help spectators along would be to add quality analysts to the otherwise anemic commentator desk. While the in-game stat windows attempt to train viewers, not having anyone to really break down replays and explain everything going on is hurting the Overwatch viewing experience. Jonathan “Reinforce” Larsson, former shield tank for Misfits, was a phenomenal analyst during Overwatch Contenders, but perhaps Blizzard is looking to fill this gap with more seasoned talent. Rumors right now are that Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo has left the League of Legends scene for Overwatch League (he’s also been retweeting Overwatch League stuff). If true, Crumbz would be joining Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles and Erik “Doa” Lonnquist as former League of Legends personalities who have made the jump to Overwatch League. Whatever Overwatch knowledge he might be lacking will be made up for by his experience on camera. Again, Overwatch League is meant to represent an evolution in esports, and having experienced analysts and casters is another piece of the ever-growing puzzle.

Overwatch League players must respect their new roles

High drama in esports is nothing new. When you have a bunch of young competitors fighting for prize money in any sport, egos are bound to become inflated, and rules will be broken. Overwatch League has already had to deal with some behavioral issues, and the regular season hasn’t even started yet. Su-Min “Sado” Kim, tank player for the Philadelphia Fusion, is suspended for the first 30 games of the season for account boosting. Dallas Fuel tank, the wildly popular Felix “xQc” Lengyel, has a history of on-stream antics that have come into scrutiny, with his latest stint earning him a seven day account ban and potential bench time once Overwatch League starts. Two players from the Shanghai Dragons, Fang “Undead” Chao and Liu “Xushu” Junjie, were fined for sharing an account on the competitive ladder. We’ll be sure to see players held to a higher standard as Overwatch League progresses. They are professionals representing teams who invested a lot of time and money into Overwatch League, and their actions need to reflect that.