Overwatch League and What This Means for eSports
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Today marks the inaugural matches for the hotly anticipated Overwatch League, a self contained professional league of some of the world's best Overwatch players. While we got the first look at how these games will be broadcast at the Blizzcon Overwatch World Cup and the pre-season matches in December, today we officially embark on a new way to spectate the game.
I've been a fan of Overwatch since the very beginning, even today I hop into matches almost daily to play the same game modes with random people online. While the Hero Shooter genre isn't new, games like Team Fortress 2 and Monday Night Combat paved the way, arguably Overwatch has quickly become a household name from casual console gamers to the most die-hard of PC players.
For me, I feel like the OWL is a turning point for eSports. While spectating eSports has been huge in recent years with events like the DOTA Invitational and League of Legends World Championship, supporting a team mostly led yourself to support individual organizations. Teams like NRG, Cloud 9, and Liquid are legendary organizations... cheered for and supported by fans all over the globe. What eSports lacked, and what set it apart from the typical ESPN sports, was regional support.
Organizations like the NFL, NBA, and NHL... pretty much every major professional sport have teams that are linked to regions. As a kid I cheered til my lost my voice at Sonic games, screamed my head off when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, and remember when Randy Johnson crushed the California Angels with 12 strike-outs in the 1995 AL West playoff game. Being a fan of Seattle sports was a major part of my childhood, but also as a fan ofsports in general let me root for teams tied to other cities. Outside my hometown, I was a diehard Chicago Bulls fan during the Jordan dynasty (both times) and always rooted for the Vancouver Canucks north of my border. For someone like me, the decision to switch to regional based teams over organizations I feel legitimizes the OWL in ways that no other eSport has really been able to do.
While there is no Seattle team (yet?) I find myself rooting for the teams featuring players I've become huge fans of. Most of which came from the Overwatch World Cup 2016 and 2017 along with their individual streams. Personally, I'll be rooting for the Houston Outlaws (thanks to Jake and Rawkus), the Dallas Fuel (Seagull), the Seoul Dynasty (Ryujehong and Zunba especially), and the Los Angeles Gladiators (for Surefour).
What I feel is the biggest part contributing to legitimizing the sport is in how the game is being presented. Each team has a set color scheme and uniform, both home and away. The home uniform features the team's vibrant color while the away uniform is white with the team color acting as an accent. While as a player, your team is always the blue team with your opponent as the red team. This helps players differentiate attacks that are friendly or un-friendly... the problem with previous Overwatch eSports matches was how difficult it was for the audience to follow the action. With each team having different uniforms and even the effects featuring the team's main color (for home) or white (for away) make being a spectator a wonderful experience for fans. I can say from personal experience that watching Overwatch eSports now versus say the Overwatch World Cup in 2016, following the action is definitely more aesthetically pleasing while also making the viewing experience easier on the viewers.
With today's games, the Overwatch League will be broadcast exclusively on Twitch in a reportedly $90 million dollar deal that cements the game on the Twitch platform for at least the first two seasons.
While I'm bummed I can't root for the (currently nonexistent) hometeam, I can still enjoy the games and feel the same type of excitement when I pull off a sick play in my own games. When I was a kid, I knew I wasn't going to strike out 12 batters or pull of a sick dunk on a guy twice my height... but I can tell ya that just like when I watched MJ hit that shot over Craig Ehlo in game 5 of the 1989 playoffs, that same excitement could be felt whenever I pulled off an amazing play in Peewee Basketball.