The Overwatch League is Coming!Sun 18th Dec 2016 - 10:53pm Gaming
The Overwatch League is on a mission to celebrate fans and afford them opportunities to become champions through a professional esports ecosystem that embraces passion and rewards excellence.
Millions have answered the call to Overwatch, and the excitement of all those scientists, soldiers, adventurers, and oddities led directly to the creation of a new kind of esports program. Teams will have stability, players will have careers, and fans will have a new set of heroes to take them into the future of Overwatch.
What makes Overwatch League different from its peers, and how will it accomplish its goals?
After months of speculation concerning the future of Overwatch eSports, Blizzard has dropped their bomb: Overwatch League. Broad in scope, the new organization is charging out of the gate in hopes of becoming the biggest name in the game. Promising regionality, player and team stability and more, the Overwatch League is a daring stab at establishing a new kind of eSports ecosystem for Blizzard’s flagship title. But while there are some exciting details surrounding the league’s goals, there are still questions to be answered.
Let’s take a look at some of the most exciting tenets of the Overwatch League to see what we’ve learned thus far — and what details have yet to be revealed.
What we know: Teams will be regionally based
From what has been released so far, it is clear that Overwatch League plans to have teams represent cities all across the country, and eventually the world. This is the first time that any eSports conglomeration has attempted to split up competition by urban regions/media markets in the same way that traditional sports does.
It’s an interesting concept, for certain; traditional sports often receive a major boost from their hometowns. For instance, someone born in Boston is a lot more likely to be a Red Sox fan. Blizzard is counting on this as a way to build organic audiences to follow each team in the circuit, and it would be an opportunity for real national and international play to take root.
What we don't know: Will it work?
But despite regional teams being a fascinating idea, it brings to light a lot of other ideas that run counter to traditional eSports concepts. To start — what current eSports organization is going to be willing to relocate? Nearly every team in the United States is based out of Los Angeles, and it’s hard to imagine that all but one of them will want to base a new venture in a city halfway — or all the way — across the country. Regular city-to-city travel is not as common in eSports as it is in traditional sports; the League Championship Series, for example, takes place exclusively in Los Angeles during the season.
That said, it’s not clear Blizzard is targeting eSports organizations to run its new teams. So far no team partners have been announced, and while some existing teams have taken a look at Overwatch, not all of them have. It also doesn’t take a whole lot of looking to see that Blizzard has some influential contacts outside the eSports space. A trailer for the new Heroes of the Dorm documentary "A New Hero" features Rick Fox, owner of Echo Fox, but also features sports mogul Marc Cuban and baseball player Hunter Pence. Serena Williams was even in the Overwatch League opening trailer. Will the Dallas Mavericks run and gun in Overwatch as well?
What we know: Stability is important
The Overwatch League has already made every effort to show that the well-being of its players is a top priority. All players will be signed to full-time contracts with benefits, and given that teams will have guaranteed spots in the League, the issue of evaporating teams at the end of each season should be minimized, if not erased completely.
This has been one of the biggest issues in professional eSports to date, and if Blizzard can manage to mitigate the massive risk players take investing in an eSports career it will truly be game-changing. The path to pro Overwatch player also seems to be clarified, as high rankings online appear to lead into a preseason Overwatch combine of sorts.
What we don’t know: What will a combine do?
A combine is a concept that resonates with sports fans; prospective players show up, get tested and prove their propensity for the sport that they play. But in gaming, that’s not so simple. The key here is that in sports, people are tested for things like their speed, agility, strength and hand-eye coordination, as these physical attributes can separate players from the pack.
Gaming on the other hand doesn’t have those metrics. Players can be judged on their performance in-game, to be sure — but that kind of testing is significantly less objective. Having a clear route to professional gaming is great, so how this combine is structured will be interesting to see.
Regular in-person play
What we know: It’s happening
Once teams have been established and players have been signed to contracts, Overwatch League will commence with regular LAN play. While current information is not specific, it seems a fair assumption that this LAN play will occur across the country, with each city hosting matches against other teams. It will mark the first time that regular play will include a travel component. It will also bring live eSports to new markets that may not have experienced it before — the importance of which cannot be overstated.
What we don’t know: Do the people want it?
Opening up to new markets, however, is an inherent risk. Will the people of Boston, for example, show up every other week for an Overwatch competition? For that matter, will the long travel involved and LAN play from across the country improve the experience for players and viewers at home? It’s not completely clear.
But that’s a big part of all of this: With Overwatch League, Blizzard is taking a risk. To make an omelet, you have to crack some eggs, and Blizzard is showing it’s willing to do just that in order to make an eSports league that will stand the test of time. There’s a lot left to learn about the Overwatch League, but this announcement is a bold step toward regular national — and eventually international — pro competition.