Overwatch: The next big eSport?

After multiple beta tests, Blizzard Entertainment’s eagerly awaited next title is about to arrive. The game has been positively received by the community thus far, with 9.7 million players participating in the beta, playing in 37 million matches – this reception alone is pointing to Overwatch being a home run. It’s no secret that Blizzard have esports on their mind, and so do many others, with big esport organisations like Cloud9 and Team Liquid already picking up teams. With the announcement of Australia/New Zealand’s first Overwatch tournament, it is clear that there is going to be a competitive scene, though its potential size is hard to predict. Is Overwatch the next big esport?

There are many different games being played competitively, but most scenes are small – particularly when compared to the likes of League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Where Overwatch will sit on that scale will depend on how enjoyable it is from a spectator’s perspective. There are several issues that could potentially limit the game’s success:

First person view and pacing

There is an inherent flaw in first person games when it comes to esports – the point of view. Since all the action is seen through one perspective, there is a lot of action the spectators will miss just because of the nature of the game’s design. Counter Strike: Global Offensive suffers from the same problem, however it compensates with the fast, lethal and action packed short rounds. Overwatch doesn’t have the same short round system, which could possibly make the game tedious to watch. Blizzard is still trying to work out the best form of competitive play, with the tournaments already played using the stopwatch (who completes the map the fastest) format.

Game impact and meaningful payoff

If you have ever watched a slow League of Legends game – where both sides are playing passive and have felt bored – or even a slow traditional sports game where there is low scoring – then you’ve experienced watching a game with low payoff*. To further compare to Counter Strike, Overwatch lacks the meaningful kills that Counter Strike has. Once a player is killed in Counter Strike, they’re out for good. The round is significantly impacted from a single kill and teams have to react accordingly. Overwatch doesn’t have that same impact due to the respawn system of the game. Of course, time spent dead is going to affect the game, but it doesn’t quite create the same tension since it’s hard to weigh the impact of total time spent dead over a game, whereas a player being taken out permanently is much easier to judge. As a player, respawning quickly is great as it gets you right back into the game;  from a viewer’s perspective, seeing a player get a kill only for that opponent to come back ten seconds later loses a lot of meaning. Overwatch only has a few of these high impact moments – final pushes, for example.

Shutouts and stomps

Most games can be pretty stale when one team is simply more skilled than their opponents and it will be no different in Overwatch – in fact, it may be worse. A team on defence that is superior to the opposing team could end up in the viewer watching one side being killed out of spawn until the timer runs out. On the other side of that coin, a one sided match on offense would mean watching the payload slowly but consistently move to its destination (picture Reinhardt sitting on the payload, shield up, all the way to the end). How this will compare to shutouts in other games is hard to say – but it certainly doesn’t bode well.

What the game does have going for it?

A heavyweight game studio behind it

Despite all its flaws (potential or otherwise), Overwatch has a head start that many games trying to break into esports don’t. The biggest head start the game has is that it has its game developer fully behind it. Blizzard announced its very own esports division last October and followed up with acquiring Major League Gaming January this year, and has clearly made Overwatch with esports in mind. Blizzard are not just going to let the game sit in a static state and there are already more heroes planned to be released in the future, which will help keep the game fresh. The combination of Blizzard’s financial support and the immense experience that the renowned game developer has is a comforting thought for the future of the game.

The potential to greatly reward teamwork

Teams that play well together have surpassed teams composed of individually skilled players, with both Counter Logic Gaming’s LoL and CS:GO teams being great examples of this. Games that have developed a strong teamwork centred play style have largely increased in quality from a spectator’s perspective, and Overwatch has the perfect formula to reward such a style. Overwatch’s design of unique champions – each with their own strengths and weaknesses – places great importance on building a team composition that synergises. A team that can execute these team compositions in unison is what will separate the good from the best. From the limited games played in the beta, teams with strong teamwork overpower disorganised ones and the skilled individuals who try to put their team on their backs. United pushes and bolstered lines look to be the way to victory, not scattered skirmishes and one verse ones.

Loads of fun!

Finally, the game world and design is entertaining, and with the large amount of different interactions between heroes and strategies, it should make for some interesting games!

*This is not to say all low scoring games are boring as some are caused by closely competitive teams that are demonstrating high level, technical play.