Professional Overwatch: Potential on a Rough Path

Overwatch may be turning heads but it still has some questions to answer and problems to fix as an esport.

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Credit: Official Overwatch Art Book

Since its release, Overwatch has been steadily ramping as a competitive game with hopes of launching a vibrant pro scene. With news that OGN will be creating an Overwatch league with well-known casters at the head, Overwatch’s professional viability is only growing. I hoped to talk about some of the various hurdles that Overwatch will have to overcome. To create a scene to rival that of the current titans of the Esports world, Overwatch does have work cut out for it.

Standing Among the Pantheon

Right now, my own opinion is that Overwatch came into the professional gaming scene at the best of times – and simultaneously, the most dangerous. At the moment, there are three big titles that are crowding up at the top of the charts when it comes to viewership: League of Legends, DOTA2 and CS:GO. There are other games that feature large pro scenes such as Hearthstone and SMITE but I’m focusing on the top three.

In terms of how this is the best and the worst, there’s something of a renaissance going on in pro gaming.  With viewers up and money investments rising, Overwatch arrived at a time where the game has all the tools to carve out its own niche. To truly stand on its own, Overwatch will have to stand proud next to these other games with massive fanbases and followings.

Right now, Overwatch has pulled in respectable numbers on Twitch even in the last thirty days. These aren’t numbers like TI or Worlds but they’re decent numbers for a game that’s just under six months old. There IS a viewer base to be had here. The problem is getting it to grow and expand as the game takes root in the pro scene. These viewers are good but not good enough.

The Console Factor

Credit: Techradar.com
Credit: Techradar.com

A unique thing that Overwatch brings to the table unlike the LoL/DoTA/CS:GO trinity is the console playerbase. While we don’t have numbers, let’s haphazard a guess and say somewhere between thirty-to-fifty percent of the playerbase uses a console to play the game.

An example would be SMITE, which started as a PC Game but made way to consoles. There are separate scenes for the game, each with their own intricacies and players. Usually, when one considers a pro scene, they usually stick to one platform. Likewise, SMITE pulls in numbers but overall is much smaller than any of the big three listed in the previous paragraph. That said, SMITE started on PC and eventually moved to consoles. Conversely, Overwatch launched on all platforms.

There is also the example of how Overwatch has made specific balance adjustments aimed at the different versions. With things like Torbjorn’s console-specific nerf, how far can these changes go? If Overwatch tries to balance pro play between two consoles, it could drastically increase Blizzard’s work load. This could lead to more drastic changes and a deeper divide between consoles and PC.

The question to ponder is how this divide will help or hurt Overwatch’s developing scene. It’s quite possible that Overwatch may always have a massive portion of the players be an untapped market simply due to console exclusivity.

My Own Worst Enemy

Overwatch’s largest hurdle might be the game’s own systems however. Watching the game itself has been problematic due to the lackluster spectator system as well as merely how hectic the game is. In combining many aspects of the MOBA and FPS genres, Overwatch has created something else entirely. Something that might just be too crazy to watch.

The spectator system for Overwatch at the present time isn’t great. The spectator feature is fairly bare bones and Blizzard themselves have confirmed that they want to improve it. Yet Blizzard has also said that there are more pressing matters to handle. While pros can argue replays are more useful, the spectator client is what will get players invested. If the game is hard to watch, that might just be too much for fledgling players to enjoy.

The game itself is incredibly complex when it comes to the things that go on in a teamfight. With the twitch-based FPS action and MOBA elements, casters may have a tough time getting all their info out quickly. This strikes me as an incredibly packed experience casters have to analyze in short, ten minute matches. I can’t say my hopes are high but it IS possible to do, especially for experienced casters like MonteCristo and DoA.

Most of this falls on Blizzard, which is why this is probably the hardest category to tackle. Blizzard already has a massive player base and many of those players are casuals who simply play for their enjoyment. Blizzard may have to make a choice that has unseen ramifications on the pro players/pro scene.

Igniting the Flame

Overwatch passed a dangerous time of its lifespan when it came merely existing. After the launch and some time, Overwatch still has tons of players. Overwatch still competes with and sometimes surpasses League of Legends in PC Bangs. It’s an evolving landscape with everyone rushing to set up shop in hopes that it’ll explode.

The only possible recourse is to watch what happens. It falls upon many parties, from Blizzard to teams to personalities who will draw in the players. Nobody can certainly say if all the money and effort placed into Overwatch will pay off but there is interest. The question is if that spark of interest will turn into a forest fire or a dull candle.

David "Captain Marvelous" Rizzo. Writer/Communications professional. Primarily writing content for League/Overwatch/Hearthstone.