Gift of the OWL: Speculation on the Aftermath and Benefits of the Overwatch League
Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch League has been a hot topic within the community since its announcement in November of 2016. Since the initial announcement, Blizzard has been very tight-lipped about any and all details, which have led many to speculate on what it could look like or even if it will succeed. Rather than trying to form a debate around the success chance of something we know nothing about, I thought it would be an interesting idea to look at the League and look for what comes “from” it. Meaning, “the Overwatch League is going to happen, but what happens to the scene after its launch? What can we guess might change after the Overwatch League is finally ready for lift off?”
The first question or concern that the Overwatch League starts to answer is the idea of “security” and “stability.” With a range of issues leading from the difficulty practicing the immense map pool to being able to test and work on counter strategies, does stability and security that the Overwatch League could bring, change and develop the metagame faster than the pace that is set right now? I’d argue, yes, and by a drastic amount. We’ve started seeing the limiting of the map pool by most tournaments, but this is only the beginning.
As Overwatch starts to leap off the diving board and into its second year, more great minds like Jake, Reinforce, and Cloud 9’s Head Coach, B1shop, will start to drive the metagame and push Overwatch forward. If you have the arm of, let’s say, the New England Patriots behind you, this alleviates a multitude of stressors that distract you away from the game. It is not about incentivisation, it’s about security and stability which allows teams and players alike to thrive and begin to churn out set-plays and other strategical counters that can help push the scene and punish those who can not adapt.
“When and where could be crucial on the deployment of the Overwatch League.”
With what we know now and who is reportedly involved, things are shifting and hopefully in a good way. Jonathan "Reinforce" Larsson had posted in a TwitLonger and sounded off on this exact topics. “Overwatch esports experienced quite a euphoric state last fall, with big tournaments, big prize money, and a lot of exposure. However, Contenders and Overwatch League got delayed, and thus we entered the phase of a deserted landscape. Organizations, rightfully so, dropped their teams, as they were wasting more money on essentially only practicing with little to no exposure for the monthly cost of running an Overwatch team. Players will say they're "threatening" to retire due to the stagnancy of the scene, but chances are, those players were already playing for part-time salaries to begin with, and so quitting real-life for a shot at the stars is something you'll have to accept the consequences of. It's not Blizzard's fault. Blizzard won't let Overwatch esports die before it even began, we've just experienced the prelude.” If Overwatch as an esport has not even begun yet, how can we say that we know exactly the best way to play the game? I would argue that we have not even come close to discovering what the optimal strategies are at the moment.
No one is pulling out risky, fringe strategies because everything is on the line. Each online cup, each minor tournament is almost just as important as the majors. One slight slip up at an online qualifier and that could spell disaster for a team. Each team has to stick with what they’ve practiced; they stick with the tried and true. Players just do not have the time or ability to be able to change or experiment too heavily with compositions and strategical picks. Everything has to be left on the table in every match to really cinch the victory to either move you deeper into the tournament or even win you the entire event. Perhaps there is an abstract technique that has yet to be discovered with Torbjorn? Who’s to say when Overwatch, as an esport, has not yet met its first “golden age”?
As a player, if you were guaranteed a secure and stable future as an Overwatch pro player, I would imagine that this would help any team’s ability to break open the metagame and fully utilize their tools and resources allotted to them by their organization. The proposed safety net that comes with a large scale organization backing your team gives you the freedom to start to really take Overwatch to the next level. One of those accommodations could be the absence of scrimmaging opposing teams, rather teams could keep the practice in the house.
“Doomfist is Overwatch’s newest hero, could he be the meta shift everyone has been waiting for?”
Earlier this year I wrote about the South Korean based Esports organization, Team KongDoo, and how they were a testament to how sister terms in esports start to foster talent in a breakneck speed. Case in point, KongDoo Panthera is now a grand finalist in the APEX Season 3 Overwatch League. Dubbing them “Kong Doomsday”, both teams have been relevant in all three season of the APEX League; that success stems from how we can assume they practice. They still likely to scrimmage other teams within the League, preferably on the other side of the brackets, but the information that both teams gather is another powerful tool. KongDoo has a rock solid 12 man squad that at any point, they could pull away and start to completely train in-house.
Having both the support and infrastructure behind you as a team allows them the time and ability to practice the game more efficiently across the board. This would seemingly mean more heroes diversity and possibly exploring different ways of holding on the map. Along with this, we could see more funding for coaches and analysts, and even more paid roster spots open up. Harkening back to the KongDoo method, or the “sister team” method, having 8-12 paid players is expensive, but cost effective to have that much power on the bench as well as having excellent practice partners.
With these things in mind, the professional community would have all the tools it needs to be able to more accurately optimize their own unique style of gameplay or to better define the metagame. Once you start to eliminate the cutthroat nature to Overwatch, in particular, and with the mention of Blizzard adding in the API to better calculate statistics—the game will change. One specific stats related topic that started to ring a mental alarm bells for me was when Mitch “Uber” Leslie stated this very idea in an interview I had with him.
“Statistics are a big thing. I know [they’re] coming, I know [Overwatch] will get there. One problem is that no one can look empirically at the statistics of a player and say ‘this guy is objectively better than this guy.’ Players can’t, in a lot of positions, display their ability outside of a qualitative way. Instead of saying ‘that looked good’ or ‘that looked bad,’ we should be able to say ‘that was objectively good, percentage-wise’ with statistics to backup our claims. The whole ecosystem changes when you have access to raw data. It’s not just in the game, it’s not just in the viewer experience, it’s the whole ecosystem and the way it will work—will change.”
Once one esport team has the luxury of taking full advantage of its resources, where funding is not an issue, the pure idea of excellence of competition and the pursuit of mastery really start to blossom. This “should” be the case once the Overwatch League rolls around. Yes, it could mean that the teams we know and love could be changed irreversibly, in terms of management and team structure, but the increase in competition and supplementary content should also see some benefits as well. (basically the more money we have in the scene the fewer problems we “should” have, much to the irritation of one Notorious B.I.G)
Once we see Western esports teams have the same backing as traditional sports teams, we should see an explosion of growth in the development of not only players, but the development of the organization itself. Now that we have a better idea of how much money we are actually talking about when it comes to the Overwatch League—thanks to Jacob Wolf, ESPN and everyone involved—we see more clearly the start of a metaphorical “trail of breadcrumbs” that could even lead us to an Overwatch esports renaissance.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLG’s of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.