BlizzCon 2019 had a number of exciting announcements and cinematics to leave Blizzard Entertainment fans bewitched. However, toward the end of this year’s opening ceremonies, Overwatch hopefuls received some surprising news; there was a sequel in the works. This all but confirmed most of ESPN’s report on the matter, but once the excitement of seeing the new designs and what was coming with Overwatch 2 died down, the announcement still left the crowd wondering “why?”
Why a Sequel?
Adding more resources to Overwatch’s story and elaborating on the PvE element of the game makes the general experience feel more ‘content dense’ and gives the more casual fans of Overwatch something to do outside of playing normal games, the ranked ladder and the arcade. This mimics a lot of the same feelings around what happened with Starcraft 2 and the introduction Co-op Commanders. From my understanding StarCraft 2, as a game, didn’t have much for the casual fan to sink their teeth into, outside of the competitive ladder. Blizzard added support for the StarCraft 2 Arcade, but it wasn’t enough to let the community just play with a sandbox--the game needed more support from a developmental level and Allied Commanders were their answer to that problem.Think of it that way. Overwatch 2 is Heroes of the Storm 2.0 or perhaps it could be compared to Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition. It’s a large addition to the base game that’s fleshing out the original intentions of the creators. So large, that it deserves its own title altogether.
What Does it Bring?
Overwatch 2 comes in with a bright new coat of paint that has definitely livened up the place. A handful of heroes have received sizeable visual updates, haircuts not included, and the user interface now boasts a much more simplistic and sharp look.Along with that comes Push, Overwatch’s newest “core” game mode that will be injected into both quick play and the ranked ladder once the game was released. The easiest way that I’ve found to explain the general concept of Push is to think about it like a map with a neutral payload. Two teams will then fight over controlling a strangely friendly robot who pushes your team’s “payload” (I know it’s a barricade, but bear with me).On top of that, Overwatch will be receiving what looks like an influx of around 2-4 new heroes with Overwatch 2’s release and speculation has already kicked off on who could possibly be. And as I alluded to earlier, the biggest change coming with Overwatch 2 is story-based PvE content. It seems like the team at Blizzard has seen how exciting the Overwatch: Archives events have been in the past and has taken them and expanded the principle of it’s design into the base of most of the story missions. As it stands currently, it looks to be locked to a four-player party that can go through more general Overwatch 2 story missions or “hero missions” which seem to be a more individualistic progression through one hero’s story.
What does this mean for Overwatch League?
It’s fairly obvious that Activision Blizzard wants to market the Overwatch League towards an audience who hasn’t been exposed to gaming and better yet esports. That’s why they’ve modeled it after traditional sports leagues and have pushed for television deals.With that in mind, is it so far fetched to assume they’d want an influx of people to be interested in the “game” again before the league begins traveling in 2020? Yes, in this circumstance we’d be looking to rely on a form of strange “trickle-up” viewership, where the league is attempting to take the more casual fan and move them “up” the Overwatch pyramid and convert them into Overwatch esports viewers. That isn’t inherently a bad thing. I’d argue that most esports are built on that foundation, the foundation that first, a game is popular, then the 0.001% of players rally together, either by their own design or through a third-party, to compete against one another. You almost never see a game that is designed to be an esport succeed. It’s always a popular multiplayer game that is taken, duct-taped to a rocket, and shot off into the esports atmosphere. With that said, building out the “base” of the Overwatch pyramid isn’t a bad thing. The worry I, and I believe others have as well, is the execution of this content and the implementation of systems to incentivize people to watch the Overwatch League. What I’m not worried about is the story. For the most part, Blizzard Entertainment does a good job with the overall story of their games. We won’t get into my opinions on some of their other IPs, but generally, I do believe this to be true. As of late, Blizzard’s PvE content in games like Diablo and World of Warcraft have not been stellar; if anything they’ve hit record lows. However, they are showing signs that these IPs are returning to the roots that built these franchises up and that have captivated fans for over a decade. With the success of World of Warcraft Classic and the new direction for both the new Warcraft expansion and for Diablo 4, things are looking much more positive on the conceptual side of things. While that doesn’t directly translate, it does show that they seem to have found their footing again and could see that same success in polishing up Overwatch 2’s PvE. On the flip side of that coin is the ambiguity of the “concept” of the game.In the past, I’ve been very critical of Blizzard for not having a strong identity for the game which causes a lack of foresight in the development of the game. As much as Overwatch is packaged and supposed to be a first-person shooter, it’s not. However, it’s also not completely a MOBA much like Dota 2 or League of Legends is. It’s somewhere in the middle. And I’m willing to admit my faulty argument, but my heart still worries that this confusion and lack of identity may bleed into story elements and could cause a large portion of Overwatch 2’s content to be dead on arrival. Let’s hope that’s not the case, for Overwatch’s sake.Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs 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.