Blizzard has gone all in on trying to install Overwatch as a top esport. They’ve built leagues both for top end pro players and aspiring entry levels. Teams are being created and funded for big sums of money, yet the game hasn’t quite caught on within the scene.
Regardless of its undeniable mass appeal, Overwatch simply does not crack it as a spectator sport. But why? How does a game so high up on Twitch’s daily viewings fails to convert as a digestible competitive viewing experience?
At the heart of Overwatch is the concept of chaos. During any given match, there is little to no downtime. The action spills out in a near constant stream. Each hero’s unique abilities create a storm of effects and engagements. Ultimates echo throughout the map, changing the flow of the game. That’s 12 different ultimates to pay attention to. 12 different heroes with 3 basic skills each. It’s a whole lot of noise for one screen.
The biggest esports tend to be a much more precise affair. MOBAS such as League of Legends and DOTA2 can be easily viewed while maintaining a solid idea of what is going on. It’s the same for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, each player breaks down into a position onto the map to fill a role within the team. The lack of constant action welcomes the ability to effectively spectate. Overwatch simply cannot do the same.
Try has they might, many tournaments and casters have made valiant efforts screen Overwatch in such ways. Zoomed out camera points, multiple follow cams and numerous replays do little to overcome the issues. In a bittersweet realisation, the very thing that makes Overwatch so fun is the biggest factor in its struggles to crack the esport scene.
One trait all popular esport games have is the importance placed on death. In most MOBA titles and Counter-Strike, a single death can spell disaster. Not only does it take the player out of the action, but the economic effect can change the face of a game. With all the consequences surrounding death, it creates a genuine sense of drama for the viewers and casters.
Additionally, risky plays result in memorable moments. Spectator interest swells as players push the limits of their ability confined to the situation they find themselves. Holding off a bomb site alone against a full enemy team. Picking off a high bounty target to turn the tide of the game. Pulling off a slick dodge only to return with a killer combo to claim the win. None of these would mean a thing if death didn’t have such a huge impact on their respective game.
Overwatch may produce many a thrilling moment, but it lacks the impact of other titles. Death is merely shrugged off as a few seconds of waiting. Teams will commit suicide to synch up with team respawns. The idea of death having a profound consequence is completely nullified.
Obviously, the before mentioned factors aren’t the only reason Overwatch has struggled to become an esport staple. Blizzard has been trying to find their way back to the top of the scene for some time now. After the decline of Starcraft 2’s pro-scene, they’ve struggled to establish themselves as top dogs. Heroes of the Storm, much like Overwatch, never threatened the top tier of the current esport crop.
The sheer amount of money and effort pumped into trying to elevate Overwatch’s esport standing proves Blizzard mean business. Signals of intent won’t be enough. Until the basic problems are addressed, if they can be, Overwatch may have to settle for life outside of the top tier, firmly in its competitor’s shadows.