Overwatch and Esports on ESPN
Blizzard’s Overwatch is a game that quickly took the spotlight during its release in May of 2016. Blizzard’s developers truly wanted to create a game that emphasized fun, ensuring that a wide variety of characters would fit a variety of play styles. Due to the overemphasized fun play style and intentionally diverse characters, Overwatch has won many awards since its release including Game of the Year at The Game Awards, D.I.C.E. Awards and Game Developers’ Choice Awards (*1). These characters are each given a lot of personality, trading voice lines in spawn before matches officially start and giving quick little one-liners during kills, even commenting on the actions of other characters as the match plays out. This makes the characters feel like actual characters instead of just a vessel for the player to puppeteer throughout a match. As far as general gameplay, there are a few different game modes including capturing objectives, team elimination and escorting a payload into enemy lines. Matches are usually pretty quick, ten minutes being on the longer side of match time lengths. Making for the perfect environment for the most competitive players and the more casual ones alike. Combining the vast diversity of characters with fun and exciting interactive maps, each of which having their own quirky bits of flavor thrown in, Overwatch continues to be one of the most popular first-person shooters in the modern-day, even finding its own place in Esports that are televised on ESPN.
ESPN is pretty new to the Esports scene. Originally making its debut on July 27th, 2018, and officially being the first TV network to air professional gaming (*2). Where there is competitive, professional gaming, there is often Overwatch. The professional Overwatch scene is very different from casual Overwatch, things can happen in the blink of an eye that completely shift the momentum of a match. Professional gaming, just like professional sports, is divided into teams and leagues. These teams practice with each other for thousands of hours, showing the same dedication to Esports that any athlete shows in their respective sport. There are twelve teams in the Overwatch League (OWL). Much like the game, these teams are incredibly diverse, showing representatives from many places such as New York City and Boston to Seoul and Shanghai. All of which have their own unique strategies and play styles that they have developed together over their extensive practice sessions. The league is divided into stages, the top four teams of each stage meet in a playoff bracket where the team in first place, amongst these winning teams, chooses their first-round opponents. The winner of the stage finals wins a prize of $100,000 while the next runner-up wins $25,000. There is also a postseason tournament which has only six teams, the first-place finisher from the original season earn a first-round bye and the other five spots are filled by the teams with the best Win/Lose ratio from the season.
The finals of this year’s Overwatch League consisted of six teams. New York Excelsior in first place with 36 wins and 6 loses. Los Angeles Valiant in second place with 27 wins and 13 loses. Next is Boston Uprising, with a win/loss ratio of 26/14. Followed by Los Angeles Gladiators who are close behind at 25/15. The last two teams are London Spitfire and Philadelphia Fusion, who are tied with a win/loss ratio of 24/16. As these numbers reflect, New York Excelsior has a very comfortable lead with nine more wins than the second-place team, Los Angeles Valiant. For this two-day tournament with the London Spitfire winning it all, the viewership was somewhat meager in comparison to other sports that debut on ESPN, with just north of a million viewers worldwide (*3). These numbers are fantastic for Esports but for sports as a whole, they are a bit lackluster. The average football game rakes in 205 million views on average. These numbers are staggering but they reflect that over 70% of all people with a television will follow football as a whole, especially when their favorite team is playing (*4).
This brings me to my final point, which is, in my opinion, do I feel as though Esports including Overwatch tournaments, and perhaps even Hearthstone or other strategy based single player games, have a spot on ESPN or even just as a mainstream form of entertainment in general. Personally, I think that even though the numbers of viewership where low from ESPN’s perspective, they will continue to grow at a somewhat slow pace and remain on mainstream television. That brings me to the topic, however, of who cares? While having a dedicated televised platform would do amazing things for Esports as a whole, I can’t help but wonder if it truly matters where such tournaments are broadcast at all. Platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and even Discord have ways of streaming gameplay and have been doing so for years prior to ESPN jumping on the bandwagon. I think that it is a great thing for Esports to be recognized as a true sport, there is a lot of practice and dedication that has to go into being a competitive team, let alone winning at a competitive match paired against the best of the best worldwide players. Things like quick communication and lightning-fast reaction times need to be paired with very minute movements of the hand and wrist to line up proper headshots and to get the valuable kills or objective captures that are necessary. There truly is far more to competitive gaming than just a team of “nerds” sitting together and playing a game together, their dedication is recognized by ESPN, which in turn, leads in the right direction for Esports to be recognized properly worldwide. To wrap it all up, I do believe that Esports has a solid grasp on its future, a future that will be very successful. Regardless as to whether or not ESPN, or any televised corporation, continue to host events, Esports has a bright future.
*1: Blizzard Entertainment 2016
*2: Erin Winnick, technologyreview.com, July 12th 2018 https://www.technologyreview.com/the…in-prime-time/
*3 and *4: Chris Chase, ftw.usatoday.com, November 15th 2015, https://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/11/nfl…-local-markets
*Overwatch League stats and roster: Blizzard Entertainment 2018, Overwatch League, https://overwatchleague.com/en-us/st…son/1/playoffs