The Future Of Overwatch As An eSport

Overwatch’s hype isn’t necessarily unfounded. It’s a new take on the FPS, it’s inclusive for all sorts of players and it’s made by Blizzard – the developer whose games seem to be inevitable successes.

In fact, there are over 7 million people that have played Overwatch already, so it’s a pretty much an instant victory for Blizzard. There’s a question though, one that desperately needs to be asked: does Overwatch have what it takes to become the next big eSport?

It’s a common question these days. With eSports as big as it is now, many games are pitched as a new eSport title, but is it so easy to predict? No one demanded Counter-Strike become a competitive sport, no one could predict League Of Legends would be watched by multiple millions.

And yet, for some reason, Overwatch was pitched as the ‘next big thing’, with Blizzard itself even insisting the game was being heavily considered – internally – as an eSport-centric title for the developer.

Right now it isn’t, though. It’s tough to watch and will require quite a bit of work if Blizzard is ever going to make it a popular sport. Because, sure, the hype is there now, but you can’t force a game to become an eSport, it has to be natural and once that hype dies down there will need to be changes to hold viewer interest.

Here’s what Overwatch needs to do to secure itself as an eSport:

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Improve Ability To Watch Overwatch eSports

This is the biggest sticking point for many tuning into the early Overwatch tournaments, and one that’s been raised by many of the eSports communities. The problem with any FPS game as an eSport is the ability to track the whole match, with such a fixed viewpoint it can be difficult for the viewer to read everything that is happening.

CS:GO gets around this by highlighting the positions and health of all players in the match, with elements like a well thrown grenade being followed by the camera. Admittedly CS:GO is a little slower and arguably more tactical than the likes of Overwatch, but this extra information helps viewers watch the match even without input from the casters.

We’re not saying this is the same answer that Overwatch should adopt, not at all. With larger health pools and more frenetic action, this perhaps wouldn’t work quite as well. But perhaps a free flying camera (controlled by the casters) with player icons above the characters heads would help guide the action.

There’s a lot going on at any one time in Overwatch, and all those fancy visual effects don’t help the ‘read’ of it at any one point either. Hopefully this is Blizzard’s biggest focus, because Overwatch as an eSport will live or die on how easy it is to keep track of.

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Official Blizzard Overwatch eSports Tournaments

And should Blizzard get the spectator mode figured out, then it’s next task should be to host official tournaments. We’ve no doubt they will, and already we’ve seen a couple of tournaments offering prize money – but arguably these early events were really intended to test the potential of Overwatch as an eSport. Or, more cynically, cash in on the hype.

Blizzard isn’t ignorant to the benefits of official events. It does with Hearthstone, Heroes Of The Storm and StarCraft II, but those games have very obvious eSports potential – Overwatch is still something of a question mark.

So it needs to host an official tournament sooner rather than later, firstly to capitalise on the heightened interest the game is currently receiving but secondly to bolster the number of high profile eSports organisations forming pro Overwatch teams. The more invested these organisations are, the more likely an eSports scene will naturally form behind the game.

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Standardised Modes For Competition

Simply put, there has to be standardisation in an eSport. Just like any physical sport there needs to be rules and expectations for the game to properly grow and nurture an understanding player base.

It’s harder for a game like Overwatch to maintain that sense of commonality across different tournaments since it is so heavily team-driven and objective focused. All the same, of the tournaments we’ve seen already none maintained any real regulation.

We’re not saying we should restrict certain game types or remove objectives – a Team Deathmatch mode in Overwatch simply would not make sense – but instead ensure that there are familiar threads across the spectrum of tourneys.

And sure, perhaps this is something that will occur more naturally than any input from Blizzard or high-profile events. This is still a relatively new game – despite its open beta period lasting practically forever – and so finding the modes and playstyles that suit the wider eSports community is yet to be discovered, but there needs to be some standardisation here.

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Better Explanation Surrounding Team Comp, Map Callouts

Again, since Overwatch is such a new game it might be a little tough to force this one. CS:GO’s very specific map callouts – for example – have had years to evolve.

Overwatch will follow the same evolution if it’s going to become the newest thing in eSports, but by that same virtue further effort needs to be put into providing the right explanation. In particular, casters will need to understand the intricate details of each character to offer info on why a particular character is successful in any given situation.

It’s important for casters to learn which hero will be more useful and when, and offer that information in any downtime. Explaining why a team has chosen a particular tank or support is detail that viewers not only want to know, they need to know if they’re to follow the strategy of the game.

Think of League Of Legends: why does one team ban a particular champion? Is it because they know that champion will heavily counter a character they want to use? Is it because that team knows one of their opponents excels with that character? It’s elements like this that need to be discussed as part of a match, and Overwatch needs the same.

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Manage Hero Balancing Better

If you’ve played Overwatch at all then you’ll already know the pain that is a well defended Bastion. He’s something of a nuisance since he deals such heavy damage and maintains a heavy defense with his turret.

There are ways of navigating such a problem, of course, and a good team will utilise various tools within the arsenal of heroes to overcome him – but it still highlights the issues with balancing currently. Bastion might be a pest for the general public, but in terms of mechanics and numbers there needs to be a good focus on finding the right balance for all heroes.

Blizzard hasn’t detailed any specifics, but it has already confirmed that some heroes will be the target of the first patch. D.Va and McCree, specifically, have been named, heroes that aren’t notoriously frustrating targets to encounter – unlike Bastion – proving that the developer is paying attention not only to the grumbles of the wider community, but understanding the intricate needs of an eSports player.

Whether there will ever be a perfect balance it’s difficult to say. Riot Games might like to mix up its balancing of champions with incredible pace, but Overwatch can’t be allowed to suffer such a fickle balancing pattern. There needs to be a solid balance discovered, and sooner rather than later.

If Blizzard manages that, it’ll only need to reconvene with each new hero added to the roster.

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