For a game released in May 2016, to be crowned ‘Best new esports title’ in November is quite a feat.
It would be underplaying it a little to say that Blizzard’s Overwatch has had a dazzling six months as new titles go.
From reaching a reported 20 million accounts in October, to tournaments such as the Overwatch Open by FACEIT and ELEAGUE in July, and the recently announced Overwatch League featuring Serena Williams in the promo, its victory in this category was no great surprise.
In the inaugural Esports Industry Awards (check all the winners here), held at the Brewery in London last week, it saw off some strong competitors including Rocket League which has gained a sizable cult fanbase and some reasonably well financed tournaments, FIFA 16 which has seen a surge in the latter part of the year, and the hugely popular mobile title Vainglory. Other finalists included Street Fighter V and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.
With regular announcements of new tournaments and teams Overwatch is undoubtedly a title which is only just getting started. After its foray with FACEIT in summer, there are rumours that ELEAGUE will be doing more with Overwatch in the near future. It’s the potential of the Overwatch League however which is the most intriguing.
Such a localised format has not been tried out on such a scale in esports before. Akin to traditional sports, teams will be regionally based with major cities across the States initially, and later worldwide, represented. One of the promotional videos states that the owners of each team must successfully bid for their location, and that once this has happened teams will have a guaranteed place in the league. This is a bid to ensure stability for teams in the long term.
The idea is an interesting one, and the draw of supporting your home city team is a tried and tested routine. Whether the current major orgs will be ready and willing to invest is questionable however and little has been confirmed yet as to how this will work for teams with current Overwatch rosters. At an event recently in Los Angeles, Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne said: “Cloud9 has global fans, so becoming Cloud9 Dallas for instance, could be detrimental in that it alienates some of these.”
These are fears which must be allayed by Blizzard if one aim is to attract multiple current top teams. As of the time of writing we’re in a position in which a lack of detailed information of the league means we can only speculate on certain details.
Another facet of the Overwatch League is its seeming commitment to stability for players as well as teams. All players will be signed to a full-time contracts with compensation and benefits, and there will be regular LAN competitions for them to showcase themselves. Part of the mission of the Overwatch League is to create ‘stars’ and establish the league as a professional career path “open to any and all of the world’s most competitive players”.
As with any new league format in a sport Blizzard is taking a risk here. No teams have yet to officially commit, and whether fans will be willing to travel city to city regularly to support their club is equally uncertain. That said, what we’ve seen so far looks exciting and undoubtedly it has a great chance to replicate the success of the format in traditional sports.
Esports Insider says: In its debut year, of which it existed for only 8 months, Overwatch was a huge success. It thoroughly deserved ‘Best Newcomer’ in the Esports Industry Awards and with plentiful plans afoot this is a title which shows no sign of slowing down. If the new regional league takes off, 2017 could well be ‘the year of Overwatch’.