eSports Levels Up: The Overwatch League
Posted on January 15, 2018
We’ve already talked a little about eSports in CS:GO and also fighting games, and if you know me you will have heard me rant about how much I love Overwatch. Well now the two have come together into perhaps the most impressive development in eSports we’ve ever seen: The Overwatch League, which started its regular season this week. If someone you know is into Overwatch, you might want to read on so you can have a conversation with them.
What is the Overwatch League (OWL)?
Put simply, OWL is a global league designed to support a professional competition in Overwatch. That’s right – if you’re not familiar with the concept of eSports, what happens is that very highly skilled players in a given game actually compete against each other professionally, for prizes, fame, and now a salary (there is even contracts and stuff!). The best way to understand it is just like traditional sports: anyone can play, and you can play for fun or competitively, but only those who are really dedicated and train very hard will get to the highest echelons of the competition. For a quick summary, watch below:
Who are the teams?
The teams are all city-based, and although it is billed as a global league, so most of the twelve teams are US-based. Blizzard have obviously gone with the cities that have the highest fan base: there are two Los Angeles-based teams, two Texas-based (Houston and Dallas), New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and London. Disappointingly at this stage there is not yet an Australian team but Blizzard have made it clear that it is on the cards – we just have to get an owner prepared to pitch for a team and back the enterprise.
Who are the players?
Well, as a global league players don’t need to come from the country or city that their team is based in, so teams are able to attract the best players they can afford. At the moment Korea absolutely dominates the eSports scene: Starcraft and Starcraft 2 has been a massive basis for eSports in Korea for decades, so they have the skilled players, infrastructure, and fan base to be able to export players all over the world. So in addition to having their own team (Seoul Dynasty), Koreans make up the entire roster of at least two other teams (New York and London) and have at least a player or two in every other team. Apart from that there are a lot of Americans, some Europeans and even an Australian or two.
Where do you watch it?
The season proceeds through weekly tournaments with each team playing around twice, and there are three series (matches) a day, three days a week. They are all viewable live or via streaming on YouTube or especially TwitchTV, the home of gaming spectatorship. I can see in the near future (or last Saturday) people gathering to watch a match or two, especially as the finals near. Be warned though – the action is very quick and like any sport you do kind o need to know what’s going on to understand and appreciate it – but you could surely find someone who could hep explain it to you.
Who can get into the League?
That is one of the wonderful things about OWL: it is literally open to anyone, and there is no age cap (but obviously, don’t drop out of school kids). If you are a very (very) good player and rank well in the standard competitive mode when playing at home, you will want to think about entering third-parties competitions and raising your profile through streaming (Twitch again), social media, and any kinds of publicity you can gather. By attracting enough attention to your prowess you may get scouted by a team from anywhere – but you would need to be able to move to Los Angeles where most of the matches seem to happen at the moment. So it’s a genuinely democratic League – a but like footy or cricket, where any good young player with enough skill has the chance to get picked up by a big team.
Which team should I support?
Well, Seoul Dynasty, naturally! (They are my team.) There are a couple of reasons I have picked them: they genuinely have some of the most incredible talent in the world right now, and it is just so impressive to watch such skill, strategy and teamwork. Also as their name suggests they undoubtedly have the strongest pedigree in eSports: without the energy and passion of the Korean scene we may never have seen an OWL. I have a few good friends from Korea so although I have never visited, it is close to my heart and from what I’ve seen the players and fans are very humble and show excellent sportsmanship with none of the bro-like attitude we see from some the US-based fans. And finally, they just have the coolest colours in the League: none of these eye-popping brights or drab pastels… Seoul Dynasty sports a totally boss black/yellow combination.
So that’s it: the basis for my first real sporting obsession, and I suspect it’s the same for many people. Sure, there is big money involved (I’ve never been more content to watch ads in the middle of a streamed video though), and it’s designed to ell more of the game and get people to play it more. But if you’re into video games and care about the culture that surrounds them, this is a historical moment that we may remember well when the viewership of eSports outstrips that of traditional sports. Watch this space!