PAX Aus 2017: My First eSports Experience

Posted on December 4, 2017

We’ve written previously about eSports: James introduced us to the world of CS:GO here and we reported on a big fighting games tournament here, but tournaments in many different games are also a huge feature of Penny Arcade Expo. Well this year, given my enthusiasm for Overwatch (it even has its own lingo), I had the crazy notion of joining the Overwatch tournament this year. Also, we won!!! (well sort of: scroll to the bottom for the disclaimer). For a brief intro to the standard competitive mode of Overwatch, watch below (it’s a bit dated though):

To start with, I am not a hugely competitive person: I’ve never been into team sports (even spectating), and my preference is for ‘couch-coop’ and collaborative games. But something about Overwatch makes me want to get more serious with it: perhaps it’s because it’s easy to learn but hard to master; maybe it’s because it draws on a completely different skillset than just twitch-reflex shooting; or maybe it’s because it’s about a genuine team effort and how you all pull together to make it work. Anyway I thought I’d give it a try.

While there were many groups of four, five, and even six teams ready-formed to enter into the competition (some with pre-set team names and even t-shirts!) I went in alone, and joined a group of three friends and two other randoms to make up our team of six. The night included a whole lot of waiting – waiting for the teams to form and get recorded, waiting for the rounds ahead of us to happen. In any case I met some great guys during this time and we now catch up online to play occasionally. In the meantime we watched the other matches happening (I can watch good players for hours) and discussed our strategy in broad terms. I didn’t really think we had a chance of getting very far but it was very exciting and a lot of fun to just be in the atmosphere with other lovers of the game.

Our first round was an open book – neither team had played before so we had no expectations. The game was close but we won comfortably: I played my favourite (but not my best) character Junkrat in the first round before swapping out to Soldier (my main) in the second, so another player could take Junkie. The second round we were much more concerned – we had seen our opponents in their previous round and they were very strong, with a dominating Zarya (a tank – a crucial tactical class) and good support and teamwork. I have no idea how it happened but we trounced this team in what was our second round, passing easily into the finals. (Note: we had a very very good player on McCree which was probably a major factor.)

The tension was increasing and we now had the opportunity to watch both the other teams in their final rounds. These were marred by lots of disconnection issues which made it a very long and frustrating night, not least for the organisers who did a great job under trying circumstances. But the standout team was the ‘Young Gunz’ – these kids were about ten and they were good. Like really, really, scarily good. They each played their role of their characters exceptionally well: they were all skilled individually but also excelled in communication and teamwork: they were always there to back each other up when they needed with just the right balance of lone-wolf strategy as well. I will never forget watching one kid play the most deadly Pharah I have ever seen. These guys are the future of competitive gaming.

You're a winner, baby! (Well, sort of)

You’re a winner, baby! (Well, sort of)

So when we went into our match with them we were worried, and pretty sure that the best we could do is put up a good fight. The round started and they took the first point – we were on the back foot instantly, and very worried because we had a hard road ahead. It was the Nepal ‘Village’ map, with a point which is notoriously hard to capture if the other team is holding it well. Somehow, though, when they had 31% we took the point and managed to hold it well. We were at 57% with just minutes until our glorious win – my heart was pounding as I couldn’t believe that we might actually win against this awesome team. Then – disconnect. Game over, no result.

This was absolutely not the fault of PAX – the Enforcers facilitating the tourney were dong a great job but it had already gone 90 minutes beyond the scheduled time, so we had to call it with a random distribution of the medals. I got lucky and won one. So although we didn’t lose a round and were well on track to winning legitimately, I only got the medal through a combination of good play and good luck, so it was a bittersweet victory. But hey, I got a medal.

Ultimately it was all for the fun anyway – and it was an amazing, really fantastic experience that I can’t wait to do again. I am now playing Overwatch in Competitive mode more and enjoying the extra challenge, and very excited to hear that Blizzard is building a global Overwatch league that will mirror the structure of traditional sports. I can’t wait to do a tournament again, so I’ll report again on PAX 2018.

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