1. High Production Values: The production values for all Blizzard games is usually top-notch, and there is no exception with The Overwatch League. The pop-over replays, quality announcers and look and feel of the OWL brings the game to life for seasoned players as well as being visually friendly to new viewers. The entire event straddles the line between a professional event and what one thinks of when they hear the word eSports; yet, it avoids that tackiness and cringe that usually accompanies the latter.
2. Fandom: Lacking the history of traditional sports, eSports has to not only provide an interesting event but also attempt to create a fandom out of their new eSport. Any sport worth its weight is able to create story-lines among the teams and its players throughout the season. Luckily, many of these players have been in the eSports game for a while, so they brought along fans of their own.
Â The Overwatch Leagueâ€™s marquee match-up between Seoul Dynasty and Dallas Fuel lived up to its hype. The match-up garnered an OWL high of 437,000 viewers. Add into the fact that many players are also streamers, and you have some nice free PR.
3. Map rotation a bit stagnant? There are a predetermined number of stages per each matchup that will take place in the first part of the season representing approximately four weeks. With twelve teams, the math works out to easily reason why Blizzard is limiting the number of maps: parity. Each team will play each map the same number of times allowing the league to shake out its standings. Having said that, from the standpoint of a fan, it can get a bit tiresome seeing the same maps. Personally, itâ€™s not a big issue since I am more interested in the matchups than the map itself, but I can see where others may want more variety.
4. Conveying Key Plays: Overwatch is an extremely nuanced game. Often times the key plays are made when characters are flanking or diving around to take out a support character in the back; unfortunately, this is something that was often missed since the cameras were focused on team battles in the middle of the map. The OWL announcers did a great job of mentioning it during the live broadcast, but it was a bit flippant since there is little downtime unlike in the other major sports where thereâ€™s a copious amount of time to analyze key plays. The omissions didnâ€™t detract from the matches, and I do commend them for pointing these plays out in their after-match recaps.
5. Future Trending Up: Blizzard revealed that they had over 10 million viewers across the various avenues streaming the matches (notably Twitch, MLG Network and a number of Chinese outlets) which they have to be thrilled about! This number is almost assuredly going to go one direction… Down. And, it isnâ€™t some anomaly. The hype machine will drive viewers to see what OWL is all about opening weekend, and the number will settle a bit lower in the coming weeks. Thatâ€™s not to say that the future doesnâ€™t look bright for the OWL and its players. With what I believe will be an enormously successful first season, the OWL will begin adding expansion teams to the mix adding depth to the league itself.
The OWL is not the industry’s first foray into eSports, but it may be the most impactful. With a reported franchise fee of $20 million (as reported by ESPN), Blizzard is setting the bar high for well-known investors (namely those in other sports) to help encourage the leagueâ€™s growth. Whereas other eSports have penetrated the gaming market, few have the ability to permeate the general public as The OWL.