NOTE: This is intended as a guide to those who are brand new to watching Overwatch as an esport. While it can be useful to those who play the game but are new to the world of spectating, it will be written for those that have little to no prior knowledge of the game.
Esports in general have a large hurdle for new viewers because they are (usually) fast paced and involve an extensive vocabulary that is unique to the game. Overwatch is one of the most complex esports to watch as it takes both of those aspects to the extreme. However, once you get past all that and figure out the key parts to pay attention to, it can be incredibly engaging and exciting.
How to Watch Overwatch
The video below shows a particularly intense moment from a recent Overwatch League Game. While it will likely seem like a confusing mess right now, by the end of this article you should be able to understand the basics of what is happening here.
Of course, there are countless nuances of the game that may not all be completely grasped even after many hours of spectating. However, the bare bones of the game are simple enough to understand.
The structure of a competitive Overwatch game is set up like a tennis match. They play a series of rounds, or maps that each have smaller goals. At the end of the day, the team that achieves more of these goals wins the map, and the team with the most maps taken wins the game.
Though there are different map types with slightly different goals, it all comes down to the same thing: essentially a big game of King of the Hill. Teams need to secure either Points (designated areas on the map) or the Payload (a mobile point) by being there when the other team is not. That’s it. Whichever team takes control of more points, or moves the payload the farthest (it moves while the attacking team has control) wins the map. Whichever team takes the most maps, wins the game. Nearly every other aspect of this complex game is a way to achieve this end.
Figuring Things Out
There is a lot going on when you first look at the screen. It appears full of random numbers and meaningless words that you have never seen before. With just a bit of context though, these become your key to understanding the basics of the game.
In the top corners are the team names with their season record, and next to each name is the number of maps they have taken so far this game. When applicable, there are also indicators for which team is on offense (Guangzhou Charge in this example) and on defense. (Figure 1)
Between the boxes containing the team information is a section with information on the map. Map X of 4 simply shows how many maps have been played thus far. Directly below that will be a phrase indicating the type of map that is currently being played. To either side of that is the most important part for beginners, as it contains the “score” for each team. These numbers indicate how many points have been secured by each team, and when the map is done, the team with more gets the victory. (Figure 2)
Because of how the game is viewed, it is very hard to keep track of how every member of each team is doing at any given time by watching the action. Luckily, the essential information is always available at the top of the map. (Figure 3) These bars contain both the player names and pictures of the Heroes they are playing, but for new viewers, that likely will not mean much. Instead, focus on the bar underneath the pictures which represents each players health, and the number next to the pictures which represents how close they are to earning their Ultimate. An ultimate is an especially powerful ability that can only be used once it is “earned” by doing productive things in the game. Using ultimates at the right time can be very powerful, so the closer these numbers are to 100%, the closer the team is to full power for the next fight. (Figure 3)
Overwatch is a game built around big, crazy team fights, often with 12 characters in view all fighting to kill the enemy while staying alive. Even veteran viewers can get a little confused trying to keep track of everything going on during these fights. Luckily, there is something provided to help with this too: the Kill Feed. On the right side of the screen, a list pops up when one player kills another. The player that shows up on the left side (color coded by team to make things easier) has killed the player on the right, taking them out of the fight and sending them back to their base for several seconds. Though games are not won by who gets more kills, the team with the numbers advantage will often have a big advantage for the things that do matter, so frequently showing up on the correct side of the kill feed is a good indicator of which team is doing well. (Figure 4)
The bottom left of the screen provides information on the player whose perspective you are seeing on the screen. The color of the bar behind their name will match the team color, so you can know which team they are on, and the health bar below shows how close they are to dying. As you start to watch more, you can begin to recognize the Hero portrait (Widowmaker in this example) and start to learn what they do in the game. (Figure 5)
Overwatch is one of the most fast-paced games out there. With two teams of six, there are constantly 12 characters running, jumping, shooting and using abilities, which can be very confusing to watch. Until you get familiar with everything, it can be best to barely watch the action at all. Keep an eye on the areas of the screen indicated in this article, such as the Kill Feed and Player Bars. You will gain much more information doing this than by struggling to see who is doing what in a big fight.
A quick look at the Player Bars (Figure 3) or the Kill Feed (Figure 4) will show you the essential parts of what is happening. Most notably the Ultimate percentage for Haksal and the health of the Shanghai Dragons in the Player Bars and the abundance of Shanghai deaths in the Kill Feed.
With all of this in mind, rewatch the video at the beginning of this piece, focusing on the Kill Feed and Player Bars more than the action, and see if that makes things a little clearer.