When the inaugural season of the Overwatch League ended, it left many with a massive void in their hearts. Offseason depression hit us like a bag of bricks. What would we have to look forward to every week? Some fans found a solution in tuning in to watch Overwatch’s tier two and three scenes.
Contenders, Overwatch’s official Path to Pro, is where players under the age of 18 are able to compete on teams. It is a scene that is brimming with talent. The Overwatch League actually ended up pulling many new faces from Contenders. Fans who are not familiar with the tier two scene, but hopefully were paying attention during the World Cup, will see players such as Elijah Hudson “Elk” Gallegher and Zachary “ZachaREE” Lombardo from Fusion University and Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth from Uprising Academy make a return to the main stage. The entirety of the Vancouver Titans expansion team is also made up of former Korean contenders team, RunAway. They are expected to be one of the better expansion teams coming into season two given the team’s history and track record.
With that much new talent coming into Overwatch League, one can’t help but wonder: why isn’t Blizzard investing more time into Contenders?
So What Gives?
Too many Overwatch League fans are overlooking Contenders and Blizzard does absolutely nothing to support them. Contenders can be easily compared to the neglected middle child in a sit-com when it comes to how much affection the scene receives. It is so overlooked, that the official social media team wasn’t even posting game updates at one point in time. Hard-core fans ended up making a new Twitter account to announce when games were going live, and it has been insanely active ever since. While this prompted Overwatch to start using their actual account, it is arguably less successful than the fan made one.
There are many factors that Blizzard needs to work on if they want Contenders to be a success. The two most important to focus on at this moment in time would be better promotion and protection for unaffiliated teams.
Lack of Promotion
Earlier this week, Blizzard released its first new comic in nearly two years. “Bastet” caused an uproar in the community by revealing that Soldier 76 is gay. Michael Chu would confirm the storyline later that day on Twitter to end any arguments against Soldier’s sexuality. Along with some exciting new lore, Bastet also showed off a new skin for Overwatch’s favorite “grandma,” Ana Amari. The next day, Overwatch announced the Bastet Challenge in which players can earn the Ana skin, along with some other fun in-game cosmetics such as sprays and a new victory pose. Spray drop events have been super successful in the past like the DVA Nano Cola Challenge Overwatch held late last August.
A Missed Opportunity
Blizzard should have considered using the drops for the Bastet event on Contenders. The event launched the day that the NA Contenders quarterfinals began. Both NA and EU have their games at prime watching hours. This would have been an excellent opportunity for Blizzard to bring more attention to the tier two scene, but they decided to waste it on already popular streamers. Some of the streamers Blizzard have chosen for their drop events have been iffy. While Jeff Anderson, better known as “Emongg,” is a great streamer, he is an off-tank who primarily plays DVA. We saw something similar back when Blizzard chose Brian “Kephrii” St. Pierre to stream during the Nano Cola Challenge.
We all know who Kephrii plays.
During Tuesday’s stream, Emongg peaked at around 40K viewers. Those viewers could have belonged to the Contenders quarterfinals. On average, Contenders streams only pull a couple of thousand viewers, and that is highly dependent on which region is playing. European, North Amerian, and Korean Contenders seem to pull in the most viewers. Other regions, such as South America and the Pacific suffer more harshly. Each of these regions sees insane gameplay on a weekly basis. With how frequent Contenders seasons are, and how top quality most of the games are, the numbers should be much higher. A former player for the Houston Outlaws, Lucas “Mendokusaii” Håkansson even called out Blizzard when he noticed what was going on with this event.
what's even worse is that the Contenders Stream doesn't have drops enabled :/
— mendokusaii (@Mendo) January 9, 2019
Imagine what a difference it would have made if Blizzard had enabled drops during these matches. It is a shame that Blizzard chose to ignore Contenders for this event, especially considering just how big of a morale boost this could have been for the scene.
In light of the recent Ellie incident, it is essential that Blizzard starts to do more to protect teams. Teams such as ATL Academy and Fusion University, are much better protected than groups that are not affiliated with any of the sister teams in the Overwatch League.
Second Wind is going to face an uphill battle after the Ellie incident. After it came to light, Second Wind had to act quickly. There were no guidelines on what to do with this kind of fiasco. Not only should there have been a plan in case something like this happened, but there also should have been a proper vetting system in place to prevent it.
If Blizzard had invested more time and better resources into Contenders, the Ellie scandal could have easily been avoided. Second Wind is a fantastic team, who had an incredibly good showing this season. Losing Carson “CarCar” First to Fusion University should not have been this difficult for them to deal with.
Seven months is an incredibly long time for an offseason. Contenders has been an incredible source for fans looking to get their Overwatch League fix. The players in Contenders are the Overwatch League’s future and Blizzard needs to do better by them. Hopefully, Blizzard will see just how many fans care about Contenders and start becoming more involved. Fans see the potential in these kids and we want them to succeed because if they succeed, we all do.