Within just a few days of one another, both League Picks and Player Impact Rating (PIR) were released on the OWL website. Coincidentally, both of these features are riding the coattails of news that the league would be moving to a 2-2-2 role lock for Stage 4 and beyond. Could all of this news, combined with the Stage 4 timing, be Blizzard’s first step towards a full OWL fantasy game, set to come in the 2020 season?
Finally, a Number That Works
Much of what leads to this early speculation is the coming of the PIR. This rating, according to the news article on overwatchleague.com, is “a hero-agnostic system for comparing Overwatch League players, balanced by long-term stat weighting and hero strength during a given patch.”
This system, the article goes on to say in more depth, is a way of stacking pros up against one another, despite what hero they are playing and despite what patch they are in. Basically, it is a true number that can, in theory, show which players have the greatest impact, as the name implies. Overwatch’s immense stats and intangible factors like shielding, positioning and varied abilities are a lot of what has likely held up a full fantasy game in the past. So, at least as a starting point, maybe PIR is the answer.
Dipping Their Toes (*Insert Sigma Joke*)
For fans that are unaware, League Picks is a fantasy pick-em client in Twitch that gives viewers the opportunity to earn OWL tokens for each correct match pick they guess, all while watching the OWL Twitch channel. This fun and simple game ought to bring viewership and fan engagement up all while giving fans their first taste of what an OWL fantasy game could look like. This is definitely a solid move going into Stage 4 and the Season Playoffs, where viewership needs to be much higher than it’s been in Stages 2 and 3.
It could simply be that, a move to increase viewership to close the season. Or, it could be an intentional first step into fantasy for the OWL. This game, which is still in Beta, could be intended to fully roll out alongside a full OWL fantasy game for the OWL 2020 season. Rolling it out now, in Beta, gives good data on how many people will use it and what the best way of cleaning it up will be in the future. Both key things in establishing a full fantasy app in the future.
The Solution to a Foreseeable Issue
Another reason that the OWL ought to be thinking about their plans for the 2020 season is due to the elimination of the Stage Playoffs. These, among many things, were several exciting and high-stakes games that fans had a reason to watch midseason. In 2020, it has been confirmed that Stage Playoffs will be no more and, with them, goes a lot of the reason fans would tune in throughout the grind of the regular season.
Homestands should provide a lot of hype to somewhat counterbalance this decline, however, a fantasy game might also do the trick. This could be similar to the NFL and fantasy football, where many fans tune in solely to see how their players are doing. But, the key is that they are tuning in. If they didn’t have fantasy rosters to begin with, imagine just how many people may not tune into the NFL until playoffs, if even at all. OWL Stages 2 and 3 struggled this year (partially due to the meta) and could very well struggle just as much next year, especially if fans of lower-tier teams have no chance of making playoffs and lose interest.
In theory, a fantasy game would both keep current fans interested, with stakes on every game, and would likely even bring in some new fans. Even if people come to OWL just for another fantasy game, it’s more brand recognition and more eyes on the league and its players. With a very fantasy-friendly roster structure, the beta of a pick-em game and a number for measuring players all coming just at the end of the 2019 season, it’s hard to argue that these won’t amount to some kind of fantasy game in 2020.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Sean Costello for Blizzard Entertainment
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