Earlier this month, Madden 20 made history with the first-ever virtual stadium sponsorship, partnering with Pizza Hut in the deal. This deal gave Pizza Hut the right to name a stadium and insert their brand within the Madden franchise, giving fans of the game the opportunity to experience something familiar, but also entirely unique.
“We wanted to mirror what you had experienced if you were to go to an actual NFL stadium where the concept of stadium rights already exists and you’re used to seeing brands within the stadium. We’re trying to create an extension of that in our world.” – Pizza Hut CMO Marianne Radley, via Dexerto.
Commodifying Overwatch’s Favorite Robot
Recently, Overwatch made a step in a similar direction. In the latest event, Bastion’s Brick Challenge, players were able to win games in order to earn a Legendary Brick Bastion skin. What makes this similar to Madden’s Pizza Hut Stadium? How about the fact that this skin is pieced together entirely of LEGO pieces, even down to the most discrete details.
Fans wholeheartedly embraced this new skin, seeing it as a welcomed crossover and something that harkens back to the younger days of many of Overwatch’s player base. It’s cute, uses bright primary colors, and has all the charm that Bastion usually has except in LEGO form.
So, why all the fuss?
One thing that makes Blizzard’s many titles so amazing is their dedication to constructing lore and building universes that players can get lost in. While Overwatch has been criticized in the past for its perceived lack of lore, the game still offers a lot for players to connect to and a world that they can see tied together through its characters and maps.
How far is too far?
The worry with things like the LEGO Bastion skin is that Overwatch will begin to feel less and less like its own unique world and more like a crossover between itself and the real world. It’d be like rolling up to Route 66 and seeing a Dr. Pepper advertisement, rather than a brand that would otherwise be sold in Overwatch’s universe. In that same vein, seeing a LEGO Bastion run around is cute and honestly hilarious, but does it take away from the wanderlust of Overwatch?
Does it matter?
With OWL skins already in the game, including Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang’s MVP skin, players are already using skins that would not otherwise exist in the Overwatch universe. Skins seem to be exempt from lore, with more of the focus being on players ability to use their favorite skins and get more attached to the characters through them.
With this in mind, inserting a cute LEGO robot into the game doesn’t seem like anything to get upset about. But how much is too much?
Everyone Else is Doing it!
As mentioned before, Madden has just partnered with Pizza Hut. But even they were not the first. Plenty of other sporting titles have sponsors in their games to help players feel like they are more like the real sport. In a slightly different vein, Fortnite has had several partnerships with the Avengers, the NFL, and several other corporations that give players the opportunity to enjoy both things simultaneously.
These deals give players the chance to combine their interests and can help both parties involved in the deal. In Madden’s case, they get a good chunk of cash from Pizza Hut for the deal, and Pizza Hut gets to have their own stadium in Madden. All the while, players who are used to seeing sponsorships in-game, don’t have to think twice about it. It’s just another thing that makes Madden seem more, authentic.
This is where Overwatch is considerably different.
Whereas Madden’s advertisers make it seem more authentic and like the NFL, Overwatch’s advertisements present the risk of making it feel like something wholly different.
Overwatch must, to a degree, keep it’s lore and it’s crafted universe at the forefront. To do this, it must maintain a level of distinction from Overwatch esports and the many corporate sponsors involved with both. One LEGO Bastion skin won’t tip the scales in a dangerous direction, but several more of the same could. Just like the OWL skins can help to bring fans of the game to the esport, something that seems in the best interest of both, the LEGO skin can drive families to the store to purchase more LEGO Overwatch products.
Moving forward, there is room in Overwatch for collaboration and a deviation from the lore, but it seems wise to consider how far may be too far when doing so.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment
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