It’s a beautiful time of the year for the average Overwatch League fan. Not only have the first two weeks of play been a feast for hungry eyes (see Kim “Haskal” Hyo-jong bullying teams on Genji), but the beautiful bubble that is the Overwatch community has once again flourished. It feels so good to open Twitter and see it flooded with cute fanart, fans of poorly performing teams screaming into the void and glorious memeage.
However, looming over the community is a quiet sense of caution. For the sake of this game’s longevity, this year has to be a triumphant success for the league. Although everyone is caught up in the excitement of the games, the season hasn’t been without its faults. So after two weeks, this is a response to just a handful of interesting talking points born already from this season.
Underrated: The YouTube Deal
The former landscape of esports was so deeply entwined with the Twitch platform that the two were essentially synonymous with each other. However, YouTube Gaming was ready with their hands deep in their cash-ladened pockets, to strike at the opportunity of finding a footing in this industry. According to The Esports Observer, YouTube’s deal with Activision Blizzard is valued at $160 million over three years and includes the exclusive rights to broadcast all Overwatch, Hearthstone and Call of Duty esports. By all estimations based on the viewership of these games, this is quite a generous wad of money going into Blizzard’s hands.
Despite a lack of serious advertising for the beginning of the league, the viewership hasn’t seen a significant dip in numbers since moving to YouTube from Twitch – albeit the current numbers may be somewhat inflated due to it being the start of the season. Interestingly, Riot’s League of Legends has seen parity between its viewer count of the LCS on Twitch and YouTube. Each passing year, the audience increasingly shifts towards viewing LoL on the YouTube platform. The YouTube player allows the viewer to pause the stream, rewind and watch replays in slower speeds. These are features that Twitch currently do not provide.
Although some fans have complained about the inconsistent quality of the broadcast on YouTube, one would hope that the kinks are being ironed out early in the season and the quality surpasses being’serviceable’. Overall, YouTube might be where it’s at for esports in the future and Blizzard could well be ahead of the curve. Great move.
LCS viewership almost 50/50 between Twitch and YouTube today. Two years ago was ~80% Twitch. Gaming pie is growing and YT taking a bigger slice. pic.twitter.com/nOGngRhTpU
— John Robinson (@RohnJobinson) February 16, 2020
Overrated: Home and Away Games
From the very beginning, the Overwatch League promised to be esports’ very first truly global game. Taking the production on the road was always bound to create some initial dilemmas, but is the enormous undertaking worth it? Sure after just three homestands, it may be somewhat premature to arrive at any definitive conclusion, but there are a few strong indications that Blizzard’s lofty dreams for this league might not be sustainable.
During each of the three homestands over the past two weeks, the broadcast has been plagued with production errors. From poor observing and graphical issues to matches in which there was just as much dead air due to game pauses as there was actual gameplay. It’s fair to attribute this all to early-season jitters, but the broadcast team will be busy building sets then producing the matches and pulling it all down again week after week – sometimes on the road. Fans may have to just get used to a lower standard of production.
What may end up being affected worse, however, is the standard of gameplay across the league. Fans and pundits alike are abuzz with what seems to be a meta that is diverse and fun to watch. Unfortunately, this may just be due to a reduced amount of practice time that is resulting in a poor understanding of the meta and for some teams, an absurdly significant amount of time spent travelling. Houston Outlaws head coach Harsha “Harsha” Bandi recently tweeted that he predicts that teams this year will have just 60% of the scrim time they had last year. The Outlaws team themselves have already experienced the adverse effects of travelling, with a majority of their team contracting the flu on their trip to Philadelphia last weekend. This won’t be the last time this happens this year, with teams travelling together so often it may be quite difficult to prevent sickness spreading from one player to the entire team, particularly when they need to be scrimming together.
Opening the bubble in which the OWL was contained last year has allowed for external events like the current Coronavirus outbreak in China to affect the league, with all Chinese homestands cancelled indefinitely. This may call in to question the fairness of the OWL scheduling. The fairness of the scheduling has been argued to no end, with critics saying teams with a greater number of home games will have a professional advantage, thus ruining the competitive integrity of the season. If these Chinese teams do not get to reschedule their homestands this year and instead have to play in Korea, then teams like the Washington Justice that are able to afford to pay for five homestand events will have an even greater advantage over the league.
Other than seeing the adoring fans in each city, home and away games have been quite painful. Bad move.
- Scouting talent from Contenders – Particularly regions outside of Korea which are regularly overlooked, and contain some of the most driven and talented players in the scene – as shown in OWL this season already by players like Kai “KSP” Collins, who is thriving on the LA Valiant.
- First to three map wins – This new ruling cuts the fat from the boring games but still allows for exciting five map series. Great change.
- Brigitte – No team that relied on Brig last week looked comfortable in their matches – especially Houston and Florida, who both look a little clueless and really slow without a Lucio.
- New York Excelsior – There is no doubt this team should be contending for a top-five spot this year. But with a close match against an inexperienced Spitfire squad followed by a belting of a Boston team that no one expects to be good, this wasn’t the most impressive of starts for New York.
“From Our Haus to Yours”.