Blizzard Combines Gaming and Sports with Overwatch League
By: Steven Aiello
The gaming and sporting markets are arguably two of the biggest markets at the moment. Enter Overwatch League, the first major stride towards turning gaming into a professional market and a sport similar to the NFL or NBA.
Gaming has been played as a sport for decades previous, albeit in the form of tournaments on a small scale. In recent years, video game companies have made greater strides to expand on the eSports market, with Overwatch League being the next step towards that goal.
Despite lacking a single player mode, Overwatch has received a great deal of attention and success because of its appeal towards both casual and more dedicated gamers. Overwatch also carries one of the most ethnically diverse and egalitarian casts in any game, making the game a prime choice to help expand eSports.
Overwatch League began its inaugural regular season in January 2018 and has since met its parent company Blizzard Entertainment’s expectations, increasing interest in both the video game and league. This increased interest might be the result of its format, which mirrors the traditional format of major sports leagues but with Overwatch now at the center of it.
Games are scheduled from Wednesday to Saturday at three games per day, using a format of ‘best of four’ to determine winners. The full schedule, along with additional information, can be found on the Overwatch League website.
Each game features two of twelve potential teams as players play one round for all four objective-based modes in Overwatch; any ties result in an extra fifth round being played. Each game is played two hours apart from the last, making for a constant stream of action and gameplay, aside from occasional commercials.
The season is divided into four stages where ten games are played across five weeks. Each team is ranked based on their standings throughout each individual stage as well as their standings throughout the season overall.
Overwatch League features a traditional playoff system based on each team’s overall finish, but an additional playoff system is featured at the end of each stage. Based on the standings during each stage, the four best teams will meet in a playoff bracket in which the winner receives a $100,000 prize payout.
Although relatively inconsequential, these stage playoffs provide an additional source of excitement for fans. An additional source of excitement is also provided through the All-Star Weekend occurring after the end of each season, which is based on players battling through a series of unknown challenges.
Overwatch League features a lineup of over 100 different players from various countries throughout the world, similar to the diverse cast featured within the game. Each player specializes with a particular class of characters in the game, or as any class (a flex role) in uncommon circumstances.
Some of the more notable players in League include “Miro”, “Mano”, “EFFECT”, “Seagull” and others because of their high skill levels or general notability. There was, however, slight controversy when “Geguri,” one of the most notable female Overwatch players, was not initially signed by any of the twelve teams.
Other controversies that have been involved with Overwatch League include a lack of female players at the beginning of the regular season as well as the suspension of a player called “xQc”. The suspension was issued over comments “xQc” made that were deemed homophobic.
Overwatch itself has also received immense scrutiny for its community, which has been deemed “toxic” by various players and personalities. Blizzard has addressed this problem and staff members have attempted to reduce this toxic attitude towards the game, especially in regards to League.
In spite of some of its controversy, Overwatch League has received hundreds upon thousands of viewers on nearly every broadcast, and companies such as HP, Intel and Toyota have sponsored the event. These numbers could potentially increase with the rise in popularity of the eSports market and in further support for Overwatch throughout the creation of additional content.
Regardless, Overwatch League is one of the first major steps towards creating more eSports Leagues that combine gaming and sports into one amenity. With the upcoming NBA2K League in addition to Overwatch League, eSports could become the next big market.