My thoughts, so far, on Overwatch as an eSport

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Overwatch is out, and we’re loving it. Reviews have been sky rocketing and this has been by far one of Blizzard’s most successful launches in their recent history. One of the questions I’ve been asked is what do I think of Overwatch as an eSport? Will it contend with other FPS titles, and will South Africa pick it up as an eSport?

These are valid questions, and after discussing this with a few friends I decided to talk about their points, and some of my own regarding Overwatch as an eSport.

South Africa and Overwatch

One of the most prominent questions regarding Overwatch is whether it is playable, and the fact that we play on European servers, will it affect our gameplay? Short answer, no it won’t really affect it, but as the game becomes more competitive and a few teams start taking on international opponents, we will start to notice a bit of delay in the most crucial moments.

Gameplay1

The servers are fantastic. Blizzard has always been great with their net code, and this makes it viable as an eSport in South Africa. There have already been two tournaments announced from both Orena and the Telkom Digital Gaming League. There are bound to be more popping up in the upcoming weeks, maybe even one here on Lazygamer (hint, hint Geoff).

We’re uncertain as to how many players are currently playing in South Africa, and furthermore which platform they are playing on. Once that information becomes clear from signups, comments, etc. we can better gauge the local scene. That doesn’t stop locals from joining international sides in the hopes of furthering their Overwatch careers.

Will gameplay stagnate?

There are many components to a successful eSport. Communities, viewers, gameplay and developer support. We can throw in good marketing too, but we all know Blizzard has that covered. Gameplay is perhaps the most important component when looking at the grass roots development as an eSport. The most successful eSports in the world, most notably CS:GO and League of Legends, offer a range of strategies, and the gameplay that is fast-paced and always changing as the “meta-game” evolves. Updates change the way the players think, act and plan their next strategy. Practice also plays a crucial component when considering these changes in the “meta.”

If we look at other competitive titles from Blizzard, Heroes of the Storm to be specific, we see that their competitive updates have in the past stagnated the competitive scene. Heroes of The Storm went from being an eSport hopeful to a casual competitive game. Starcraft II died out due to the recent drive towards team based eSports, with the 1v1 genre slowly fading.

Gameplay2

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Overwatch and the possibility of stagnation. It’s natural that some sort of “meta” will evolve in the upcoming months, where some heroes and strategies will become more powerful than others. An interesting point brought to me be a friend who gave competitive Overwatch a shot with various teams from Europe, was that it became boring very fast. Can you imagine being a defense player with your core hero being Bastion who, for argument’s sake, was one of the strongest defense heroes in the current meta at that specific time? Could you imagine practicing 14 hours a day as Bastion, sitting in one corner blasting down enemies? That will become pretty boring, pretty quickly. But hey, you’ll get a ton of Plays of The Game. The same could be said for any hero, and the fact that you can readily change heroes whenever you like or die, makes you consider the possibility that it will not stagnate, but some will always be more powerful than others.

Overwatch has a variety of heroes (21 to be exact) and with proper balance, each and every hero could be, and should be, viable in every single match. This does promote exciting gameplay as certain heroes will become viable at certain points of the game. For example, on defense, your sniper role could start out as Widowmaker, with a Hanzo being picked up later on for the close quarter Dragon ultimate. This is just one case of situational gameplay which I would find exciting. And this brings me to my next point, balancing

The art of balance

It’s no secret that in the past Blizzard has not taken to balancing their characters in the most preferential way. In Heroes of the Storm if a character was weak it would receive a buff and become one of the most powerful and most common picks. If a character was too strong it would be nerfed into oblivion and subsequently be removed from the meta completely.

Blizzcon

This is my biggest, and most rational, fear for Overwatch. Heroes will receive changes which make them either completely overpowered or render them useless. The fantastic thing about Overwatch is that there is place for almost every single hero at the moment. It’s extremely situational and it’s a heavy team based game leaving very little room for outstanding performances from one individual player changing the outcome of the game. If your teamwork is great, that one Bastion in the corner can be easily dealt with as you move on to conquer whichever objective is necessary.

If Blizzard nails the balancing act of heroes in Overwatch I strongly believe this game will flourish as an eSport as it is unique in its genre. The other issue, with balance, is that it should cater more towards the competitive needs and not towards that of casual complaints. Sorry to break this to you, but Bastion and Tjorborn are not overpowered champions and while they may ruin public casual games, they are somewhat easily dealt with competitively. Not saying that Blizzard should not listen to the majority of their casual players, but for the game to thrive as an eSport, we cannot change every hero which upsets the masses. For example, I think Mei is way too strong at the moment, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she received a nerf in the upcoming weeks.

Viewership friendly

A great spectator client also makes for a  great eSport. Having ready to access statistics, replay functions, hero overviews and stat recording would be great for spectator use. It works fantastically in League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike, and should be under harsh consideration moving forward with Overwatch. There already is a spectating function for Overwatch, which is great, but with additions of the aforementioned options would make it that much better.

Viewers need to be immersed in the action, they need to stay involved. They also need to have a clear visual understanding of what’s going on, why something happened and be able to look back on any details pertaining to the defeat or victory of a specific team. Overwatch is not hard to follow. In fact, it may just be one of the easier and more pleasant looking games to try to understand. This is one of the most fantastic features of Overwatch, in that it is so simple to play and understand.

In closing

I am excited for Overwatch’s future as an eSports. I’m placing all my chips in one pocket in the hopes that Blizzard maintain a competitive outlook on the game with upcoming patches. I’m excited to see the play style and strategies which evolve in the competitive scene, and quite frankly I’m looking forward to covering Overwatch as an eSport locally. Are you with us?

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Last Updated: May 25, 2016

Kyle Wolmarans

Critical Hit's esports guy. I talk about esports and drink whiskey. I also write and cast for elsewhere - but my work here is independent of that.

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