Blizzard Entertainment has set out to change the landscape of eSports forever by giving players rights and contracts, as well as giving fans a home team to root for with it’s inaugural season of the Overwatch League. With eSports growing each year and more companies trying to get involved with the emerging popularity, Blizzard is looking to pave the way for the future of eSports with Overwatch at the helm.
As a video game player and fan my entire life, I have always loved every aspect of gaming. Casual and hardcore, competitive multiplayer and single player adventures– I’ve always been playing something, but no competitive IP has ever entranced me enough to seek out competition aside from playing with friends or online matchmaking– until Overwatch. The only other franchise that has got me to watch Twitch streams or invest deeper into seeking professional play, is Super Smash Bros.– though even then, the fighting game eSports community is still rather niche. Other franchises have found luck on Twitch and ESPN such as League of Legends and Halo, but even with all of these franchises making headway– the outreach beyond fans who play or care for the game is minimal. Overwatch on the other hand has some tangental properties reminiscent of traditional sports that may make it even more accessible to spectators who aren’t the typical viewers of eSports.
The fundamentals of Overwatch mimic some of the stones set in the foundation of games like baseball and football. Players assume positions that help create a team composition and those roles create strategies to achieve victory over their opponent. In baseball you have assigned positions that typically operate under a certain zone of boundaries both on the field and within their job at that position– Overwatch has that same level of choreography attached to it. This separates it from other video games who’s professional play is more solely dependent on player skill and not necessarily on pulling together plays in unison with a team to secure an objective.
The most remarkable and noteworthy revelation that this has brought to the eSports world is beyond the scope of the game itself though. Blizzard has bet large on trying to create fandoms for teams that are associated with cities and regions of the world hoping to encourage a sense of pride and loyalty to fan bases– and after being present for the official Boston Uprising viewing party, we saw first hand that Blizzard may have went all in on the right aspect.
With an event that no one was sure how large the turnout would be, we watched hundreds of blue and yellow shirts pile in, some already donning jerseys, and of course some fans wearing attire that correlated to their favorite heroes. A truly wonderful night, we spoke to fans who had traveled upwards of 4o minutes just to make it to the venue to be nestled side by side with their Uprising brothers and sisters.
One fan, who we spoke to had said that being a Boston sports fan and having a jersey for each team was part of how he celebrates and shows pride as a fan and already purchasing and wearing a Boston Uprising jersey that night was not even a hesitation in his mind. This piqued my curiosity, because I wonder if the idea of locking Overwatch League teams to cities and countries will result in cities with loyal traditional sport fanbases shelling out to rock gear for the home team. The especially difficult task with how the inaugural season is playing out is that all of the games will be played at Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles. So without the ability for fans outside of LA to go to the actual matchups each week, the fan bases will need to be corralled in some way to help imbue the fan bases with a sense of community.
After Thursday night’s turnout for the official Boston Uprising viewing party, I can say that their hope and dream of cultivating not only a buzz and demand for professional Overwatch teams with geographical fan bases, they made it viable for a bar that is typically host to traditional sporting events and clubbing, to also open their doors for a packed house full of blue and yellow. Not only that, their level of production associated with the final product they are streaming rivals the best of any major network showcasing a primetime traditional sporting event. With the peak viewership in the Overwatch League’s first week clocking in at over 400,000 concurrent viewers, and bars across the country hosting viewing parties for their home teams– I think it’s safe to say it was a successful first week.
Looking forward to seeing how this translates into long term success over the course of the season. The Overwatch League’s inaugural season runs from January 10th-June 16th, with the playoffs and championship to follow. Games are played Wednesday through Saturday and can be watched exclusively at twitch.tv/overwatchleague or overwatchleague.com — For more Overwatch League news and thoughts be sure to check out the Pass The Controller Podcast and follow us on social media.