By Taylor Cocke
The first stage of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season is over, and it’s hard to see it as anything but a success. Viewership was strong throughout, production quality was untouchable, and most importantly, matches were some of the most fun we’ve seen in competitive Overwatch.
Before the Blizzard’s big bet on Overwatch esports kicked off, many — including myself — were skeptical. Could they pull off a multi-million dollar league with an unproven esports title? Could they match the quality that has taken many other leagues years to establish?
As it turns out, yes, they could.
But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect — yet. Here are some of my favorite and least favorite things about the Overwatch League’s first stage.
The Mercy meta wasn’t exactly the most fun to watch. Professional players were frustrated by the single support hero’s ability to negate skirmishes entirely, bringing back to life anyone and everyone that falls. And yeah, it did slow down matches to the point of frustration.
But that was a problem of the patch itself, not the how Blizzard is handling patches as a whole. Rather than introduce new patches every couple of weeks like some other games (hey there, League of Legends), Blizzard has decided that every stage of Overwatch League seasons will be played on the same patch. That means that teams will be playing on the same patch until each stage ends.
And it’s great. Teams don’t have to pivot on strategies halfway through the season or days before playoffs (hey again, League of Legends). It allows teams to find answers to whatever early meta is established and lets things flow in a game’s natural state. It makes sure the team who had mastered a particular meta comes out on top. It rewards teams for learning the most efficient way to play an existing meta and executing it with consistency.
Easily my favorite part of the Overwatch League is the walkout of each team. Rather than have teams simply appear behind their computers before every match, OWL asks that teams walk through the crowd to get to the stage, WWE style. At first, it seemed kind of cheesy and forced. It seemed like a formality that wasn’t necessary.
But then, the Florida Mayhem got a hold of it. They took something dorky and made it their own, coming up with a new entrance every time they walked into the arena. Sure, they were struggling to find wins, but they were able to find a way to cement themselves in the minds of fans. They immediately became the Bad News Bears of OWL, a team of scrappy fighters that couldn’t be kept down.
Soon, other teams followed suit. London Spitfire’s Jung “Gesture” Won-sik showed off some swagger early in the season, predicting his team’s eventual championship run. After a few weeks, the Dallas Fuel mastered the art of the entrance, choreographing a Mercy rez on the way to the stage.
I have no idea if Blizzard encouraged teams to toy around with their entrances, but I hope they didn’t. This player-invented revelry does a lot for fandom, giving fans a reason to back specific teams. It’s joyous and wonderful in every way. It gives fans a taste of the players’ personalities, something that is lacking in most esports tournaments. It’s a reminder that, above all else, esports are fun. And that’s what matters most of all.
Lack of player cameras
Speaking of player personalities, the Overwatch League spectator client is lacking in one major element: The player camera.
Sure, the faces of players pop up every so often when they make a big play or are discussed at length by casters, but for the most part they’re conspicuously absent from the broadcast. At points, it feels like an online tournament rather than the live, exciting thing that it is.
It may seem nitpicky, but even as someone who watched each and every Overwatch League match, I still struggle to put names to faces for the majority of players. For fans whose job isn’t to watch all of the esports, the problem will only be worse. And for a league looking to establish a long-term fanbase, that’s an issue.
Yes, more player cams will make an already busy spectator experience even more difficult to watch. But if Blizzard manages to figure out a way to pull it off, it’ll be worth the work.
The playoff situation
The London Spitfire playing 14 maps over the course of a single day to become the Stage 1 champions is a hell of a story. They managed to play a regular season game, then bring down the Houston Outlaws in the semifinals before finally beating tournament favorites New York Excelsior in the finals, all in about 14 total hours. It was one of the most impressive esports feats we’ve seen in recent years.
But it should never happen again.
It’s simply unfair for one team to have to play so many matches in a single day before taking on the most difficult opponents the competition has to offer.
Thankfully, OWL commissioner Nate Nanzer has already declared that Blizzard is looking into changing the schedule of the playoffs to include a second day for the finals. Hopefully they do it right this time around.
The damn white uniforms
One last nitpick. The white uniforms and corresponding particle effects are still occasionally hard to read. The addition of team colors are a genius move by Blizzard, but they still need a bit of tweaking. White is a popular secondary color for several teams in the Overwatch League, but shots are still hard to differentiate from backgrounds.
So, save our eyeballs, Blizzard. Figure out a way to make the white pop on Numbani and Ilios. Those of us with poor eyesight will thank you.
You can follow Taylor Cocke on Twitter @taylorcocke