Since its launch, the expectations of Overwatch as a competitive esport have been high. A First Person Shooter with interesting mechanics, beautiful aesthetics and fun character types have lured some of the best talents from across gaming to take part in it’s ever growing community. And while it’s still a little early to tell of Blizzard has found the esports sweet spot, Overwatch does have strong indicators that it has the juice to become the next big thing.
Early in the Overwatch Beta, professional gamers from titles like Counter Strike, Team Fortress 2, Doom, and others gravitated to Overwatch. Some even banded together to form makeshift teams. These teams competed in small tournaments for little to no prize money. It was all about building a reputation, as larger esports organizations watched eagerly to see which teams separated themselves from the pack. Some organizations pulled the trigger early, while other chose to wait and see how the scene developed. One thing is for certain, though. Everyone is starting to get in on the action.
The North American scene developed quickly. Pro organizations Cloud9, Luminosity Gaming, and EnVyUs all picked up teams before the game’s official launch with mixed results. EnVyUs hasn’t lost a match since June 12th and is in 1st place in international rankings. Cloud9 has had similar success, maintaining an 80% win rate since the beginning of April. However, Luminosity has struggled, fielding 3 different rosters in 6 months and falling in and out of the world’s top 10 teams. Gaming powerhouses Fnatic, Team SoloMid, Splyce, and NRG Esports have all acquired teams as well, adding weight to the theory that North America is the region to beat.
While Europe hasn’t held a top seat for awhile, that doesn’t mean it’s not competitive. Europe has 3 of the top 5 teams in the world. Plus, the talent in Europe is not concentrated on a handful of teams, making matches played on the other side of the Atlantic more interesting to watch. Chief among these is MisfitGG and REUNITED, who have been dominating the European standings. REUNITED are one of the few teams who are not looking to become part of a larger organization. They’ve decided to build their own brand from the ground up. Creation Esports and Rogue add more depth to the region and new teams from Ninjas In Pajamas and H2K Gaming show the region has more talent still waiting to be discovered.
Show Me The Money
Prize money is always a good indication of how big a game gets. When a game first starts its competitive scene, you see smaller weekly tournaments with prize pools being a few hundred dollars. The teams that fight in these tournaments are not usually sponsored and are just fighting to be noticed. Once the scene starts to establish itself, invitational tournaments spring forth to showcase the talent. The Prize pools grow dramatically, like the $25,000 dollar Invitational sponsored by JoshOG back in June.
Then, just over a month after the games release, ESL announces The Atlantic Showdown. Overwatch’s first live event would take place at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. The 16 teams that qualify will be flown out to compete for their share of a $100,000 prize pool. Shortly after, ELeague and FaceIt announced a $300,000 dollar tournament with a finale that will be broadcast live on American television. With such large investments, tournament organizers hope they can fan the flames and make the sport bigger and more appealing to sponsors.
Now You See Me
Probably the most important part of building a competitive scene is building a fan base, Twitch views are a major part of that. After the initial launch put Overwatch in the number one spot on Twitch, things have calmed down a bit. Overwatch continues to stay in the top 5 viewed games and its viewership should only grow. As pro teams start to emerge and their players start to become stars in their own right, fans will start to gravitate towards their favorites. One important thing to remember is that some of the more popular Overwatch streamers are casual players that were already streaming under other games, causing the views under those titles to drop.
But nothing beats watching an event, live and in person. The hype, the roar of a crowd, the Mei cosplay. Nothing builds loyalty to a player or teams like meeting them in person and watching them play on a big stage. Gamescom will be the first real live event for Overwatch and it’s first major test as an esport. A well attended live event shows organizers that Overwatch is strong enough to make them big money with ticket sales and large corporate sponsorship deals.
And don’t forget, Blizzard Entertainment went out and bought Major League Gaming. MLG is one of the world’s largest tournament organizers and live event broadcasters based in North America. This acquisition instantly giving Blizzard the live production capabilities to produce their own tournaments and exclusive content.
The Sky’s the limit…
With over 10 million people starting their watch since it’s launch at the end of May, Overwatch has quickly become a huge success for Blizzard Entertainment. As regions get more organized, the level of competition will only get better as players will have all the resources they need to get stronger. The game has quickly cultivated a big fan base, waiting to cheer on it newest stars. And there is finally big dividends for those who put everything they have into this sport. While it’s still unclear if Overwatch has the longevity of other titles, it certainly has the talent, money, and infrastructure to build the next big thing. And I, for one, can not wait!