It’s official everybody. The Overwatch League is officially underway. Every team has played their first matches, and while we’re being left with more questions than answers, Blizzard has definitely impressed. However, on the heels of the massive 90 million dollar streaming deal with Twitch, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
What Overwatch League Does Right
Coming into the start of the Overwatch League, there were a lot of questions about whether it would have that “sports feel”. Competitions from before had more of an event feeling than like an actual sport league. Countries like Korea have a longer history with e-sports, but this is something the West is seriously catching up with. At least from a league perspective if OWL is any indication. A recent CBS News report showed how the Blizzard Arena is different from most sports arenas. However, it’s absolutely professional. From the broadcasting table, to the giant screen for watching, to the entrances for the players. The scale might seem small compared to the 70,000+ seat arenas, but make no mistake: the fans are there.
Nobody is going to doubt the skill of a lot of the people that are in the Overwatch League. Part of that is just because they’re already legendary to a lot of viewers. The other part is because nobody really knows anybody else is. The players who comprise these teams are a collection of extremely popular streamers on Twitch, long-time professional gamers, and newcomers ready to change the face of the game. The Path-to-Pro System ensures that new Talent is always going to be bubbling just below the surface.
The fans are here. They’re loud. They’re sweaty. They are nerdy. They are passionate. The interest in the Overwatch League is palpable, and the numbers say the same thing. On opening night there were more than 400,000 viewers on the English broadcast at its height. Right now the numbers afterwords hover in the upper 100,000 to low 200,000 range. Comparing to other traditional sports it’s encouraging. Their averages are about half of MLS, and are much lower numbers for broadcasts of MLB, NBA, NHL, That being said, as a starting point, this should be considered very good. And with Twitch paying a reported $90 Million for the 2 year broadcast rights, there is a lot of faith here.
What the Overwatch League needs to Improve
Let me make this clear before I get into my criticisms. It’s all fixable it’s really early in the first season, i’m not here to spread doomsday messages. I think that the Overwatch League is going to succeed like nothing else we have seen before. But, a lot needs to improve because this is going to be the first true test of professional gaming approaching the mainstream. Some of the things are out of the League’s actual control. Some of it’s not as important as others. But this is what I’ve seen and what I think needs to change for the better. And I’m sure it will happen.
As exciting as everything was for the first week, the matches rarely were. And that’s because of what might be a parity issue. Nobody’s been doubting that the Seoul Dynasty are the favorites. Everything else has felt a bit like a question mark. Other teams have been expected to do well, or not so well, but not a lot of concrete ideas. Right now there are four teams undefeated, four teams at 1-1 and four teams at 0-2. It’s very early in the season, but the quality of play is a bit concerning. This whole week there were two close matches in the 12 game docket. The rest? Four matches ended in a 3 to 1 final out of four matches. Worse yet, there were six shutouts.
Now, keep in mind, there’s another 6 months before the playoffs, I’m not going to sit here and say that the whole season is ruined because of the first week. What I am saying is that if this is how every week is going to go, that’s concerning. One of the most common reasons people cite for the decline in the NFL is the decline in play quality. Everything is a blowout, you can tune out by halftime because you know who would win. As the season progresses there needs to be more parity. When it feels like all the teams are within inches of each other it makes everything more exciting. It takes away garbage time. Everyone’s on the edge of their seat. It’s more exciting. This is more on the team’s to improve and to play up to what we are seeing the dominant teams like Seoul and and the Los Angeles Valiant are doing right now.
I’ll be honest, I wish they would fire half of their commentary team. I don’t know or really care about these, first. Because they seem to be misunderstanding why a lot of people are watching OWL. They’re still in “casting mode” so to speak. So they inflect a lot more personality into there common then what you would see verses traditional common yes. Of course there have been colorful color commentator like John Madden. I’m not saying they have to be these robots who just described what’s going on. But it seems like half the time I’m getting somebody who cares more about being the entertainment than presenting the entertainment people are there to see. Whether it’s telling a joke that is going on for far too long while matches are going on, constantly trying to Hype up with crowd when it just comes off as desperate, or just acting like a total douchebag! It’s infuriating because not everybody on the commentary it’s good. Some of the people who are common are clear the rack and very informative. Others it feels like I’m watching an IRL streamer begging for donations every 30 seconds while they pretend their color commentator.
This might come off wrong, I want to preface this again. The numbers so far are encouraging. 400,000+ viewers for a debut, and 100,000 to 200,000 viewers is good for what they’re doing. However, if they want to back up that 90 million dollar contract they need to improve. Because I mentioned traditional professional sports before, here’s the thing with that. That only includes American viewers with sports like MLS, NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB. Compared to NHL and MLS the numbers are about half or slightly more than half of average viewership for those sports. Compared to the big three? MLB, NBA, and especially NFL positively dwarf them by millions. Overwatch League is an international league. So they’ll be drawing from the entire world, rather than just America like with the other reports used for comparing. So as Overwatch League continues, it’s numbers should start to tick closer towards the big 3 of MLB, NBA, and NFL if they want to truly reach the mainstream.
Overwatch League is extremely impressive so far. I really enjoy what I’ve been seeing. And I think that these issues ARE fixable, but for the sake of the league and eSports as a whole, I hope they fix them sooner rather than later.