Competitive Overwatch: Are We eSports Now?

Sat 4th Jun 2016 - 7:51am Gaming

Making the decision to stop playing a game in favor of another one has been common in the gaming industry.  If you find something better then you focus what spare time and resources you have in order to draw out the fulfillment the game gives you.  You get online with your friends and you lose hours in fun and excitement, sometimes frustration, but through the adversity, you can achieve your greatest highs and have stories to tell for days on end.  But when does the magic of the game stop and the music begin to fade?  Usually, when the promise of something better comes along and proves to enough members of the gaming community at large, that it is indeed the de facto, "new hotness."  Thank you, Will Smith.

In case you haven't been keeping up wth this week's news and following industry twitter feeds, we've got you covered.  According to Gametrics, which is a pretty awesome web resource that tracks play time at Korean PC Bangs (among other functions), Heroes of the Storm isn't even in the top 10, while Overwatch has kept a strong second place following League of Legends since its public release.  Great for the Overwatch scene, but did Heroes of the Storm really just die without so much as a whimper?  Okay, maybe a little weep on Daily Dot.  The gamer in me wants to see these games thrive and succeed, but the business major in me sees the S-curve economic model that pretty much says, you're going to run into a brick wall unless you prepare yourself to get creative and innovate.  

mvp black
It's like we didn't think this eSports thing through, Blizzard.

Let's start at the beginning of the paradigm shift in eSports.  Before we had million dollar prizes (not pools, but actual prize purses) we had Starcraft in Korea.  So Blizzard shouldn't be new to eSports at all, but for whatever reason, they focused more on game production than setting up a league where professional level players could compete under salaried contractual agreements.  Then Riot Games happened.  You see me talk about Riot Games a lot because, despite some hiccups along the way they are still the leading the eSports scene with their flagship IP, League of Legends.  Slowly but surely, Riot built their competitive scene from the ground up, as a deliberate plan from the very start of the game's development.  The World Cyber Games proved that there was an audience for League of Legends, which set the stage for the Riot Season 1 Championship at Dreamhack in 2011.  Everyone expected just another gamer hype fest, but for those of us who were watching, we realized it was so much more.  With incredibly brilliant plays (for the time), optimal build paths being used in real-time, and global map plays to end games made the close of Season 1 for League of Legends a catapult for the rest of competitive League of Legends.  The following year, Riot announced a $5 million tournament circuit with a million dollar grand prize for the world finals.  Season 2 of competitive League of Legends introduced us to more tournaments since there was more prize money available from the developer, with the IGN Pro League and the Intel Extreme Masters playing a big role in securing viewership as well as acting as tournament organizers, leaving Riot to develop the game further in balancing and strategic variety.  Season 3 gave us the League of Legends Championship Series and the Challenger Series, which introduced the first salaried players to ever be given a competitive wage by a game developer.  The rest is history for Riot Games, but what is the point of going over this history when we're talking about Blizzard games?  More importantly, how does this have anything to do with Overwatch?  Quite a bit actually.

Instead of a single IP, Blizzard games has several.  You can look at the main ones getting developmental support on any launcher.  So the potential is there for several opportunities to make legitimate eSports out of at least three of those games.  StarCraft 2 is a no-brainer, the competitive scene has been dominated by the Koreans since Broodwar came out.  What we don't see much eSports development yet is in Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch.  Heroes of the Storm was released publically just last year.  No really, June 2, 2015, was the official open release date.  Overwatch has just launched and it isn't even a month old yet.  Yet we have professional organizations jumping ship from Heroes of the Storm to play other games, due to a lack of tournaments.  So is Blizzard making mistakes in approaching eSports as a viable business venture, or are we being impatient?  I did mention that it took Riot about three years of development to flesh out the competitive league they wanted.  So if it took a startup like Riot Games three years, are we assuming that an industry veteran like Blizzard can build the infrastructure for competitive professional play in less time?  I believe that expecting Blizzard to out do Riot in pumping out a professional league for all their eSportscentric games is expecting far too much of any developer.

Just from my own observations of Blizzard, I can see a deliberate and slow plan unfolding.  Blizzard's partnership with TeSPA has cemented their IPs in the collegiate scene indefinitely, while providing support for North American University teams, as well as acting as a way to secure and develop talent that is needed to run an eSports initiative.  Running tournaments is hard, sustaining a professional league is exponentially more difficult because you now have a much longer list of legal and fiscal obligations.  So if you're thinking about making the switch to Overwatch, by all means, do so, but don't be surprised if there isn't some big LCS-like production following the professional scene any time soon.  If you're willing to be patient then it will probably come eventually.  But if you're like me, then you'll probably want to help as much as you can, so that we as a community can continue to write our own destiny.  eSports will happen, it's just going to take some time.  



Kojirou Nagashima

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