The Potential of Large Rosters in the Future of Overwatch
Over the course of 2016, Overwatch exploded into one of the largest esports titles around the globe. As the players and tournaments blew up, competition grew undeniably fierce. Although early tournaments did not include South Korean players, BlizzCon showcased the skill of the birthplace of modern esports. As Korean tournaments and organizations began lining up, the skill level of their players rapidly ratcheted to equalling that of North America and Europe. One such premier team, Lunatic-Hai, made an incredible move on Jan. 1 by adding an additional two players to their roster.
Both zunba and Whoru were added to the roster as a flex and DPS player respectively - keep specifically in mind that there is currently no notion that these two are being added as replacements. Jason Kaplan recently mentioned that Lunatic-Hai has been pressured to remove Leetaejun, though this doesn’t seem to be the situation. On the other hand, it would appear that they will be used as regular substitutes during competitive matches. Interestingly, Lunatic-Hai is joining a list of several other South Korean and Chinese organizations adding multiple players to their rosters in recent months. In fact, iG.Ice ballooned to an 11 man roster back in December; almost a full second roster of substitute players. As these organizations make the move towards larger rosters, it’s led North American and European organizations and analysts to scramble for answers why.
One of the first questions that comes to mind is the actual usefulness of the additive players in the first place. In traditional sports, subbing a player from the bench is usually used to counter fatigue. Although fatigue effects esports players, that model would likely not be as effective. On the other hand, in regards to the smaller hero pool that Overwatch does entail, specialist players could be an incredibly useful tool. For instance, a world class Genji player would be given the ability to solely practice that singular hero and only use him on certain maps when called upon. This, however, does allow the opposing team an opportunity to counter the specialist player - in this regards, counter the Genji player.
This subbing and counter-subbing issue would actually become a fairly interesting facet of high level meta games between teams. But it would, of course, be predicated on a few things, the most important of which would be when teams are allowed to sub out players, and if or when they have to submit a roster prior to tournaments. Could players switch between series (five games), or between a full game, or even switch between offensive and defensive sides of the map? Unfortunately, this question is only up for review for tournament organizers themselves; in this case, exclusively Blizzard. But whatever the specific details might be, it does require organizations to gather the proper information and make educated decisions on the matter. At the end of the day, is a larger squad really worth it?
Currently, the Overwatch roster for Misfits is one of the most versatile group of players the game has ever seen. All of the players are world class, and are multi-talented on a massive slew of characters. Unfortunately, they have little parallel in this specific regard. Any one of their versatile players is a valuable asset to a team. Some organizations may be more willing to pay fewer players a higher salary for their ability to play multiple roles, while other organizations will favor a model of having many more players salaried (possibly lower) for only a few roles. This, of course, brings about another counter-play. Would a player stay for less pay and less game time? How do you even convince a player to play less than half of the matches, for likely less earnings. This answer lies within the organizations themselves (possibly with some Blizzard oversight). Basically, is the starting salary for a rookie player going to be high enough for him to literally be a substitute all season?
If a multi-man roster is eventually enabled, and these previous questions have been answered, a long list of opportunities arise for the growth of Overwatch. Teams with separate defensive and offensive squads will have ample opportunity to practice intricate game plans behind closed doors. Teams with a slew of specialist players will be able to bring unique tactics out of their playbook at a moment’s notice. New players entering the scene will have ample time to play with and under-skilled veterans will have to glean their immense abilities. One thing not previously mentioned that can be added to this list is coaching. Specialist coaches will likely rise from the transition to larger squads. A defensive coach, separate from the offensive coach, could be a huge boon to a well organized team.
Although multiple coaches has yet to be defined, larger teams are already springing up. Current teams have already been testing out a changing roster in previous months. Most recently, at the APAC Premier, Chinese team Vici Gaming regularly repositioned their Roadhog specialist (XBG) to a support role, and only used their full-time support player on specific maps - opting to bench him otherwise. Interestingly, Vici has dropped XBG, but maintains a seven player roster. Vici Gaming was not the only team; iG.Fire regularly swapped a McCree specialist in and out of matches during the tournament.
At this time, there are no less than six premier organizations fielding a larger than six man roster - all of these teams either reside in South Korea or China. This leaves North America and Europe with a very complex series of decisions to make. Undoubtedly, these decisions will take an immense amount of time and research to finalize, but this reporter will wholeheartedly follow and support them.
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Photo credits: Blizzard