Often sought after, rarely found
Overwatch is the latest game in a long line of titles where the developer employs esports as part of their marketing scheme. In an effort to keep enthusiasm for the game high and attract new players, it is now almost standard for developers to try and cultivate a competitive scene. But teams and tournaments will not properly flourish without investors and their money.
A common metric for a game’s popularity is player numbers and similarly a standard metric for a sport’s popularity is viewers. As a game, Overwatch is hugely successful, having already ousted League as the most popular game for Korean PC gamers for the first time in years. However, when competitive games are played, the viewing numbers remain low. So what does Overwatch need as an esport to attract viewers and subsequently investors?
Cause Baby You’re a Firework
A sport needs stars; teams so spectacular, personalities so outrageous, players so iconic, that fans watch just for them. League of Legends has SK Telecom and their robotic drive to win. Super Smash Bros. has Mango with his quirky attitude and constantly amazing storylines. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive had KennyS, Olofmeister, Get_Right, Niko and numerous other players who in their primes dominated the game, alone bending entire teams to their will.
Overwatch is young and, as such, no stars have truly emerged yet. Talespin dominated the Pharah meta, Artier shows us how McCree should be played, and Seagull makes some great Genji highlight reels, but none of these players have become superstars. It applies less-so to Seagull but Talespin, Artier, and many other great Overwatch players either do not stream or stream to very few viewers.
It is a comment I have read again and again. Overwatch is fun to play, but just not fun to watch being streamed. Part of this is that as an FPS game, it requires lots of attention from the player, which means there is less viewer interaction. But obviously, Counter-Strike streamers get huge viewing numbers, so what is the difference?
In CS:GO, there are no abilities like in Overwatch. So in Counter-Strike, to win that 1v2, you have to comprehensively and mechanically outplay your foes. But in Overwatch, many heroes possess the ability to remove several enemies with the press of a button. As a player, this still feels incredibly rewarding to hear the satisfying ping that plays with each elimination. However, when watching, it seems so much more mundane when McCree eliminates three players with Deadeye compared to a string of headshots in CS:GO. As such, professional Overwatch players are not drawing the same number of viewers.
Sadly right now, there is not much we can do about the skill floor in Overwatch. Hopefully one day, Blizzard adds more skill intensive heroes that can more properly reward practiced players. Until then, if we want personalities to emerge in the scene, we have to do our part; encourage players and personalities to stream by watching when they do. If they see their viewing numbers go up, their streams will become more frequent, and we can help the scene grow.
Playing is Easy
Every time a new esport emerges onto the scene, most of the attention is given to the teams and the individuals on them. Sadly, one of the most important aspects to creating a good broadcast gets overlooked so easily: the casters. Casters impact the audience’s viewing much more directly than the players, yet so rarely is the topic of casters developing their fan bases discussed.
The way I see it, there are two different groups of casters at the forefront of Overwatch right now. The most polished group by far is the casters coming to the game from CS:GO. Most notably, the Overwatch Open was put on by FACEIT and the ESL Atlantic Showdown had CS casting talent manning the desks. They easily have the smoothest transitions between casters and the highest quality broadcasts with an entire production team behind them. However, when compared to the next group, it is obvious they do not have quite the same level of game knowledge. It is difficult for me to hold that against them because this is not their normal game and I am not sure how much preparation time they had, but regardless, this leaves me to prefer the second group.
The second group is the GosuGamers casters: ZP and Hexagrams. These two sadly suffer from a bit of production quality issues, notably Hexagram’s robot voice, but they get through it with their obvious synergy, easily transitioning the conversation back and forth. These two are easily my favorite casting duo at the moment. They have been in the game longer than the CS:GO casters and thus know the game and team’s histories on a much deeper level, while still making their cast interesting to watch.
They possess a more personal connection with the game that is difficult not to love as a fan. Think of Deman and Joe Miller in League of Legends or Anders and Semmler in CS:GO. These are names and voices that became ubiquitous with the game they devoted themselves to. In Overwatch, we have ZP and Hexagrams. This casting duo has wholeheartedly devoted themselves to this game and I think as of now, they are the best candidates Overwatch has for developing recognized voices.
Gimme that Information
When watching most esports, especially mobas, there is a wealth of information visually available to the viewer in a short amount of time, such as KDA, items, and creep score. Even Counter-Strike often shows player money and kill scores in between rounds. All this sort of information is fantastic to have on hand; not only does it give the casters a few extra topics to discuss in downtimes, but these statistics draw in fans. Go onto any reddit thread about which player is best at X role in X game and you will be sure to find KDA being brought up.
Fans and analysts like their stats as they make for interesting discussions, or arguments. In Overwatch KDA, damage done, healing done, damage blocked and all the like are figures available to the player in game but not in the spectator client. The simple addition of KDA trackers below each player’s portrait would add a way to help easily track a player’s influence on the game besides the eye test.
Additionally, adding damage done, damage blocked, and damage healed counters would provide fantastic statistics for fans and casters to discuss. Giving a quick way to compare performance between heroes and players would add depth to broadcasts while also helping to separate the statistical monsters from the average players.
Making these statistics available to analysts would allow them to properly paint star players in the light they deserve and could lead us on many amazing storylines. Does a low level team have a monster player struggling to carry? Who is the statistically best Genji in the world? Currently, we have to answer these questions with an eye test, but I would love to be able to properly report the results.
The Bottom Line
For how young Overwatch is as a game, it is exceeding expectations, already attracting many major organisations and large prize pools. I see potential for the game and I honestly believe it can thrive into a successful esport. If Blizzard adds some vital information trackers, it will allow casters like ZP and Hexagrams to thrive and establish themselves as the casting faces of this scene. The players just need to keep playing, keep amazing us, and make places for themselves in Overwatch history. Us, the viewers, just need to sit back and enjoy.
I am excited for the future of Overwatch, and I hope you are too.
Image Credit: playoverwatch.com