When I was just a kid, I remember staying up late to watch “SOCOM” on G4TV, where the best players in the world would compete for what seemed like the biggest prize that professional gaming would ever have to offer.
As I got older, I would watch professional “Super Smash” tournaments that took place in what appeared to be someone’s basement, but it didn’t matter where they were playing, because as a person who loved video games, this was our Super Bowl.
As time went on, and the audience for professional gaming expanded, the production that surrounded the tournaments grew larger and more extravagant, with some tournaments even being broadcast on major television networks, such as ESPN and TBS.
With the injection of a mainstream audience came the unwelcomed opinions of those who wished to capitalize on the increasing popularity of video games. “It’s not a sport!” they would shout after mispronouncing the name of the game that they were criticizing.
There was never a doubt, however, that there was a massive audience for esports. Peak viewership for some of the major esports championships are competitive with events like the World Series and the NBA Finals, and the audience is growing exponentially each year.
Thus, when the game-developing giants, Blizzard, announced that one of the most popular games in the world, “Overwatch,” would soon be launching their own officially licensed competitive league, the aptly named Overwatch League, fans of the game, and fans of esports alike, were giddy with excitement.
Representing another huge step in the world of competitive gaming, the Overwatch League provides something that may have been missing from the esports scene: competition.
You see, at the top of the esports food chain stands League of Legends, which is responsible for the massive growth in esports’ popularity over the past half-decade. League of Legends was relatively unmatched in popularity, with only its rival, Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), providing anything representing a similar viewership.
However, with the arrival of the Overwatch League, there is now competition at the top of the esports ladder, which should bring out the absolute best from both sides of the aisle, and spark even more innovation within the esports world.
Composed of 12 teams, the Overwatch League contains squads that represent cities located around the globe, from the Boston Uprising all the way to the Shanghai Dragons. Within each team, there are distinct personalities and playstyles that will draw different people to support different teams.
For example, the Seoul Dynasty possess the most talented attacking player on earth, FLETA, who will quite literally win games single-handedly at points, and will also draw fans of high-level, technical gameplay to the Dynasty.
For decades, competitive gaming was an extremely niche form of entertainment, with the presentation, commentary and, most importantly, gameplay all being aimed at entertaining only the most die-hard fans of the game being played. However, the Overwatch League, and Overwatch as a whole, prides itself on being one of the accessible games to date.
After watching a few matches, even someone who is completely unfamiliar with gaming will begin to pick up on the subtle decisions that the best players are making, which only makes watching the matches more interesting.
Further, the Overwatch League is taking care of its players unlike any esports league has done before. Austin Wilmot, a.k.a. Muma, of the Houston Outlaws believes that Blizzard’s support of the players has taken the gameplay to another level.
“The Overwatch League is really the first time that a western eSport has given its players a chance to fully commit themselves to the game,” Muma told Study Breaks. “Thanks to Blizzard enforcing fair contracts and requirements for food, housing and healthcare, players are actually able to 100 percent commit themselves to the game, which allows us to perform at our peak.”
With the existing possibility of expansion in the future (NCAA Overwatch?), the Overwatch League has opened a new door into the world of esports for those who may not have had a way in before.
Without question, time will tell exactly how successful the league will actually be, but with a combination of entertaining gameplay, over-the-top presentation and a host of distinct personalities to root for, the Overwatch League appears to have set itself up for a sustained run at the top of the esports world.