E-Sports Special Feature: Overwatch Highly Anticipated Overwatch League Season Begins

The Overwatch League (OWL) started its inaugural season in stunning fashion on January 10. This league pits 12 teams of the best Overwatch players against each other, broadcasted for the world to view.

The game Overwatch debuted in 2016, and in its first two years won Game of the Year and Ongoing Game of the Year. It is manufactured by Blizzard Studios, the producers of many other successful titles including World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Diablo III and the flagship title in e-sports, StarCraft. Overwatch’s big draw comes from its distinct stylistic choices. Unlike the other popular first-person shooting games (Call of Duty, Battlefield), Overwatch is less graphic (rated Teen) and is set on a futuristic, fantastic Earth with pompous heros and bright colors. The M4’s and trenches of Call of Duty were replaced by frost guns or healing orbs and Lunar Colonies or Omnic factories in Overwatch.

Each team in the Overwatch League has six players to compete in these bombastic virtual settings, while physically they are in Blizzard’s studio in Burbank, California. Despite the competitions being held in this location, the teams are designated by city labels. For example, the first game of the season was between the San Francisco Shock and the Los Angeles Valiant, while the finals of Stage 1 were between the London Spitfire and New York Excelsior.

The ownership groups of each team are worth noting as well. Blizzard asked teams for a hefty buy-in of $20 million into the league, so only serious organizations made the cut. They ranged from traditional sports figureheads such as The Kraft Group (Boston Uprising) and Comcast Spectacor (Philadelphia Fusion, who also sport the same black and orange colors as the NHL’s Flyers), to endemic e-sports brands such as Cloud 9 (London Spitfire) and Immortals (Noah Winston’s Los Angeles Valiant).

Before OWL came into fruition, competitive Overwatch organized independently of the game’s developer. In fact, this model of the same company owning both the game and its competitive league has only been accomplished by Riot Games vastly popular League of Legends. Before this, e-sports events were held by third party organizers in shorter time-framed tournaments. The concept of an “e-season” was unheard of until Riot Games’ League Championship Series (LCS) started in 2011. This centralization allows for the league to be elevated to a position more closely resembling traditional sports league.

This year marked a big shift, as both OWL and LCS adopted the North American style of franchised leagues, as compared to the European system of tiered leagues with relegations and promotions between the tiers. The security of teams to stay in the league gives investors more confidence in investing into their team, which in turn should create a more competitive league environment.

The action of Stage 2 has heated up, and it’s not too late to hop on the Excelsior or Spitfire bandwagon. You can catch the action online at twitch.tv/overwatchleague (commercial free!) Wednesday to Saturday starting at 7 p.m. Eastern. Watch the impressive production by Blizzard, the personality and concentration of the players as they sit behind their computers and the roar of the crowd that matches the competitive atmosphere of any traditional sports arena.

Contact Charlie Huemmler at [email protected]