You’re sitting in a stadium, thousands of voices around you, all screaming in excitement. The stage ahead of you is occupied by two teams. Each team filled with the eSports elite, all in a state if intense focus. There is too much riding on this for distraction. But you are immersed in the energy of the stadium. You are on the edge of your seat, attention wired to the massive screens hovering over the stage.
A smile comes across your face as the screens focus on your favorite player. But he is taken over by gun fire. You witness in horror as the enemy team takes control of the game.
Then something amazing happens. Your favorite player switches to your favorite hero. You can’t believe it, it’s the perfect duo. With time running out he rushes into the fight. He enters a risky position, but he’s desperate. Then it happens, all at once, he takes out Mercy, and then Tracer, and then Winston. In a matter of seconds his team arrives, and its 5 V 2, soon after, 5 V 0. In an instant, the tables have been turned. Your favorite player has secured the win. And the clock reaches zero.
The crowd is now on their feet, confetti in the air. You can’t hide the smile on your face, realizing you have just witnessed eSports history.
Is this just a dream? Does Overwatch really have what it takes to make it to the big stage? Or will it fall short underneath the eSports giants, like League of Legends and CSGO?
With the launch of Overwatch just around the corner, it seems to be on everyone’s mind. Will this game become the next eSports giant? But to answer this we need to break down what makes a game worthy of eSports.
What Makes an eSports Game?
In recent years, the top eSports games have been MOBAs like League of Legends, and First Person Shooters (FPS), like Counter-Strike Global Offensive. It’s obvious why these games are great; polished gameplay, ranking systems, and the excitement of playing with friends. But why is it that they have blown up in the world of eSports? From the perspective of a game designer, there seem to be a million components that make the eSports formula. But in general, there are only 3 main components.
The success of any game relies on great gameplay. An eSports game is no different! For an eSports game to grow in size, it needs to be playable for both beginners and elites. When you can pick up a game for the first time and immediately have fun, it’s easy to become hooked.
But a good experience can become boring after time. This is when a game needs complexity; it needs to leave room for skill development and mastery. Consider the thrill when you strive to climbing the ranks, improving your stats, or level up. A game that is easy to learn, but hard to master is a game for eSports.
Entertaining to Watch
If a game is fun to play, yet impossible to watch, it will fail miserably as an eSport. Consider the game of golf. It’s fun to play, even if you only go mini putting. But as a spectator sport, it only appeals to avid players.
Great games, destined for eSports are beyond exciting to watch. These games keep you on the edge of your seat, desperate to keep watching, hungry to see your favorite team dominate. These games are built around competition, skill and constant “wow” moments. The dramatic “wow” moment is when something great happens, someone does something unexpected, takes a risk and impresses everyone. As a League of Legends fan, I will never forget xPeke’s famous “backdoor” play, or Faker’s nail biting “Zed outplay. It is these “wow” moments that make us pay attention, and make games like League of Legends compelling to watch.
Skill Based, Unpredictable and Competitive
As players and viewers, competition appeals to our most primal nature. It is no coincidence that the most eSports games include skilled teams, going head to head in a high-stakes competition. When we put massive skill against massive skill, we are naturally curious to see who will be the champion.
Now consider games that are unbalanced, where heroes and champions are easy to win with. Or imagine the top team in one content going against a mediocre team in another. When the outcome is predictable the game loses its magic. It is unpredictable competition that steals our attention.
Does Overwatch Have What it Takes?
In the recent Open Beta, many got their hands on Overwatch for the first time. While there are many opinions on the game, it’s obvious that the overall verdict is positive. With instantly enjoyable gameplay, and heroes catering to many play types, the game is easy to pick up. But this doesn’t mean it’s an instant eSports game. In fact, one can’t ignore that there are a handful of flaws that may prevent it from hitting the big stage.
Why Might Overwatch Fail as an eSport?
When the open beta launched I was beyond excited. I went to my friend’s place, with my laptop in hand. When I arrived I started the download. But as I launched the game for the first time I became concerned. It seemed this game was taking a while to open. Eventually, it opened and my nerves calmed… temporarily. The second I started a game my jaw dropped with disappointment. Not only was the game lagging, but the environment was hardly even loading. While my laptop isn’t the ideal gaming computer, it can handle most popular games just fine. At this moment that I realized that this new, high-performance game would cut out a large chunk of potential players. Consider how many gamers have average or below average PCs. Can Overwatch grow rapidly by only appealing to those with high end systems?
Performance issues, on average computers, are not the only possible downfalls for this game. With Overwatch, Blizzard attempts to enter a new genre of games and almost invent a new genre completely. Overwatch combines MOBA aspects and FPS gameplay. As an eSport, it may just cut out a large chunk of the potential audience in doing so. Many FPS games like Counter-Strike and Call of Duty have built their fan base on realism. To the average gamer an FPS that looks and feels realistic is exciting. Overwatch completely trashes realism and creates an entirely new universe. This draws concern for capturing the average FPS fan.
Another possible obstacle maybe it’s price tag. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well priced and well worth it. But it’s a barrier of entry nonetheless. One of the main reasons League of Legends became popular is the ease of picking up for free. These factors immediately cut out some of the potential fan-base. But will they be the complete downfall of Overwatch?
What Makes Overwatch Likely to Succeed?
In spite of the downfalls, Overwatch is likely to succeed as a great game. But will it succeed as an eSport? Let’s consider the high points of Overwatch.
Starting with its gameplay, Overwatch is an absolute masterpiece! It combines the great aspects of MOBA games like League of Legends with the popular gameplay of First Person Shooters. This combination has been called many names including “hero shooter”. In other words Blizzard has created a unique, new genre.
From day one Blizzard has been open about its intention for eSports. The dynamics, the well-crafted maps and the array of heroes make this game easy to pick up, and hard to master; perfect for eSports. But the gameplay isn’t everything. Is it entertaining to watch? In my personal opinion, it is the most watchable game on the market. To witness a Tracer dart around the map, poke the entire enemy team, and escape, inches from receiving a deadly headshot or witnessing Reinhardt charge someone off a cliff. These are the “wow” moments that hook both players and spectators, and they seem to be built into every match!
In my opinion, the greatest part of Overwatch, that will ensure its success, is its universe. This story, told in Pixar quality animation, adds depth and connects emotion. When a player becomes emotionally connected to a game it creates a bond. I guarantee there are games you remember just for their relate-able characters and great story. Overwatch understands that we are emotional creatures and pulls us in with story and character. Overwatch has already captured attention and connected emotion. It has caused fans to emotionally connect with heroes, to fall in love with the game. And the game hasn’t even launched yet.
Will it Be the Next eSport Giant?
Overwatch, like any game, has flaws. It is clear that these flaws may hold Overwatch back as an eSport. But are the flaws countered well by the high points? Can it succeed on the big stage?
Let’s consider who’s behind the game. Blizzard well-known titles like World of Warcraft and Diablo. So we know that it’s capable of making a popular game. In recent years, it has also made great eSports games like Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and of course StarCraft. Blizzard has a massive fan base, a track record of popular games and the marketing know-how to make Overwatch an eSport.
Now let’s tackle the bigger question. Will Overwatch become the next eSports giant? Will it dominate CSGO and League of Legends? In my opinion… yes and no. I don’t think it will come out of the gate a champion. It will take Overwatch some time to gain its footing as an eSport. But when it does… it will snowball. It will pick up momentum, for all the things that make it a great game.
As Overwatch picks up momentum, the new generation of FPS fans will become hooked, stealing their attention from games like Call of Duty or Counter-Strike. They will begin to look at traditional FPS games as limited. “What are my abilities? Why don’t I have an ultimate?” Overwatch will steal the light as a great eSports FPS, leaving similar games in its dust. And for this it will stand tall as an eSports giant, next to games like DOTA 2 and League of Legends, far surpassing games Call of Duty and even Counter Strike.