With the Overwatch League preseason underway, we finally get to see the result of months of hype. The Overwatch League is still incredibly young, and we have no doubt that there’s lots of changes in store and improvements yet to come. That being said, the pauses between games gave me a lot of time to think about how the Overwatch League can continue to improve. No one is going to be perfect right out of the gate, but these handy tips can certainly help the OWL get a little closer to their end goal.
The pros of the pros
Let’s start with what the Overwatch League did right before we start exploring what they could have done better.
First, the spectator changes are a massive improvement. The game is much more followable for Overwatch fans (although I suspect people who haven’t played the game will continue to be lost), and the live stats are a fantastic addition. Between the team skins, colored effects, camera changes, and more, the Overwatch League becomes less of a barrage of sound and color and more of an actual tactical showdown between two squads.
Secondly, the out of game presentation was also fairly strong. The Arena’s full wall screens looked great, and players coming out of the back and waving to the crowd as they got on stage was very cool. Overall, I actually enjoyed watching the Overwatch League’s matches... but my mind couldn’t help but wander onto some potential improvements.
Style and panache
On one hand, the players walking out from the back and waving to the crowd was neat... but it could have been better. Let’s add some WWE style theme team songs, maybe some flares and explosions, and really amp up the introductions. The Overwatch League teams have all been vocal about how they want fans to know, love, and connect with the players. There’s few better ways to do so than introduce them with a deep voiced announcer, some hype music, and cool lights.
Half time also felt like a missed opportunity. Granted, the Blizzard Arena is likely less suited to presentations than the eventual home town arenas will be, but Overwatch is ripe with opportunities for neat half time presentations. Show us a brand new cinematic at half time some time, Blizzard! Bring out cosplayers, or voice actors. Analysis and replays are fine, but the gaps between games represent a major opportunity for Blizzard to step their game up.
Speaking of game, there are some changes there that could really bring the Overwatch League to a new level.
Whose game is it anyways?
I’ve been playing Overwatch since beta, and so it was easy for me to follow the transitions from Widowmaker to Tracer, the Pharah dog fights, or the enraged Winston hunting down a Mercy. Many of the readability issues, for me, are solved. However, I wonder if that holds true for every viewer. The Overwatch League wants to be a global esport that brings in every market, but there’s still so much going on at such a rapid fire pace.
I suspect that if I were to sit down with say, my mother, or a cousin who’s more into traditional hobbies, they would be able to follow the basic action of a team of powered heroes pushing a cart... but they wouldn’t know why, or have any emotional investment. It would be all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Here’s where out of game presentation and content kicks in to some degree. I’ve certainly been able to enjoy a Raptors game at the Air Canada Center even though I know very little about basketball due to the sheer spectacle of everything. That being said, there are still some changes that can be made to professional Overwatch to make it a little more readable.
Ironing things out
For one, the casters would often switch between the player name and the character he was playing. “Tracer is heading in” and “Danteh is heading in” may be the exact same call, but when they’re used interchangeably, it’s tough to follow for casual viewers.
Secondly, it’d be cool to see some of the content being painstakingly prepared prepared by teams to show off their narratives during the broadcast itself. So much of the content that the Overwatch League has been building is external to the broadcast; it assumes that the viewer has been following AMAs and watching mini-documentaries off the website, plugged into the whole Overwatch League ecosystem. Having the Overwatch League be a program that can stand on its own two legs, instead of coming across as the face of an incalculably deep ecosystem would be a great change. It’s one thing to make Overwatch a lifestyle product, it’s another thing to feel like you have to dedicate your life to the pro Overwatch ecosystem to understand it.
Ultimately, pro Overwatch seems to be at its strongest when it shrugs off the expectations that come with the franchising fee and claims and just puts forward some good old fashioned Overwatch. The World Cup match between USA and Korea and BlizzCon was an absolute blast, and part of that was the gameplay and storylines took a forefront, not the expectations of fans. The Overwatch preseason captured a sliver of that confidence; I could see the shape of what the League has been promising. As the preseason continues, and the inaugural season begins in January, I hope Blizzard can seize onto what works, discard the rest, and manage to maintain the sense of confidence that they’re creating something worth watching.