Rivalry is a word thrown around so often in the Overwatch League that it’s in danger of losing all meaning completely. As desperately as Blizzard may want traditional sports rivalries to carry over into the Overwatch League, the truth is a good rivalry is about far more than the city in a team’s name.
Despite some very entertaining games in the first three weeks, the Overwatch League still suffers from the same problems that any sports league has in its infancy, every ounce of drama in the league comes from somewhere outside the league. It’s all manufactured without anything inside the league itself to back it up. What the Overwatch League really needs is a few matches that fans can get behind, to create rivalries based on in-game history.
Thankfully for both Blizzard and Overwatch League fans, there is one match up in the league that gave us a series worthy of a rivalry. In the Overwatch League’s battle for the Los Angeles Valiant took on another LA team, the Gladiators.
The series stretched on across all five possible maps, across over two and a half hours, making it the longest series in the league’s first three weeks. While it was the longest, this series certainly wasn’t the best, or most mechanically impressive the league has seen, and that only adds to its appeal. Two teams battling it out at the height of their talent is great, but scrappy matches that seemed close enough that either team could take it are what spurs fans into true fervor.
And at the end of the day, that’s the true core of a rivalry. Not a city, or a few players, but fans driven by history to hate one team and love another. But it’s rare that a series provides such a compelling ground zero.
In the first two maps, things seemed all but over with the Gladiators smashing Valiant on both Eichenwalde and Horizon Lunar Colony. But the Valiant weren’t going to go down so easily. What followed were three of the most exciting and close maps in the Overwatch League so far, with the Valiant coming all the way back from 2-0 down to reverse sweep the Gladiators 3-2, barely scraping out wins on Ilios, Junkertown, and Lijiang Tower.
With the Valiant winning each of their maps by just one round, each and every win that they had could have been reversed with just the slightest possible difference on any of the maps, leaving Valiant fans ecstatic and Gladiator fans desperate for a rematch.
Now that two naturally competitive teams have faced off in a close and ugly match, this is the part of the story that Blizzard and teams have been waiting for. Now it’s up to them, and fans, to help this rivalry grow, until it becomes what the Overwatch League needs; something real and organic and completely self contained that gives fans a reason to pay attention and makes everyone pick a side.