At Heroes Never Die, we’ve discussed the contrast between the Overwatch League’s glossy exterior and inclusive goals and the troubles they keep running into with managing the gamers that make up the League. It’s a pretty persistent problem, and it will likely remain so for months (if not years) to come. But what if there was another way? What if Blizzard made the wrong choice from day one? Austen and Cass examine a dark, alternate timeline Overwatch League that is either a cut episode of Black Mirror or the true template for esports success.
Cass: Okay, so, Austen, it’s 2015. Overwatch has just been announced, and Blizzard wants to make an esports league. Sounds like a pretty good idea, right? But what if instead of cultivating the best talent from around the globe... they just found a bunch of CW actors and hired those people instead?
Austen: Listen, Cass, I like watching the highest levels of competition in Overwatch just as much as the next person, but I think this is a perfect idea to build an esports league around. You grab a bunch of beautiful people, with questionable acting ability, and let them make and play their own character. The drama practically creates itself, and none of it has to be real.
Cass: Right! I’d like to propose an alternate reality Overwatch League. You open your browser, fire up Twitch, and you see twelve teams of relatable, diverse people who basically anyone can find something to like in. You can even go ahead and seed in some heels and villains!
Is this a patently ridiculous idea? Of course. But as we start to really blend esports and entertainment, it starts to beg the question of what the long term consequences can be for players. But what if we remove the players altogether, or we have them play off-camera and then we just show the gameplay on screen as beautiful, impeccably media trained actors pretend that it’s their match?
Here’s the real question: Would this hypothetical dystopian League actually achieve some of the Overwatch League’s current goals? Would it do so better than the current iteration?
Austen: Oh, that’s even better, a Singing in the Rain, style, players behind the curtain situation. It’s a trade-off in a lot of ways. You’d still get the incredible games, and you’d lose the constant player criticism and hate that seems to be all anyone around the League can talk about at the moment. The downside, of course, is that the players get less recognition than they deserve for their play, but is that even so different from what we have?
I mean, outside of their impressive play in-game, what parts of these players’ personalities are we really getting right now? Outside of playing the game, when do we really get to see Overwatch League players just, being happy, or excited? For the most part the only reason a player is in the spotlight outside of the game is because they’re taking, or giving, blame for their team’s losses, or something worse.
Maybe this really is the ideal scenario. Our actors can give us twice the drama while keeping these Overwatch teens from feeling like the crushing weight of million dollar corporations and fervent fan expectations rest exclusively on their shoulders.
Cass: It’s interesting because there are times where I see the promise of the Overwatch League shine through. When I went there on opening night, and I saw a young girl dressed as D.Va posing with the Dallas Fuel, that was honestly transcendent to me. I felt my heart sing. When I see teenage girls and twenty-something ladies on Twitter actively, hilariously building a community around the Outlaws online, that’s amazing. I live for that.
And then you see stuff like the recent controversies and you’re like, oh, that’s right. I feel as though the goal of the Overwatch League is so utopian, so golden, so reachable and just as our fingertips brush against that glory, we get something like this.
Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe, at the age of 27, I just don’t get how the youth of today talk online. But holy moly is there a clash of expectation and result here. I guess that’s the joy of using real players: we get those sweet highs, and they’re authentic and natural and sometimes the best esports has to offer. Shame about those low, low lows.
Austen: You’re probably right, our utopian version of the Overwatch League, where beautiful people create wild and ridiculous storylines, is a little too good to be true and I would miss the phenomenal play that we actually get to see week to week right now. But I do think there’s some kind of bridge between the two worlds that can be built.
Here’s the thing about the Overwatch League, the scandals are going to keep happening. As long as players are young, talented, passionate, and, somehow, completely un-media-trained, these things won’t stop. But there is a solution to this for the league: stop hiding your players.
Blizzard, Twitch, and the Overwatch League teams seem almost totally fixated on the idea that the content they show should be all about the games. We constantly get intricate discussions of minute gameplay decisions, team composition, and ultimate usage, who’s starting who’s sitting, it’s all good content when it comes to the matches itself, but it also feels completely lifeless.
Teams need to stop telling us why one player got bench and another is starting. Instead, why don’t you tell us about which two players on a team are always facing off in fighting games, or which restaurant in LA is Tobi’s favorite. Show me NYXL hanging out in New York. There are a million reasons to like these players, all teams have to do is show us a few.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Widowmaker headshot as much as the next fan, but that only makes me care about a player for one series, it’s the personalities that help players and teams create lifetime fans. There are a little over 100 different unique personalities that make up the Overwatch League’s roster, and if we get to know a little about them, the good will quickly start to outweigh the bad.