The Overwatch League’s inaugural season was a successful endeavor, providing us fans with not only amazing gameplay from the best Overwatch players, but an excellent production to match. The crowd, casters, and competition were all stellar, and only improved as the competition progressed. Moving into the league’s second season, we’ll see new match scheduling and balance patch implementation put to the test. Some of these changes are confirmed, and others may play out over the season. With the following changes, we can be optimistic that the Overwatch League can deliver its promise of being the first global premier esports league.
A global league - for players and audiences
With the Overwatch League expanding from twelve to twenty teams, global viewership will be more crucial than ever. If you were anything like me, you spent most of last February sleep deprived as the viewing schedule was only really feasible on Saturday evenings for European viewers. The addition of the Paris Eternal will make it difficult for Blizzard to ignore their European audience.
The league’s commissioner Nate Nanzer has previously acknowledged that “times have not been great for European fans”, and noted schedule changes specifically to address this. In addition to a new European team in the mix, there are three new Chinese teams joining the Shanghai Dragons for the second season. We can expect the increasingly global league to be reflected in scheduling for viewers. In addition, the 2019 format will have all teams play 28 matches throughout the season, providing a more flexible schedule and the occasional road match.
Try, try again
The first season of OWL, due to its inaugural nature, was shaped by trial and error. Teams, like the Dynasty and the Fuel, and various players have been vocal about their support infrastructure as a result. For the new signings coming over from the Contenders scene, existing Overwatch League players have a season of experience under their belt, allowing them to provide an additional level of support to rookies.
One of the most important lessons from season one was pacing. The format of season one’s stages and playoffs led to the year feeling disjointed, with individual stage victories feeling anticlimatic before teams went right back to the regular season grind. Blizzard have listened to feedback and are adjusting the breaks between stages and playoffs. As a result, season two will benefit from greater breaks between the stages. The playoffs after the regular season are also being reworked with the addition of more teams, with the seventh and twelfth teams in the season’s standings joining their own bracket in which to make the season’s playoff.
Any change that leads to more intense Overwatch is fantastic; the stage playoffs were a nice feature that produced some of the more iconic moments of the entire season. The stage playoffs also served as nice teasers for the eventual series finale and I’m glad to see them make a return for season two. This will lead to a more high octane, competitive environment, as there is now a lot more incentive than ever to reach even twelfth in the overall standings.
Evolving existing systems
For the most part Blizzard have been listening carefully to fan suggestion from websites such as Twitter and Reddit; they are actively implementing improvements and fixes to the viewing experience. An example of this was the Overwatch World Cup Viewer; an amazing tool that allows anyone to pause, slowdown and control the camera around the map at any time. We’ll likely see it show back up for season two, a tool that will enhance watching pro play and help viewers improve their own skills. The ability to easily move between pro player’s POV will display the mechanical skills and positional awareness that make the OWL talent the very best of the best.
As is natural for any burgeoning sports league, rivalry is non existent from the onset. The worst thing that Blizzard could have done was to create artificial rivalries between the teams. This allows a more organic experience for fans as well as the formation of narratives. How the season panned out has actually reaffirmed my confidence in the league’s sportsmanship and fans. There are so many unexpected narratives that have surfaced that make me excited for the upcoming season. The Battle of LA between the Gladiators and the Valiant is always a thrillingly tight affair. The experience is heightened by the crowds interaction along with during these tense fixtures.
Now we have distinct underdogs to root for and against for each matchup. Hopefully the additional teams will add more to this growing aspect of OWL. Having said this I ultimately feel that Blizzard tries to discourage personal beefs and somewhat police the players’ interactions. This can be taken too far; certain interactions by individual players have definitely warranted penalties. But after viewing the OWL’s All-Star games I realised that we need more trash talking and banter than we have seen thus far. The Philadelphia Fusion are definitely pushing this direction too with their preseason tweets. I feel that as the league grows so too will the fanbase as well as their enthusiasm.
With different patches being applied to different stages it felt like regular players and professionals were playing almost different games. The patches should coincide with the stages rather than be released abruptly mid-stage. This will be an improvement for players too as ladder play will be an extension of the professional scene. It is strange for regular players to see something cool on the pro stage that cannot be replicated in their own games. The most glaring example of this was outrage towards the exclusion of Hanzo’s rework in stage four which necessitated a response from the league’s commissioner. Going forward Blizzard need to do a better job by timing patches to align with the season’s progression.
Although in-game stats were introduced mid-stage four this was far too late. With stats available from the onset of season two we can have greater knowledge of the players’ performance in realtime. This is an example of how OWL has been continuously adding to the viewer experience. I believe that with the aforementioned Viewer tool as well as visible stats we will have amazing insight into player mechanics and positioning allowing even more thorough post-match analysis.
Personally, I believe Blizzard’s commitment to OWL ensures a long and triumphing pro-Overwatch scene. They have proven to listen to fan suggestions in regards to viewer accessibility and make efforts to implement these as quickly as possible. With these changes I am very excited to see what Blizzard can do after the rousing success of their first season. Season two of The Overwatch League begins on February 14th.