Overtaking the World: A Guide to the Overwatch League
In 2016, the video game Overwatch was released by Blizzard Entertainment. To play, players are divided into teams with four other players online at the same time. Together they work to defend their targets or escort goods across the map in a limited amount of time.
Despite being only one game, Overwatch is Blizzard’s fourth successful franchise. The game’s success has come from the constant evolution of it. The team behind Overwatch is constantly introducing new game modes, creating new skins for characters, revealing brand-new characters, and rebalancing the game.
Its first open beta attracted more than 10 million players. Now, three years later, there are more than 40 million people who regularly play the game.
Overwatch and e-Sports
Around the same time as Overwatch’s release, the world of e-sports was developing into a fully-fledged international phenomenon.
There has always been competition between gamers. Before the mid-2000s, these competitions were mostly between friends, who were all playing at similarly amateur levels. Soon, interest in these competitions grew and people started live-streaming the events, which attracted unbelievable crowds of online spectators. By the late 2000s, e-sports carved out its own niche in the video game industry, with some games becoming more popular to watch than they are to play.
Within a year of the game’s first open beta, Blizzard Entertainment decided to capitalize on the growing popularity of e-sports. So, they founded the Overwatch League, a professional e-sports league dedicated to Overwatch.
What is the Overwatch League?
In the Overwatch League, teams are based around a geographic location, with some popular locations having more than one team.
Like the NFL or NHL, the Overwatch League teams all play scheduled matches against each other, starting with a non-regulation pre-season period. Following the pre-season, a regular-season takes place and each team will play about 40 games with the hope of accumulating a ranking high enough to make it into the post-season playoff championship. There’s also a fun All-Star weekend, where teams that are compiled by fan vote play against each other.
Teams get monetary compensation that’s commensurate with their standing at the end of the regular season. There was $3.5 million in prize money given out in the first season and another $1 million awarded to the championship team.
Initially, the first pre-season matches were streamed on Blizzard’s website and on Major League Gaming. Right before the first regular-season games were played, Blizzard announced a partnership with Twitch to provide third-party streaming services for the Overwatch League. They then partnered with Disney, who owns television channels ESPN, Disney XD, and ABC. This partnership meant that the Season 1 championship, along with the rest of the games played in Season 2 and beyond would be shown on television as well as via online streaming platforms like Twitch.
How Is It Different from Other e-Sports Leagues?
Unlike many other e-sports leagues, the Overwatch League has the same format as a North American professional sports league, with teams based around a geographic location. Many other e-sports leagues use a system that promotes good teams while transferring poorer-performing teams to less prestigious leagues, regardless of which city the team is from.
Although there are some e-sports teams with female players, the Overwatch League had a roster of more than 100 male players with zero female players in their inaugural season. Organizers cite the fact that the community surrounding Overwatch can be toxic and uninviting to women and worry that the fans would think of signing a female player as a stunt, rather than a legitimate choice.
There have also been issues with some Overwatch League players being fined for their rude, inappropriate, and toxic comments towards their opponents.
The inaugural Overwatch League was made up of 12 teams, all based around geographic locations.
The matches were all played at the Blizzard Arena, a newly renovated facility in Burbank, California. Except for the finals, they took place in New York City’s Barclays Center, ordinarily the home of the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders.
The very first Overwatch League champions, the London Spitfire are based in London, UK, and are owned by Cloud9, an e-sports organization that was founded in 2013. Their players are mostly from South Korea.
The Philadelphia Fusion is run by the same parent company as the Philadelphia Flyers. Although a visa issue for one player caused the entire team to withdraw from the pre-season, they soon started seeing more wins later in the regular season and quickly became one of the highest-ranked teams in the league.
The Boston Uprising was the first team to remain undefeated during the regular season. In fact, they won 10 games in a row in Stage 3 of the regular season, walking away with $225,000 in prize money.
The Dallas Fuel started as Team EnVyUs during the Overwatch closed beta and quickly amassed an incredible win-loss record. At one point, they were on a 57-game winning streak.
Their blue flame logo represents a spark that has the potential to ignite change.
Based in the Miami-Orlando area, the Florida Mayhem ended the first season in second-to-last place, with seven wins and 33 losses. They’re owned by e-sports company Misfits, which in turn is partially owned by the Miami Heat.
The Houston Outlaws got their name from Texas’s rich history of cowboys and the Wild West. The team finished seventh in the league and was awarded $75,000 in prize money.
Los Angeles Gladiators
One of two Los Angeles teams, the Gladiators are owned by KSE Esports. Despite visa issues sidelining two popular players, they finished fourth overall in the first season.
Los Angeles Valiant
The Los Angeles Valiant is the second of the Los Angeles-based Overwatch League teams. They finished second overall but failed to secure a spot in the final championship game. Also, they had a remarkable six players selected to play in the All-Star game.
New York Excelsior
The New York Excelsior was named for the New York state motto, which is a Latin word that means “ever upward.” They finished first in the league and their division in 2018.
San Francisco Shock
One of the poorer-performing teams in the league, the San Francisco Shock finished ninth in the league and fourth in their division. They are owned by NRG Esports.
One of the few 2018 teams not based in North America, the Seoul Dynasty was considered the team to beat going into the pre-season. However, they started to falter in the middle of the first stage and ultimately didn’t secure a playoff spot.
Unlike many of the league teams, the Seoul Dynasty has only ever had players from the team’s home country.
The Shanghai Dragons were the one team in the Overwatch League who did not win a single regular-season game. They lost 40 games straight and finished last in the league, taking home only $25,000 in prize money.
Changes for Next Season
For the second season of Overwatch League, eight new teams were introduced. These eight teams were the:
- Atlanta Reign;
- Chengdu Hunters;
- Guangzhou Charge;
- Hangzhou Spark;
- Paris Eternal;
- Toronto Defiant;
- Vancouver Titans, and;
- Washington Justice.
With the additional teams, Blizzard divided the league into two divisions: the Atlantic Division and Pacific Division. The Atlantic Division encompasses the teams on the North American East Coast and in Europe, while the Pacific Division contains teams found on the West Coast of North America and in Asia.
Starting with the 2020 season of Overwatch League, teams will now travel to each other’s home cities to play, instead of having all the games take place in Los Angeles. In order to help teams deal with all the travel, Blizzard split the divisions further. There are now four divisions split among two conferences.
The changes don’t end there as Blizzard changed the format of the next season. Seasons will no longer be broken up into stages. As such, the next season will run from February to August with an All-Star break in the middle.