An analysis of the challenges and opportunities for Blizzard’s new national Overwatch eSports league. Structured more similarly to NFL or NHL, the city based teams will contract top Overwatch players for a regular season in the hopes of creating lasting tournaments and fan support
During Blizzcon, Blizzard announced that they will be hosting a league for Overwatch eSports. The basic format of the league involves weekly games from teams that are all tied to major cities, and there will be a player combine that features talent that each team can sign. Major eSports organizations will bid on cities to secure their spot in the league. However, details regarding the combine have not been released. It is unknown exactly how players will get invited to the combine, how they will be signed onto teams once they’re there, and what will happen to the rosters that these organizations already have.
There is a lot of speculation on what will happen regarding the combine. It makes sense that it will be composed of both players playing on successful teams and players at the top of the competitive leaderboard. Blizzard wants the combine to show off new and upcoming talent, so players from top teams won’t be the only ones taking part. They also wouldn’t only be selecting players from the top of the leaderboard since players on teams are starting to spend their available time scrimmaging and talking strategy, meaning they’re giving up ranked playtime and ladder climbing; it wouldn’t be fair to them.
The other major bit of speculation is whether or not there will be a player draft out of the combine, including whether or not current teams will dissolve and have their player contracts bought-out. This is a more polarizing issue. Those in favor of fully dissolving the teams for a complete draft want every team in the league to be competitive, rather than a field of two or three dominant teams among the rest.
The problem with this is every position on an eSports team is more dependent on each other than on a traditional sports team. That’s not to say that traditional sports teams don’t rely on each other, but there are certain positions that barely interact with each other in game; the skill of a wide receiver in American Football doesn’t impact how well the running back runs and carries.
The smaller team size of eSports teams and the communication needed to convey information as a result of map design forces players to gel much more closely in order to win. Because of this, giving every team an even spread of player skill doesn’t guarantee an even field, especially since organization owners who aren’t familiar with eSports may not hold this concept in high consideration.
TSM’s acquisition of Yellowstar at the beginning of 2016 in League of Legends is a good example of this. TSM, a team with a superstar midlaner and AD carry were set to completely dominate once they picked up Yellowstar, the best support player in both North America and Europe. Instead, the team arguably got worse, losing to teams with rookies and without star players. A complete draft would also put a lot of unnecessary stress on players if they get drafted into a team that they can’t work with.
Ideally, organizations would have the option to resign their players to ensure that spectators can watch the top level of competition with players who weren’t resigned going into a free agent pool. From there, teams could either bid on players or draft out of the remaining players. Not only will keeping these top teams together likely produce a better viewing experience and better storylines, especially for very invested fans, it will also keep the West competitive with South Korea since this league will be first implemented in America. If South Korean teams are able to keep developing organically for even one season longer than the West, then there will be virtually no way for the West to catch up, given Korea’s history in eSports infrastructure and development.
The combine itself is a good way to feature talent and gives newer players a tangible goal toward becoming a pro player. The fact that teams will be representing cities helps get more fans involved. The concerns so far are seeded in ambiguity and lack of information on the specifics of how any of it will work. Until Blizzard reveals more information, players will have to simply do their best to perform in tournaments and climb the ladder.