Don’t panic: Overwatch isn’t overtaking League of Legends...yet

D.Va from Overwatch (Blizzard)
D.Va from Overwatch (Blizzard)

The headlines have been dire.

Overwatch More Popular Than League Of Legends In Korea’s Cybercafes. Overwatch And League Of Legends Battle It Out In South Korea. The list goes on, but the gist is the same: As of the week of June 20, more players in South Korean PC bangs are playing Overwatch than League of Legends.

It’s definitely an interesting statistic, but I’m not convinced that the sky is falling just yet. Overwatch is undeniably a great game and has the potential to become one of the biggest esports in the world, but it’s not quite there. Overwatch still has a lot to prove, and League of Legends is still holding strong as the biggest PC game in the world. If you’re going to come at the king, you best not miss.

I’ve written about what Overwatch needs to improve in the past, but in light of its recent success, it’s time to talk about what’s made the game so popular in the world’s top esports region.

Widowmaker and McCree from Overwatch (Blizzard)
Widowmaker and McCree from Overwatch (Blizzard)

Overwatch is incredibly easy to get into

Like, really easy. Looking at you, Lucio players.

While League of Legends requires hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of hours before you’re merely competent at it, Overwatch is almost instantly accessible. Many heroes can be understood at a glance, possess abilities that are visually and mechanically satisfying, and — most importantly — are just super fun.

That means that anyone can hop on with their friends and expect them to at least not be a huge liability. That isn’t the case with League, where playing with newbies yields hours and hours of frustration.

Overwatch’s gentle learning curve is likely a big reason for the explosion of popularity in PC cafes. Inherently social places, Korean PC bangs are often filled with groups of players playing together. The smaller the skill gap, the more satisfying it is to to play with friends.

The problem comes when folks decide it’s time to, well, “git gud.” As it stands, there are questions surrounding Overwatch’s long-term competitive viability, so until it proves itself to have a high skill cap, expect things to slide a bit back towards some of the more proven competitive games like League of Legends.

Primetime Draven from League of Legends (Riot Games)
Primetime Draven from League of Legends (Riot Games)

Short games = more games

Because many gamers in Korea don’t have PCs at home, they spend their time in pay-by-the-hour cafes. While the price is typically fairly cheap, you’re still paying to get in as many matches of whatever game you’re playing as possible. Overwatch is great for that, considering that its matches rarely last more than 10 minutes; even if they all last about that long, that’s six matches an hour. In the same amount of time, you’re only be able to sneak in a single game of League of Legends.

It’s pure value proposition, and it’s especially appealing when you’re just trying out a newly released game. What’s more, the quick match times let players feel like they’re getting better minute by minute or quickly learn from their losses. And when you’re learning a new game, that’s downright intoxicating. Again, it’s not clear if that feeling will last in a competitive setting, but who knows? The scene is still young.

Genji from Overwatch (Blizzard)
Genji from Overwatch (Blizzard)

Blizzard is very, very good at hyping their games

Real talk: Blizzard is exceptionally good at marketing their games. For Overwatch, they dropped several closed and open beta weeks, teasing the fun that would be coming in the final version of the game. They released a multitude of exceedingly well-produced cinematics to introduce players to the characters and game world. They even put together massive action figures to display in major cities around the globe, just for the sake of hype.

The result was literally everyone on the planet (or at least in my Twitter feed) talking about Overwatch. Over 10 million people bought the game in the first couple months of release, and it instantly established itself as one of the most popular multiplayer games in the world. But how long can that last?

I don’t mean to imply that it won’t continue to be popular. I have no real argument for why it wouldn’t. However, we do know that League of Legends has managed to hold onto its top spot for more than four years and shows very little sign of decline. It’s not growing as quickly as it once was, but it still has easily the biggest fan base of any PC or console game out there.

Overwatch might be able to get there eventually, but it will require a lot of work from the community. And to get the community enamored enough to do so, Blizzard is going to have to put in a lot of effort. Thankfully, Blizzard has the track record to pull it off; just look at how they’ve worked with their past releases. If they treat Overwatch with the same tender loving care as, say, Diablo III or Hearthstone, we could have a monster on our hands. And I hope we do.

Taylor Cocke has fond memories of hanging out in South Korean PC bangs back before Overwatch came out, and now he just wants to go back. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.