No doubt about it: Overwatch is a great competitive video game. It’s spectacularly polished, boasts a huge, well-balanced cast of colorful heroes, and features modes built perfectly for nail-bitingly close endings.
But I’m not certain it will be able to sustain itself as an esport.
Traditionally, esports that have become successful are easy to watch. They cater heavily to the spectator, making it easy for casual viewers to gain a basic understanding of the game quickly and simply. Shooters struggle with that, as they’re often too fast, chaotic, and tough to follow.
Overwatch is no exception. And now that it’s been thrust into the cutting-edge of esports, it’s going to have to deal with some growing pains. So rather than whine about its shortcomings (I really do want Overwatch to succeed, after all), here are a few things that Blizzard needs to do to cement it in the pantheon of big name esports.
Build a better spectator mode
You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m going to be making a lot of comparisons here to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. And for good reason: Valve has largely figured out how to make CS:GO incredibly watchable.
A lot of that comes from their tremendous spectator client. The CS:GO UI is clean, but still delivers essential info about the game. You can clearly see what guns and gear everyone has purchased for the round, their remaining health, the match score, and other handy tidbits.
Overwatch’s current spectator mode isn’t terrible, but it could definitely use some improvements. Surfacing cooldowns a bit more clearly would be nice, as would showing off player KDAs. Even a overhead minimap that shows players’ positions — much like CS:GO’s — would be a huge help for the average viewer.
To be fair, CS:GO is a much simpler game, visually. But there are still a lot of things Blizzard can learn from Valve when it comes to getting their flagship FPS in front of people.
Dedicated, professional observers
During the Overkill League grand finals match between Cloud9 and REUNITED, there were several times the observers showing off the matches got a bit lost.
And that’s not necessarily their fault. Overwatch was just released, and becoming a great observer requires a ton of experience. But whoever is going to be the eyes and ears of the spectator is going to have to get up to snuff quickly if Overwatch hopes to have a smooth transition. I want to see every key ultimate, every big multi-kill, every successful defense. And a quality observer is necessary for that.
Again, a CS:GO comparison: thanks to a long history of play on the same maps, players and casters have a wide lexicon of terms to refer to specific locations. Dust2 has A Long, Goose, Tuns, and dozens of other names for locations, for example.
Overwatch doesn’t have location names yet, or at least none that are known and accepted by the general public. As a result, it can be very difficult for commentators to call out where pros are on the map. Eventually callouts will be established by the community, but for now, it’s going to continue to be difficult to call for the casters.
Team compositions need more explanation
Overwatch casters have a tough gig right now. They have to walk the line between explaining high-level play to players just jumping in, while also appealing to the hardcore fans that have been following Overwatch esports since its inception. This is tricky, and something that even experienced casters in other games struggle to pull off.
But one thing that Overwatch commentators can do to make life easier for their viewers is to really focus on team compositions. Too often, I see a player change up his hero and have the casters merely mention the change without going into why it happened.
Once a team is put together, it would be great to hear why it’s built that way. Is it a great sieging composition? Perhaps it’s built for aggressive pushes. How does it work in a defensive spot? There’s an obscene number of team combinations in Overwatch, so explain to viewers why they chose this one. The casters do go into it from time to time, but this needs to be a regular feature on the broadcast.
Standardized, supported modes are vital
Finally — and crucially — Overwatch needs an established competitive mode.
As our very own Dylan Walker pointed out in his esports guide to Overwatch, much of the competitive scene has been leaning towards Stopwatch, which I’m totally fine with. I think it’s an exciting, tense mode that allows for last-minute clutch plays and massive comebacks.
Problem is, Blizzard hasn’t officially endorsed it yet. As such, it looks pretty weird when teams are calling out times to beat in the chat channel or simply giving up when that time has been reached so they can quit the map and move on to the next round. It feels unprofessional and leaves the viewer confused.
Blizzard has the opportunity to change that. Whether or not they choose to use Stopwatch (or any other community-created mode) in their official tournaments, they should add in support for the most popular formats for competitive. It can only help the scene look more professional and sleek, a key for any new esport.