Jeenah Moon / The New York Times

Fans celebrate the victory of the San Francisco Shock in the 2018 Overwatch League Grand Finals.

February 9, 2020

Esports’ Most Ambitious Leap Yet

Print More

League Just one week after the conclusion of North America’s much anticipated Super Bowl, esports is taking its biggest leap forward yet in an attempt to earn recognition as a true sport. This past weekend, the Overwatch League began its third season of competition with the historic introduction of a homestand format, the first in the history of competitive gaming. Teams will now have to travel around the globe to participate in home and away games, competing in 19 major international cities including New York, Toronto, Shanghai and Paris.

The nature of esports and its professionalism has always been subject to critique in comparison to what is called “traditional sports.” Growing up, I was always taught to view video games and sports in a contrastive manner; I was told to “stop playing video games and go outside,” or to “join a school team and spend less time on the computer.” The beginning of the new season, however, blurs the line between competitive gaming and competitive sports.

For those unfamiliar with Overwatch and the Overwatch League, Overwatch is a video game that pits two teams of six against one another in a competitive, objective-based setting. Each team consists of three roles, known as the 2-2-2 lock, with two tank heroes who block and absorb damage, two damage heroes who attempt to kill enemies and two supports who provide healing and keep their team alive. The objectives vary with each uniquely-designed map set in futuristic versions of the real world, and the diverse cast of 31 different heroes allows for lots of variation and chaotic fun.

In the Overwatch League, which began back in 2018, 20 teams with rosters from all around the world battle it out across four separate stages, with an Atlantic division (including London, Washington, D.C. and Toronto) and a Pacific division (including San Francisco, Seoul and Vancouver) competing. During the regular season, teams compete within their division, before the top teams from each division face off in the stage playoffs. After the four stages, teams will then enter the season play-ins, playoffs and ultimately vie for the title of Grand Champion.

At the moment, there are still many questions currently facing this ambitious leap; the Coronavirus, which has locked down most of China and has thrown many neighboring countries into turmoil, poses a big question as to how teams will be able to participate in the matches in Shanghai, Chengdu and other Chinese cities. Whether or not esports are actually suited to a homestand format is a serious question as well: are gamers truly able to undergo similar travelling schedules to traditional athletes while maintaining their rigorous training routines? Are there enough fans willing to buy tickets to watch their favorite teams? Will this work at all?

Despite these potential challenges, this opening weekend has still been incredibly exciting for fans who watched or attended the first eight matches in New York City and Dallas. Blizzard and the Overwatch developer team have been working very hard recently, pushing out new in-game balances and updates as well as a brand new “hero pool” system that goes live on March 7, which will ban certain heroes in certain formats to improve the variability of games for both pro and novice players. It has been a long four months of changes and improvement since the end of the last season, but this giant leap to homestands looks to be a promising start to another year of gaming. And who knows, if all goes well, it may not take too long before we see other big name video games following in the Overwatch League’s footsteps.

Make sure to tune in to the second week of matches next Saturday and Sunday on YouTube Gaming for masterful gameplay and commentary. Whether or not you play Overwatch, you’re guaranteed an exciting, tense and fast-paced competitive experience.

 

Brian Lu is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at blu@cornellsun.com.