As we are in the midst of the offseason of Overwatch League, I thought it was time to reflect back on the season and think of ways to improve it. As I don’t have the necessary background to understand the financial or production side of things, I have followed esports titles for a long period of time and I think that there are lessons to be learned from older scenes. Like how the game can cater to both casual and harcore fan bases or how to improve the storytelling aspect of the competitive scene.
One of the fundamental problems that every esports title has is the balancing act between how you cater to the casual audience and how you cater to your hardcore audience. This is a problem that Starcraft 2 faced its entire lifetime and still continues to battle. While it is hard for me to know without the hard analytics that are inaccessible to me, I personally believe that both Starcraft 2 and Overwatch went about this problem the wrong way. Both games have decided to appease the casual audience by trying to patch the game to try to appease both sides.
I think this is the wrong approach. Consider for a moment both Brood War and Starcraft 2. The vast majority of players got the game to play the single player campaign only. The hardcore players probably played both. It is the middle ground between the two player bases that we should discuss. The question we have to ask ourselves is what appeals to a casual fan? I’m not certain, but I personally think the most important factor is novelty.
You see spikes of players play more during the beginning of the season to get their ranking. Or you see players playing more during special events or when new modes come into the game. Starcraft 2 right now has been creating co-op commanders that is targeted more for those who enjoyed the single player campaign. What Overwatch does right now is similar in terms of new game modes or special events, I don’t think they create enough novelty fast enough. I understand that Blizzard want to make sure the product is qualify, so instead of making it yourself, let the community do it. I think Overwatch should have gone the way of Brood War and Warcraft 3 and opened the game up to modders. Assuming the UI makes it easy to find games, the variety and plethora of game types could greatly increase the amount of engagement surrounding the game as more novelty will be poured into the game than ever before.
On the hardcore side of things, Overwatch could finally implement a replay system. Something that the hardcore players have wanted for a long time now and could improve the quality of life for the pros. Not only that, but content creators could create things like frag movies the same way CS:GO does. In general, I think there should just be more openness in regards to the game in general. I think a 3rd party pro pick up game system could be a huge hit with pros, streams, and fans. Something akin to FACEIT. It is also a temporary and fast fix for a lot of the matchmaking that some of the more hardcore players might want from the game that Overwatch has been unable to provide so far.
Another suggestion along these lines is to allow more freedom into the space. For instance, we know that there is a replay system where you can see the overhead view from the Overwatch Analyst desks. We also know that they have some in house stats. If these were released to the public, you could get far more community value out of them as there would just be more minds trying to utilize and analyze them.
These are all suggestions that could be considered implausible depending on how many resources are available and the more pressing demands that the game requires. I can respect that if that is the case, so the rest of the improvements I’m suggesting are more within the wheelhouse of changing the perspective of the storytelling of the league and it’s players.
In particular, I don’t think Overwatch has done that great of a job creating a mythos around their star players. What exactly do I mean by that. Let us look back at the Brood War scene for a moment. Players like Lim “BoxeR” Yo Hwan and Lee “Flash” Young Ho are names that transcended their game because of their excellence. While that was mostly due to their actual in-game achievements, it was also because of the promotion and depiction of the players.
They have had hype videos, entrances, nicknames, and are given physical emblems that celebrate their victories. Perhaps I missed it, but I’ve never seen an Overwatch League hype moment that was comparable to something like RISE for League of Legends or the incredible Flash entrance to the Korean Air Starleague 2010 where he rode into the arena on a plane. There are old hype videos from the Brood War era that still resonate with me despite being over a decade old like this one from 2007 EVER OSL:
While you don’t need to go that far, even small emblems of glory could make the difference. Even a mild mannered player like Lee “NaDa” Yoon Yeol can be given a special swagger about him because of the pins on his uniform. Each one representing a MSL victory. He need only point to his pins and that will invoke his legacy as one of the greatest to have ever done it.
It is harder to do that in Overwatch League now, but not impossible. They only need to rework the format a bit so that the playoffs actually matter. I personally think that the LCS system using points seems to be the most clear cut way to do it. On top of that they can also reward the players with physical relics that glorify their accomplishments. Imagine if it was like this in Season 1 where the players did get pins for winning a titles match. In the semifinals of the playoffs Philadelphia Fusion play against the New York Excelsior. On one side, every player has two pins. On the other side, no player has any pins. That immediately tells you the stakes of the match and the caliber of difference between the two sides so that when Philadelphia Fusion win, it becomes an even more impactful victory for them.
Along similar lines, I think the devs should glorify players inside the game. I made a blog about this before, but it bears repeating. There is something special about immortalizing a player inside the game they were one of the greatest at. In Dota, Icefrog renamed the hero Anti-Mage to BurNIng. It was in honor of the fact that Xu “BurNIng’ Zhiilei is one of the greatest players of all time and that his signature hero he won on was Anti-mage. From that moment forward to the end of time, every single player who is playing Anti-mage will have some connection to BurNIng. Even in cases where a player is completely ignorant of what the name is supposed to mean, they can go online and look it up and find out there was once a player so godlike, even the creator of the game tipped their hat to him.
If there was a player right now who I think deserves that same level of accolade it is Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang. He has redefined what it means to be a Zenyatta player to the point where saying a player plays JJoNak would be a completely correct turn of phrase because he has changed what it means to be on that hero. Unfortunately, they can’t rename the character as the game developers seem to care about lore, but it is entirely possible to give Zenyatta a unique skin that was made specifically for JJoNak. We see this all of the time in League of Legends where the winning team gets skins that are immortalized in the game. I want to see the players celebrated as larger than life figures just as they are in other competitive disciplines whether that is physical sports, other esports games, or anything else.
Overall, I think these are some of the changes I’d like to see going forward. A mod system that lets the community get involved, replays, pick up groups, more stats, and more of an emphasis on the excellence of the players in the league.