The Overwatch League is going through tough times as it audience shrinks due to its main stars jumping ship. Let’s see what’s got this tournament in such a tailspin.
A nightmare start to 2020 for the Overwatch League
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruption in the world of esports, forcing the postponement or cancellation of many tournaments. However, it seems that it’s the Overwatch League which has been hit the hardest by the worst pandemic in living memory. Whilst plans to thrill fans by incorporating a homestand system get off to a flying start, coronavirus soon threw a spanner in the works. The Asian homestands were initially postponed for a few weeks due to COVID-19 and eventually cancelled as a result. The league tried to get round this by resuming play online, with a new hero-pool system which provides a changing meta each week. However, such efforts appear to have been in vain as both pro teams and fans’ interest in the League began to wane.
To add insult to injury, reigning MVP and star San Francisco Shock player Jay ‘Sinatraa’ Won shocked the world of esports by announcing his retirement. As if that wasn’t enough, Won followed this up by signing with a team for Valorant, an unreleased game which currently has no esports infrastructure to speak of. Throw in the exodus of numerous Tier 2 teams and things seem to be going from bad to worse for the Overwatch League.
The root of the problem
Although the Overwatch League has a decent fan base, it doesn’t have a large enough audience to meet the franchise’s financial expectations. Whilst it has a strong, tight-knit core fan base, the majority of existing fans are more interested in the game itself and don’t root for a particular team. What’s more, the transition to a fully online format has hampered the popularity of the Overwatch League since it doesn’t boast a plethora of popular streamers and commentators, or attract regular viewers on various streaming platforms.
There are also problems with meta, team strategies and hero pools. The League currently suffers from an imbalance between tanks, support characters and damage dealers, which, in turn, limits the number of strategies which players can deploy. Add to that the difference between the hero pools in Overwatch League and the corresponding online ladder and you have a mountain of problems which need solving.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the Overwatch League a cruel blow as players can no longer travel to different tournament locations due to restrictions on international travel. This really hurt the Asian homestand initiative as the virus struck this part of the world first. What’s more, the ensuing transition to an online format and the consequent constant rescheduling led to congestion of different games and tournaments on weekends, which left viewers feeling a little overwhelmed.
It’s also worth noting that after huge initial success, Overwatch entered a period of stagnation from which it has to emerge. The lack of free access has only compounded the problem, as new players were discouraged from joining the League, which also led to the dissolution of Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams en masse.
Possible solutions that could put Overwatch back on its feet
The franchise is trying to put things right by organizing a shift to a tournament format, which should be a step in the right direction as it is appealing to the audience because it is more intense and easier to keep track of compared to a protracted league. However, perhaps the most crucial thing that publishers should do is to make Overwatch a free-to-play game because that still remains the biggest turn-off for most gamers.
Finally, there is a dire need to invest more time and money in Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams and organizations because they form the bedrock on which this tournament stands. Failure to take all these measures could render Overwatch League obsolete.