Esports has gotten a lot bigger with the myriad of competitive titles available on the market. Blizzcon 2014 surprised a lot of people with the announcement of their new IP, Overwatch, an up-and-coming first-person shooter title that focuses less on twitch reaction and more on team work. The moment I saw it, I turned and thought of the eSports venues at the event--the ones for Starcraft, Hearthstone, and World of Warcraft--and immediately put "Overwatch" and "eSports" together. I've played the game and saw the mechanics for myself and in my many years of eSports experience, I don't often see games that have immediate competitive potential out of the box like this one.
Alright, that sounds wonky. As long as you are bashing your friend's virtual teeth in, it can be an eSports, right? Well sure, but for anything to be popular, it has to be accessible. What cuts a lot of people off from the competitive scenes like Smash Brothers and Call of Duty--both relatively popular eSports games--is that their competitive variants are not only different from what the regular public plays, but the skill-cap is unreal. Overwatch on the other-hand, has a feel similar to League of Legends and even Starcraft: we play what the pros play, they just do it better.
Who will win? Reaper or Hanzo?
I played Halo and Call of Duty professionally at one point so I know my twitch reactions are up to par. When I sat down and set my hands on Overwatch for the first time, sure my natural aptitude in the aiming department did help but honestly, I died more than a tournament-level gamer should have. It turns out I was just blatantly bad at characters like Tracer and Reaper, heroes (villain) that fill my need for speed and precision. I had to drill deep and pull from my MOBA roots and learn the characters mechanically. In other words, success directly correlated to my knowledge of the game and since I was new and had very little knowledge, I went to my MMO roots. I swapped to Mercy.
Mercy changed the way I saw the game. I became a healer. I stuck with my team and my FPS-pro-level reactions were perfectly utilized to time resurrections, not headshots. Mercy did have some, albeit limited offensive capabilties with her pistol, but I felt like I carried the game by playing a role in what they call the holy trinity. I healed and buffed, Reinhardt tanked, and Reaper sat back. Before too long, the game was won but it wasn't just winning that made me happy. It was the way we won. Team work, knowledge, and objective play.
Now why do I think Overwatch is eSports ready? Well, I talked to my teammates after the match, all fellow journalists and my entire party claimed limited-to-no shooter experience. The game was accessible to amateurs. Eventually when pro teams get their hands on this game, they will use the same rules, the same champions, and likely run the same strategies but better. The game has won my affection by focusing on mechanics and play-making ability, and less about being beat out by 14-year old in his prime. A golf clap goes out to Blizzard.
Stay behind the tank, buddy.
Alright, Overwatch has focused strongly on the MOBA-FPS approach which makes it accessible but I can't just sit here and hark about the greatness of this game from an eSports perspective. A potential con in this game, which may or may not be me being picky, is the feel of the movement. It just doesn't feel right. The abilities, the characters, and the design of the mechanics are so perfect, but when I'm walking around as Tracer, I feel slow and held down. Mind you, I played a lot of Quake, and at a high level, the movement felt like gliding. Even in Call of Duty and Halo, It just feels right when I move and engage in gun fights.
But see here, there's a caveat to the fix I had in mind which was: make certain characters faster. Well, doing that adds another level of depth to the game which, in context, would be the base stat. Making certain characters naturally stronger, naturally lighter, or naturally more bulkier from one another could turn the game more from a match of outplays through utilizing ability timings to running away from an engagement simply because my character runs faster than Blackwidow.
As of right now, it's still too early and quite frankly, attendees of Blizzcon got to taste Overwatch in it's pre-pre-alpha test. There's always room to tweak but the vision behind the game is incredible and I truly believe Overwatch will become the next big thing in eSports. The game is just plain fun to play and fun to watch. Watching a team come together to complete an objective is cool and the characters are designed well enough to, simply put, just get it. Also, it's Blizzard, I'm sure they'll pump money into the Overwatch eSports initiative for awhile anways. But remember, it's not the companies that make an eSports, it's the dans, and so far, the reception is good.