Sinisa Bucan, December 26, 2016

Looking Ahead to Overwatch Esports in 2017

Overwatch launched only six short months ago, but it's already proven to be a huge success, and Blizzard’s commitment to the game is unquestionable. So far, we’ve seen a huge number of changes and tweaks in an attempt to balance the game. For example, new heroes Ana and Sombra have been added to the roster, which now includes 23 unique heroes. Seasonal events have added flair to the game as players always have some new content to look forward to.

Overwatch hasn’t been slouching on the esports side either. There have been a number of big Overwatch tournaments in 2016, the most notable being Overwatch APEX Season 1, Overwatch Open, and APAC Premier. Existing events have embraced Overwatch as well, including Dreamhack Winter and IEM. The biggest and most interesting was probably the Overwatch World Cup, which was styled after European football and took place at this year’s BlizzCon.

Overwatch League

We can’t talk about Overwatch esports in 2017 without starting with Overwatch League. This format could have wide implications, not just for Overwatch, but for esports as a whole. Blizzard is trying to do something completely different with Overwatch League. It is a deliberate and conscious attempt to introduce stability and consistency to esports. These crucial pillars have sustained traditional sports for decades, centuries even, and they will surely play a major role in the future of esports as well.

Overwatch League could be a true game-changer because it is trying to emulate everything that makes traditional sports so popular and enduring. For starters, having a set team location is key to creating a loyal fan base. Each team in the Overwatch League will represent a major city. Over time, Blizzard is planning to set up Overwatch League teams across the Americas, Europe, China, Korea, and the Asia-Pacific region in order to create a truly global esports culture.

Overwatch League

Fans will be able to root for their team no different from Manchester United or Chicago Cubs fans. This idea is so simple yet utterly brilliant because people will be able to relate far better to a team from their hometown, state, or country than a random team named after a sponsor that really isn’t based anywhere.

Overwatch League is not only trying to create fans for life, but also make being a professional esports player a legitimate career choice. Once again, traditional sports are the role model. Each player will have a contract detailing compensation and full benefits (including a guaranteed minimum salary). Blizzard wants to move away from the prize pool focus, noting how nobody talks about prize pools for the World Cup or the Super Bowl. Everyone knows that athletes are extremely well-compensated.

It is this kind of innovation and forward-thinking that’s so exciting about Overwatch League. If it proves to be a success, it could influence other esports as well. We are probably looking at the first major evolution in esports. It’s also exciting to see Blizzard borrow established ideas from both European and American traditional sports in order to make something that feels truly global.

Third-Party Tournaments

Blizzard isn’t trying to destroy third-party events with Overwatch League. Quite the contrary, one of the major reasons why seasons in Overwatch League won’t span the entire year is to stimulate and support third-party tournaments. Overwatch League will have a lengthy off-season during the fall and winter months. As Overwatch establishes itself further as an esport, we expect to see a growing number of tournaments over the entire year, and especially during the Overwatch League off-season.

Overwatch World Cup

It’s definitely exciting to see new ideas in esports. As much as it is great watching privately-owned teams like Fnatic, Team EnVyUs, and Misfits fighting it out on the battlefield, watching national teams just has a different flair to it. As any European football fan can attest to, it feels like there’s more on the line. One of the reasons why the football World Cup is so immensely popular all over the globe is the simple fact that you don’t really need to know a whole lot about the sport. You just cheer for your country.

Overwatch World Cup

Even when your own national team isn’t playing, it’s a lot easier to relate to and understand France vs. Germany rather than Misfits vs. Lunatic-Hai, for example. The very idea of watching USA vs. Russia during the Overwatch World Cup 2016 was appealing and exciting. That’s precisely why I think that the Overwatch World Cup will be an important factor in the effort to try to popularize Overwatch (and esports in general), as something that can be watched even by people who don’t necessarily play the game.

New Heroes, Maps, and Game Modes

Naturally, what most players want to see are new heroes that will impact the metagame. In six months, Blizzard has introduced two new heroes, so it’s reasonable to expect that we will see at least four new heroes in 2017. Word on the street is that the next character coming to Overwatch is Doomfist, a tank hero. We’re also hoping to see at least one brand-new competitive game mode with a new map archetype.

Overwatch still has a lot to prove in the esports realm. Even though it is the new kid on the block, it is the one that could make the biggest splash in 2017 and beyond. The concepts Blizzard introduces in Overwatch League and Overwatch World Cup could very well be adopted by other games if they prove to be successful. It certainly looks like it’s going to be a big year for Overwatch and we’re excited to see how it all plays out.

Sinisa Bucan

Siniša is a writer and translator from Croatia, a small European country on the Adriatic coast. Apart from being a passionate Hearthstone player, he enjoys all kinds of video games, including strategy, role-playing, adventure, and action. Other interests include listening to indie rock and travelling. You can follow him @SinisaBucan.