Ever since the Overwatch video game was released in 2016, it became a massive hit with gamers. But it wasn’t just the 40 million players who bought the game that signalled its success. This is because Overwatch has become one of the world’s most popular esports, and many people think that this game could be the one to take competitive gaming into the mainstream.
Esports has been with us for nearly two decades. Whilst top titles like Counter Strike Global Offensive and League of Legends have enjoyed phenomenal popularity, esports has yet to be taken seriously by the sporting world. Not only do many of the games feature violent imagery, but the sedentary nature of the activity means that esports has struggled for acceptance in the sporting realm.
But ever since Overwatch’s parent company, Blizzard Entertainment, announced plans to set up their own professional competitive gaming leagues, it has been interesting to see how this game is starting to be viewed with a little more legitimacy. Much of this is down to the Overwatch League featuring a tournament style that mirrors popular American sporting leagues like the NFL.
Rather than featuring relegation and promotion, each franchised Overwatch team gets to stay in the league regardless of their success. This has helped these Overwatch teams gain a level of stability that cannot be found elsewhere in the esports world. In addition to this, Blizzard Entertainment have also ensured that each of its players gets a proper contract as well as a decent salary to help them stay in the competitive gaming business longer.
We have also see Overwatch broaden its competition format with the Overwatch World Cup. This follows the template of the footballing World Cup, and whilst South Korea may have won this tournament three times, we have seen the Irish team trying their hardest to get through the qualifying rounds over the past couple of years.
These massive Overwatch gaming tournaments have become a huge hit on live streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming. We have already seen how traditional broadcasters such as ESPN and BBC have started covering competitive gaming events, and as Overwatch grows in popularity, it will inevitably start to infiltrate mainstream media formats.
We have already seen how esports have started to be featured alongside traditional sports on online betting sites. Such is the popularity of Overwatch that the overwatch-bets.com website was established to help customers find a safe and reliable selection of odds about the esport. Plus with Blizzard Entertainment helping all viewers gain precise and relevant statistics about each team and players’ performances, it means that viewers can enjoy a much more accurate picture of what’s going on when the contests kick off.
Despite the immense promise of Overwatch, it seems that esports still has plenty of negative connotations that it needs to shrug off in order to truly enter the mainstream. From the widespread toxicity in gaming communities such as Reddit, to the bizarre esports team-names like Unicorns of Love, there is still a big cultural different between competitive gaming and the traditional sporting world.
Such differences haven’t gone unnoticed by sport’s governing bodies. The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly denied calls for esports to be introduced as a demonstration sport, and the Chinese government even implemented cautionary measures against titles like Overwatch for their violent content and what was seen as overly revealing depictions of the game’s female characters.
Despite these reservations, it looks like esports soon won’t even need the help of sporting institutions. There has already been talk of a breakaway gaming Olympics, and the sheer amount of money being invested in Overwatch has already made the game one of the leading contenders for spearheading the esports revolution.
Tournaments for iconic esports like League of Legends regularly have larger viewing figures than flagship sporting events like the Super Bowl, and it’s been interesting to see how many sports entrepreneurs have been quick to invest their money in the dynamic Overwatch League.
Such moves come at a time where sports teams are seeking to diversify their revenues and attract the younger demographic who make huge a significant percentage of the esports fanbase. In the past few years, we have seen top football clubs like Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain starting to field their own esports teams. And with a properly organised tournament like the Overwatch League in place, it’s easy to see how this game could hold the future for esports.