Overwatch’s eSports support is suffering to the point that some organizations are simply dropping their teams.
Overwatch was practically custom-made for the international eSports scene, with its competitive gameplay focus and highly diverse characters. It’s success as an eSports platform was assumed well before the game officially launched. Yet despite this natural fit, the current state of Overwatch’s eSports community is less than ideal, to the point that some organizations have been dropping their teams.
According to a new report from Eurogamer, the number of Overwatch LAN events has dropped dramatically in 2017, which has ultimately stunted Overwatch’s growth in the streaming circuit. This is turn has led to decreasing Twitch viewing numbers, fewer players investing time in Overwatch, and more third-party tournament organizers becoming reluctant to sponsor events.
Take FACEIT and ELEAGUE, two companies which partnered to run 2016’s Overwatch Open competition and its $300,000 prize pool. While the event was ultimately a success, neither organization has hosted a major tournament since. ESL, DreamHack, and even Activision Blizzard’s MLG have seen either dropped support in 2017, or reduced the size of their prize pools. As this support decreases, so does the incentive to manage professional Overwatch teams.
“When DreamHack announced they were not holding major events, that was our big moment of deciding,” Marty Strenczewilk, CEO of Splyce explained. “We’re not out of the game for good, but I can’t pay for a game that’s my third most expensive and my tenth most viewed. That is because there’s nothing to watch, not because there aren’t people wanting to watch it. There’s just no matches.”
Interestingly, the report suggests the root cause of Overwatch’s eSports woes come from Blizzard itself. While the studio made bold initial steps by revealing the Overwatch League at Blizzcon, the actual implementation has been incredibly cautious – the regular season won’t even begin until 2018. And while Blizzard certainly could be doing work behind the scenes, the lack of concrete plans has stalled the entire competitive community.
“There’s a lot of people disappointed by how Blizzard has done the entire Overwatch League, pausing the ecosystem, pausing the community, nothing really is happening,” Hicham Chahine, CEO of the eSports group Ninjas in Pyjamas told Eurogamer. “With the Overwatch League announcement happening then not following up, not being transparent, I think they were on a different path that seemed to fail. That was the rumour, they wanted to get the non-endemics [big non-gaming sponsors] into it, have them handing over big money. I don’t think people bought into that, so now they’re doing a little detour.”
On the plus side, this means Overwatch’s eSports problem can be fixed: Viewer interest remains strong, so the community just needs more eSports tournaments to get the ball rolling again. But that also means Overwatch’s eSports prospects won’t have the same momentum they first appeared to at launch, and that the 2017 competitive scene will be dismal.
Hopefully 2018’s regular season can turn that around.