The inaugural season of Overwatch League was not lacking in surprises. Storylines developed throughout the entire season – the NYXL qualifying for playoffs each stage (and stopping short of the grand finals,) the Boston Uprising’s undefeated Stage 3, and the London Spitfire winning the inaugural Overwatch League championship despite a lackluster second half to the season. The season ending doesn’t mean the Overwatch League is on hiatus, though. The off-season is already underway, with contract extensions and player trades among teams starting soon. Now that the season is over, it’s time to reflect on possible improvements going into Season 2.
Many players are outspoken about the Overwatch League schedule. Players addressed being burnt out, stressed, and drained.
Aaron “Bischu” Kim stated in an interview, “It can be incredibly draining to play back-to-back games. For example, it’s hard to fully prepare for the 2nd game because we still have to prepare for the 1st match. There’s only so much we can go over. I think there could be a better schedule especially with the new teams coming in.”
Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod added, “I think 2 matches a week and 40 matches a season is stressing a lot of people out. For me, 40 matches is kind of frustrating for the people who already lost and cannot get to playoffs.” Tatjana Vejnovic of USA Today also compiled player’s thoughts about changes going into next season, which delved into burnout and schedule as the reason.
A longer schedule could give teams more time to strategize for their next match, allow players time to breathe in between matches, and would make things a bit more like traditional sports franchises. Another thought is the migrating the all-star event from the end of the season to between Stages 2 and 3. Moving the all-star event would be the halfway mark of the season and gives players more time to rest.
With six new teams coming into Season 2, a schedule change should be in order. The current schedule format would not be able to fit more teams into a day’s schedule.
The Overwatch League introduced the all-access pass during the season to give viewers a better experience. Viewers with the pass got access to skins, player AMAs, Twitch emotes and badges, ad-free viewing, a subscriber-only chat room, and the command center — which granted camera views of both participating teams in real time, another camera angle of the match, and statistics of the match in real time. At first impression, the feature was bare bones and leave a lot to be desired.
To engage viewers with the all-access pass, you can have viewers pick a player that they think will impact the match. Like, what player will have the most eliminations in this match? Then, viewers can choose 1 out of 4 players via multiple choice. If a viewer picks the correct choice, they win Overwatch League tokens to redeem for an in-game skin. It would not only engage viewers, but incentivize pass holders to interact with its features during a match.
Another suggestion would be to leave viewers with the option to switch to different first-person views during matches. For example, if you want to see Ji-hyeok “birdring” Kim play as Widowmaker, you can switch the camera view to his point of view and learn. Additionally, a minimap would be a great addition to the pass, which will be discussed in-depth below.
Like games such as CS:GO, League of Legends, and Starcraft II, the viewer is able to see where players are in the map, can construct what sort of plan each team is composing, and see how those plays will develop. Furthermore, having an HP bar in the minimap would be a great quality of life addition (i.e. the bar is wrapped around the hero icon) to gauge a player’s life. Lastly, an ultimate indicator like a subtle glow in the minimap is another quality of life addition that viewers would be engaged in knowing what players have their ultimates ready if they are not focused on the HUD on the top of the screen.
A complaint that was prevalent on social media was the lack of any promotion or build up prior to the playoffs. A lot of people on the Competitive Overwatch subreddit were unaware when the playoffs even started. Overall, it didn’t affect the viewership for the playoffs significantly. However, Blizzard could have gained more viewers with advertising. Even a simple advertisement in the game would be enough.
One thing that the professional League of Legends scene does significantly well is high quality produced video packages. A great example of this is the video package prior to the 2017 Summer Split. Even if you do not know the context of what the narrator is saying, you construct this scene in your mind of what is happening. In the end, you feel hyped for what’s coming up.
Overwatch League can benefit from these type of videos prior to the start of Season 2. For example, showing the season finale with the London Spitfire winning the inaugural season championship with the confetti raining. Then, it cuts to Saebyeolbe watching his monitor in the dark with a determined look on his face and saying, “Let’s get it.”
This is just an example, but it is simple and gets the message out. Not only Overwatch League can produce preseason videos, they can create videos prior to the start of each stage or playoffs, summarizing what happened in the previous stage. At the end of the video, they can advertise when the stage or playoffs starts and where to tune in.
Another avenue Blizzard can take for viewership is in the game itself. Other games such as Dota 2 and CS:GO have the capability to view professional games from the game client.
Spectating from the game client was discussed before with Blizzard games like StarCraft II. Players were yearning for the chance of viewing professional matches inside the game. However, it is mentioned that the technology is not there yet due to synchronization of the match and it would end up causing lag for all parties involved.
A substitute for in-game spectating is the ability to save match replays. Other Blizzard games already implement this technology, and saving replays would be great in Overwatch as well. Replay observers could use tools we see on OWL broadcasts, too — free cam views, alternating first-person perspectives of each player, and slowing down critical points of the game. Players could learn a great deal using replays, and could also create video content like analysis pieces and montages. Content creation is what builds communities (as evidenced by games like League of Legends, StarCraft II, and CS:GO). Implementing this system would allow the community to build hype for not only for Overwatch, but also the Overwatch League.
The inaugural season exceeded expectations, raising the bar for esports production across the board. As a result, viewership was steady throughout the season. With the preseason in about 4 months, Blizzard has time to implement changes going into Season 2. The Overwatch League All-Star event and Overwatch World Cup are opportunities to try and experiment changes for Season 2.