Overwatch. You’ve probably heard of it. Microsoft Office hasn’t and it keeps insisting that the word doesn’t exist. But what does Microsoft Office know about eSports? So, in need of a more knowledgeable source of eSports information, we chatted to Kyle ‘Congo’ Wolmarans about Overwatch and its potential.
Unlike Microsoft Office, Congo spends a lot of his time immersed in the South African eSports scene, as a writer, shoutcaster, PR guy and now member of the Orena team. And even though Overwatch has only been out for a few months, he already has some experience with the competitive scene and shoutcasting the game.
To start with, we asked Congo what he thinks makes a game a good eSport.
“Obviously there is the gameplay. What made an eSport a while ago was just a really good game with really good gameplay. It had sort of a competitive edge, and depending on the developers they made sure the game stayed up to date and obviously it was as balanced as possible. And that made a great eSport.
Nowadays it’s more: Is it an exciting eSport to watch? Is there a fanbase for it? Does it bring in audiences? Is it easy to follow? The games that are easy to understand, exciting to watch and also fun to play are the ones that make for a great eSport.
As well as the organisations involved. Not necessarily just tournament hosts, but teams as well. Are they interactive? Do they chat to their fans? Do they market themselves well?
There’s a really, really, big tick box of what you need to tick off when it comes to what makes a great eSport. Overwatch has been growing a lot as an eSport and it is slowly starting to tick off those boxes.”
We think it’s fair to say Overwatch came in pretty hot. The word ‘hype’ was used way too much. But, unlike the poorly acronymed HotS (Heroes of the Storm), which is anything but hot according to Congo, Blizzard seem very confident that Overwatch is going to continue to light up the eSports scene. Nailing this fire metaphor.
The reason Overwatch launched so well was because the game was marketed brilliantly. Blizzard didn’t just dump a new game on us with some cool visuals and fun looking gameplay, they build a whole world for Overwatch and filled it with a range of vastly different characters.
“Another thing that’s keeping players interested in the game is of course those animated shorts. There’s very rich lore in Overwatch. And if Blizzard is good at one thing, we know it’s lore.
You’ve got a whole new list of 22, soon to be 23, characters who each have their own story to be told. We’ve already seen about five or six of these shorts. I mean, Blizzard could easily make a movie out of this game.
So I think there are more than enough assets out there for them to keep this game going for a good couple of years.”
Congo thinks that part of the reason Overwatch has taken off so well, and will continue to do well until it gets some sort of competitor, is that it has found a niche in the eSports industry by blowing all other FPS Battle Arena games out of the water.
We’re just telling you Overwatch is doing well, but if you look at some very simple numbers you can see it’s not just because we’re desperately hoping Blizzard will pay us to write puff pieces for them in the future.
“Looking at just the reaction, there’s a lot of hype for Overwatch at the moment. The subreddit grew to over 400,000 subs in just a couple of months.
Already I could go now and open Twitch and Overwatch is right up there. It’s growing. It’s round about number four.
The Gamescom ESL Overwatch tournament was pulling in 40,000 to 60,000 people watching. That’s kind of what Counter-Strike was getting for their major tournaments in the first year when it became really popular.
So I think in terms of a spectator eSport it’s right up there. You can never really touch League of Legends, that’s just huge. But in terms of Counter-Strike, Dota, Hearthstone, Overwatch is there.”
We’ve seen FPS Battle Area type games before, the likes of Quake, Team Fortress and recently Doom multiplayer and Battleborn. Both of those two games could have jumped to eSports fame, but instead Overwatch has left them behind. Miles behind.
So what is it about the game that makes it so popular and has so many people wanting to play it?
“The cool thing that Overwatch brings in that is a bit different is the use of your abilities. Your spells that have cooldowns, your attacks and stuff like that. It adds a completely different aspect and it adds a lot of the strategy to it.
Where there would be set strategies or plays to games like Team Fortress 2, similar to the ones you see in Counter-Strike, when you start adding abilities, spells, ultimates, those sort of things, it changes the dynamic of the game completely, which is something that makes Overwatch very interesting to watch as an eSport.
You can see: this team uses Graviton Surge and the Sticky Bomb from Tracer or this team uses Graviton Surge and another spell. They combo up nicely and these metas will evolve. There are always new teams thinking up new strategies.”
That’s similar to what makes Dota such a great game. The continuous evolution of the meta. Teams and players wanting to be the best need to be continuously innovating, which makes it incredibly exciting for spectators.
Another thing that Dota has, and Counter-Strike and League of Legends for that matter, is the ability to deliver incredibly tense, emotional moments that have you on the edge of your seat with your mouth hanging wide open. Or in Congo’s case disbelievingly saying, “What!?” Much like he did many times throughout Orena’s ESWC qualifiers. We even have it on video.
“Big ultimates. Zarya is probably one of the most popular flex-tanks at the moment and she has Graviton Surge. You can pull off the craziest Graviton Surges. Same with Earth Shatter from Reinhardt. And big Genji plays. The same applies to Tracer. I’ve seen some incredible things where I’m just like, ‘What? How did they do that?’
With the current rule set you run the stopwatch. So on payload maps you push the payload for that stopwatch. And then it gets to a point on the timer where the other team has 30 seconds left and they have one push left in them and they pull it off.
There are definitely those emotional moments, those wow moments that you get from Overwatch. And the great thing about it is that they’re not that hard to understand. If you see a McCree popping a Deadeye, and you see all the skulls lining up, and then all of a sudden they’re dead, it’s very easy to understand that he just shot everyone.
Even for random people to stumble across an Overwatch tournament and be like, ‘This is actually a really fun and exciting game’. Those wow moments can be shared by everybody, not just players of the game and followers of the game. And I think that’s something worth noting when you talk about these kinds of big moments in eSports.”
Making a game easier to understand does go a long way to making it more accessible to people, particularly the more casual observer. A criticism of Dota has always been that the game has a tough learning curve and sometimes puts people off before they even start, but with Overwatch that barrier isn’t there.
Competitive season 2 has just started, which I’m sure has Overwatch players in a frenzy as they work out the best ways to shoot each other to death, take control of lighthouses and push floating cars around cities, even a castle now. But the real question is: What does Orena have in store for competitive Overwatch in South Africa?
“We’ve been badgered by players daily asking when the next tournament is, because the guys want to get going with the next season of the ladder. At the moment we are trying our best to get more tournaments and bigger tournaments as well. We’d love to do a live tournament somewhere.
At the moment it’s extremely competitive because everyone’s learning and growing with the game, which is awesome. And it’s great for South Africa as well, because we’ve never really been in a situation where we are now at the cusp of learning alongside the Europeans.
This is a fantastic time because getting support from companies like Blizzard, GosuGamers, over.gg and those other big companies is not as impossible as people would think.
I know for a fact Orena are planning to do a lot more Overwatch tournaments, especially near the end of the year and then obviously leading into next year.”
To wrap up the interview we asked Congo a question we already knew the answer to: Is Overwatch going to be the next big eSport?
Er… What now? But, you said all those great things about Overwatch?
“Five years ago if you looked at the eSports pie globally, there was room for maybe one major tournament with one big brand getting involved.
In the beginning everyone was trying to take a piece off this small little pie, but now that pie has grown and there are a lot of pieces for everyone to take.
So you’re not really looking at one eSport being the dominant one. Each eSport has their route that they’re taking and I think Overwatch has found a perfect route right now, in terms of the FPS battle arena game.
I think it’s going to be a big eSport, but I think we’ve gone past that point of say, ‘What’s going to be the next big eSport?’, because they’re all pretty big right now. And there’s room for them all to be very big moving forward.”
Okay. So the question is actually: Is Overwatch going to be as big as eSports like Dota, Counter-Strike and League of Legends. And the answer is: Yes.
So go open your Microsoft Office programme of choice, type “Overwatch”, right click on it and click “Add to Dictionary”, because you’re going to be typing it more and more.