The cry, “OVERWATCH IS DEAD,” has been uttered many times over the past few years. According to the Overwatch fanbase, anything from D.Va nerfs to ChipSa not getting enough playtime is the death of Overwatch. As a result, the Overwatch community has a serious case of the boy who cried wolf, whereby their alarm falls on deaf ears since they are constantly decrying the end of Overwatch League.
But trust me, this time, Overwatch League is dying.
Over the past few months, the cries that Overwatch is dead are actually making some sense, because over the past few months top talent in broadcasting, the path to pro, and even the Overwatch League itself has been leaving en masse. Overwatch League must act quickly to stop the bleeding, or they will have no personalities left that their audience cares about.
If you have been following Overwatch League Season 3, you will likely know much of this. If you haven’t paid attention to Overwatch League, because it’s been on YouTube and you use Twitch like a normal esports viewer, here is an overview for why Overwatch might actually be dying this time.
The OWL’s loss of broadcast talent
The Overwatch League’s 2020 woes began between season 2 and season 3. In the few months between seasons, Overwatch lost several notable desk analysts and commentators. Chris Puckett, MonteChristo, DoA, and Malik all left Overwatch in January, for varying reasons. Some commentators moved from L.A., while there were rumors that others asked for salaries which Blizzard was unwilling to pay. Blizzard’s unwillingness to pay market value meant they lost some of the most iconic members of their broadcast staff.
When this first happened, it didn’t seem like a big deal, especially since they didn’t lose Soe Gschwind, who took over as the lead OWL host. Talent moved on and new talent, such as Scott “Custa” Kennedy and Jacob “JAKE” Lyon, arrived. This mass exodus though was only the start of a much larger collapse. It seems that the Overwatch League is doing a very poor job of taking care of its players, coaches, and broadcast team.
In general, the broadcasts in 2020 have been poor quality. Even before the move online, due to COVID-19, the Overwatch League’s homestands featured some significant production issues. These issues have only gotten worse with the online format. Watching the OWL broadcast is like watching a highschool theater production. It’s not all bad, but some of the stuff is just bad and you have to pretend it’s not to enjoy it. Frankly, if the OWL paid better maybe they wouldn’t have lost all their broadcast talent and league commissioner going into Season 3.
The collapse of tier 2 Overwatch
Since the beginning of the Overwatch League, it has been the norm for many players to leave after only a couple years in the league. There is already a relatively high baseline for player retirements, so a few tier 2 players leaving wouldn’t raise any alarms. However, the mass exodus of teams from the Contenders league does raise some red flags about the longer term health of Overwatch.
Although COVID-19 accelerated the collapse, Overwatch’s Tier 2 scene has actually been collapsing since 2019. NRG and XL2 shut down their academy teams in mid 2019. In late 2019, the Gladiators Legion announced they would be disbanding their organization. Then, in March, the dominos fell one by one, until every academy team in North America was gone or inactive.
In short, the entire North American Academy circuit has shut down, replaced by even lower tier teams. Some teams blamed COVID-19, but most of the players and coaches who have left blame Blizzard for not supporting, promoting, or properly sponsoring their path to pro. Without a path to pro, the future sustainability of Overwatch comes into question.
Luckily OWL is alive and healthy… right?
Hero Pools helps drive mass retirement of OWL players
Since the beginning of 2019, dozens of players have left the Overwatch League itself. Although some have left for personal reasons and some have left to play Riot’s new shooter VALORANT, many have cited their lost passion for the game as the root reason for leaving. The total list of players to retire from Overwatch over the past year is long and alarming.
Here are just a few of the most recent players to leave.
- Jun-Ki “Bazzi” Park – Hangzhou Spark
- Thomas “brussen” Brussen – Boston Uprising
- Luís “Greyy” Perestrelo – Paris Eternal
- Kristian “Kellex” Keller – Toronto Defiant
- Jay “Sinatraa” Won – San Francisco Shock
- Félix “Féfé” Münch – Toronto Defiant
- Gabriel “Swimmer” Levy – Boston Uprising
- Damien “HyP” Souville – Paris Eternal
One thing seems to be clear: the current version of the Overwatch League is making players burn out on the game quickly, leading to mass retirements. Many players blame the new Hero Pools system for their lost passion. This is a much more tangible sign than any that OWL might be on the fritz.
Former OWL MVP Jay “Sinatraa” Won cited his unhappiness with both role lock and Hero Pools in his retirement TwitLonger, which he has since removed (probably because it was written with all the grace and quality of a 12 year old typing in Runescape chat). Last week, Houston Outlaws coach Chris “Dream” Myrick seconded Sinatraa’s anger at Hero Pools, even going as far as saying they were “the worst thing to ever happen to Overwatch.”
AVRL backed up Dream in a post on reddit, where he stated the system leads to rapid burn out and a player resentment toward the game, and asked, “How many Sinatraas need to retire before the message gets across?”
Remember that Hero Pools are exhausting the teams, even without the travel which was formerly required for the homestand competitions.
Thus far, Overwatch has done little to nothing to address the rising criticism of the Hero Pools system. The system forces players to play a different meta every week, which makes it very hard for teams to improve and strategize from week to week. It also contributes to longer hours and less predictable games, without offering much material benefit beyond a slightly more diverse experience for the viewer.
If they don’t figure out a solution that keeps players playing, they are in for some real trouble in the near future. VALORANT is a very attractive destination, especially for players who are already unhappy with their current esport.
- Hero pools and retiring pros 54%, 443 votes443 votes 54%443 votes - 54% of all votes
- Moving to YouTube exclusively 24%, 201 vote201 vote 24%201 vote - 24% of all votes
- Not supporting the Tier 2 scene 22%, 184 votes184 votes 22%184 votes - 22% of all votes