Localization is complicated. It’s a seismic undertaking that requires immense preparation and dedication from all permanent partners. It’s also not something that should be done on a whim.
And yet Blizzard did it. Why, you might ask? No one’s quite sure. It is a move that baffled the minds of many, and is in many ways endangering the entire esports realm. Thanks Blizzard. Being a pioneer is nice and all, but not if it comes at the expense of the entire industry.
Then again, it’s obvious that this isn’t the Blizzard of old. That Blizzard, the one we all knew and loved, would’ve never made Diablo for mobile phones.
But the times are changing, and Blizzard is just one of the many companies who are trying to capitalize on the evolving market. They are absolutely oblivious to what their fans, players, analysts, media, and team owners have been telling them. Now sure, these folks don’t necessarily know what’s best by default, but if they’re all saying the same thing, then maybe they’re not the problem.
After all, if Blizzard knew what was best for them, they wouldn’t have gotten themselves in so much trouble over the last year or so, and the company wouldn’t have made so many layoffs at the beginning of 2019.
And yet they’re not learning from their mistakes and are still going through with their initial plan of shifting the Overwatch League to a geo-localized model. If you haven’t been following the scene closely, this basically means that teams themselves will have to organize events and adhere to a NBA-like home and away structure. Now sure, these teams (permanent partners, rather) knew of this when they signed up — no one’s getting backstabbed by any means. But after Overwatch League actually took off (against all odds, one might add) and found a respectable amount of success, transitioning it to a far more complex model was the worst thing Blizzard could have done.
You don’t just apply this kind of thing without proper thought and infrastructure. How did anyone ever think this was a good idea? Overwatch as an esport is fragile, brittle, and young. It needs time to grow organically and even then success is far from guaranteed.
But Blizzard think they know better, so they’re putting everything (and everyone) at risk.
By comparison, the North American LCS was franchised after nine whole years. That’s almost a decade of exceptional growth. The League itself had many monumental triumphs along with its fair share of debacles, but it weathered the storm. After such a long period of time, Riot Games was able to build a stable, hardcore fanbase that is only getting bigger — they built a solid foundation. They did this because they were patient and the folks running the whole thing had a much broader, long-term plan in mind. In other words, they knew their stuff and adapted on the fly.
Blizzard is new to this sort of thing. Heroes of the Storm already imploded beyond belief and is, by all means, dead as an esport. Valve released Artifact in November of 2018. When was the last time you heard anyone talking about it? The speed at which Artifact died was insane — it crashed and burned before ever taking off.
Developers don’t know always know what they’re doing, and that holds especially true if they’re mindlessly seeking profit. Based on numerous reports over the last year or so, we know that Blizzard is in big trouble and have many deadlines (both of financial and temporal nature) they have to meet. That’s why a good chunk of the HoTS team was butchered and sent to work on projects like Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4.
Revenue as Blizzard’s one and only driving force; profit as their North Star
They want to force this whole thing into existence and they lack the experience to follow through.
To succeed with a localized model, you need to take your time, there’s no other way around it. But Blizzard decided to do things differently, and they’re putting the entire esports realm at risk. Why they decided to go for such a thing is anyone’s guess at this point. It doesn’t make much sense in theory, and it’ll make even less sense in practice.
The fans are furious, along with team owners and professional players. They’ll spend a good chunk of the season flying from one city to another, losing scrim blocks, and playing with less practice and energy. Localization is a huge burden and it’ll affect the organizations as well as the players — most of whom are bound to burn out sooner rather than later.
Heck, many players already retired after just a single year of the Overwatch League, citing exhaustion as the main culprit. Blizzard then slightly changed format for Season 2, and even though teams will now play fewer games than ever in 2020, they’ll be forced to travel and adapt beyond all logic and reason. They’ll train less, play less, and yet be under a record amount of pressure.
- No, it's going to be a mess 71%, 5 votes5 votes 71%5 votes - 71% of all votes
- Yes, it will garner support globally 29%, 2 votes2 votes 29%2 votes - 29% of all votes
If Overwatch League fails there are consequences
Many venture capitalist companies have invested immense amounts of money into the Overwatch League thinking it was going to be the next big thing. Esports is obviously taking off in impressive ways so everyone wants a piece of the cake. It is the future, and if you invest in it now, odds are, your gains will be much higher further down the line.
But that’s theory. And theory often doesn’t work out in practice.
Now, if these VC backers invest money and lose out on a couple of million dollars, that’s okay, because that’s at the core of their job — they’re making investments, many of which fall through. But we’re not talking about a million or two or five here.
The initial slots went for $20 million. The second batch of slots for the sophomore season went for between $30 and $60 million. And this is just the sum they invested to get in, to be involved, to have the logo of their team hanging on a banner. When you factor in all other costs, that number increases significantly. If you invest that much money into a growing esport and it fails, then odds are you’re not going to return to the esports market for a good while until you deem it’s more mature and worthy of investment.
When the North American LCS was franchised, Riot Games was asking for $10 million from existing teams, and $13 million from new ones. They didn’t ask for such a “low” amount because they lacked confidence, but rather because they’re not lunatics. Even today many professional League of Legends teams operate on a loss; most of them rarely break even, unless we’re talking about the crème de la crème.
In essence, what these investors expect and what they’re going to get is wildly different. The costs will continue to rise until they reach record numbers. Then it’s all a matter of time before things go downhill.
If Blizzard knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t have lost their Overwatch League commissioner during their sophomore season (to an opposing game developer, to boot), their players wouldn’t retire en masse, and their broadcast talent wouldn’t seek greener pastures.
Overwatch is a beautiful, highly idiosyncratic game that won the hearts of many. Heck, even the Overwatch League is far more engaging and exciting (especially at the highest levels of play) than most people give it credit for. But if not handled with care and passion, it is bound to regress and ultimately fail.
In short, if localization falls through the consequences will be dire and they’ll echo and reverberate throughout the esports realm.
Many of these consequences will remain unseen to the public. The millions of fans and spectators won’t know how this seismic failure affected their favorite teams and players, but the repercussions will exist all the same. There’s a lot at stake with the third season of the Overwatch League and it could affect everyone in esports going forward.