Since 2017, I have heard the rallying cry many times:
OVERWATCH LEAGUE IS DEAD!
And somehow, it just doesn’t go away. So let’s go around the block again: is Overwatch league dying this time?
Spoiler alert: No, Overwatch League is not dying. It’s transitioning to its final form! In this article we will examine some of the reasons people claim Overwatch League is dying and see why their arguments are weak at best.
Why are people saying that the Overwatch League is dying?
Most of the articles proclaiming the death of OWL focus on these three major claims:
Claim 1: Departure of casting talent means OWL is dead
Many esports news sites have been hailing the death of Overwatch League in the wake of several high profile exits. According to a lot of esports headlines, if three commentators all leave at the same time your esport is DEAD!
The commissioner of the Overwatch League Nate Nanzer left in May of 2019 to head up Fortnite’s competitive programs. OWL caster MonteCristo left after the second season, and his casting partner DoA announced his decision to leave on January 6th. Chris Pucket announced his departure as well, citing his recent move to New York City as the reason.
These are just a few of the many OWL talent pool to announce they won’t be returning to the OWL in 2020.
I know that talent is an essential component to any successful entertainment franchise and Overwatch League has lost some amazing talent in the past year. However, I am going to need some warrants for why talented individuals leaving immediately kills a billion-dollar esport.
Don’t get me wrong, some talented folks leaving is cause for concern – but not an indication that OWL is dying. Commentators are only one small piece to the success of a massive organization like the OWL. In fact, retired players Scott “Custa” Kennedy and Jacob “JAKE” Lyon have already stepped up as commentators to replace those who left, demonstrating the deep pool of talent that the Overwatch League can draw from. Some talent will leave – this is inevitable in any organization; but the Overwatch community is large and filled with talented commentators who can step up.
Finally, the claim that American talent 100% determine the health of the OWL ignores a huge portion of Overwatch’s international audience. I haven’t heard any news about Korean or Chinese commentators stepping down, and those are two huge markets where Overwatch is very successful.
Claim 2: The transition to franchising will kill the OWL
The Overwatch League is going into a massive format transition for Season 3. Up until this point, Overwatch League teams have competed in Los Angeles, CA at the Blizzard Arena. In Season 3, teams will be living in their franchise cities and competing around the world in homestand events. According to Upcomer, these events have been estimated to require 40,000 miles or more for some teams in travel, raising concerns about burn out, visa access, and a whole host of other issues which come with international travel.
Although these concerns are legitimate, they definitely do not indicate the death of one of the largest sporting organizations in the world. All of these issues can be resolved, just like they are in other sports.
Claim 3: Some players retired, so the league is unsustainable
To be fair, if all the players retired en masse, this claim would be plausible, but a few players retiring each year is totally normal for any sport.
Playing professionally in esports is a highly stressful job, even before the demands of travel. Many teams face long work hours, high stress environments, and a large population of people ready to turn on any player who fails to perform. This lifestyle is understandably not for everyone, especially for folks like Seagull, who could go stream and make money without the stress of living in a team house and practicing 8-10 hours a day.
Many players do seem to retire after one or two seasons in the Overwatch League, which is a concerning trend that needs to be dealt with by the teams of the Overwatch League. But a small percentage of players retiring is a normal occurrence in most sports.
There are definitely some challenges ahead for franchise owners. However, some franchises cost their owners as much as 60 million dollars according to ESPN, so you can bet that they are invested for the long haul. A few people leaving is never going to kill that level of investment. Overwatch League teams aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
Overwatch League is far from dead
- It will be bigger and better than Season 2 36%, 4 votes4 votes 36%4 votes - 36% of all votes
- This season will see the same viewership as last season 36%, 4 votes4 votes 36%4 votes - 36% of all votes
- This season will kill the OWL 27%, 3 votes3 votes 27%3 votes - 27% of all votes
To put it simply, all the reasons people are claiming OWL is dying don’t demonstrate that OWL is dying.
A couple commentators left? Casters move on in esports, it happens.
Players retired? That will happen, regardless of how well your league is going.
The schedules are intense? Welcome to professional sports, Major League Baseball players play 160+ games per season.
All these headlines are click bait that don’t backup their claims. “Overwatch League is dying” is a large claim that is going to need some substantial evidence to be taken seriously. Last I checked, a ton of people like watching, playing, and competing in Overwatch. Until that stops being the case, OWL is not dying.
Overwatch League is very young. I am sure that plenty of folks hailed the death of the National Football League (NFL) after its second championship game. But here we are many years later and the NFL is still here. Anything great takes time to build. Overwatch is a wildly popular esports title all around the world. Viewership on the grand finals went up 16% between OWL season 1 and 2, and is likely to continue growing since the franchise system hasn’t even been fully implemented yet.
Before we plan the funeral for an esport we all love, what if we gave the game the time it needs to mature and grow first?
Overwatch League is going through some growing pains, there is no doubt about that. With the eyes of the world on them, Blizzard is attempting to implement an ambitious, never before accomplished, franchise system in esports. The Overwatch League will have a lot of challenges to overcome ahead of them, but the idea that the Overwatch League is dying is patently ridiculous. Overwatch League is just getting started. Esports is not a dying industry, it’s an exploding industry.
Don’t be fooled by the headlines; esports and OWL are alive and well, and they will stay that way so long as fans keep watching and investors keep investing in what Blizzard and the Esports industry are doing.