The Overwatch League shows promise by adopting a traditional sports model

“Oh hey! They Overwatch League is starting today. I wonder who New York is playing first… Boston… Whoever organized this must have been a hardcore sports fan!”

That was the first thought I had looking at the Overwatch League’s schedule, and I didn’t know how right I was. The Overwatch League feels remarkably different from other e-sports competitions. It barely feels like an e-sport at all. It feels like the next generation of traditional sports, as if the virtual footballs and baseballs of late nineties cyberpunk movies were pulled off the screen and made real… with guns. It’s an attention to detail that extends far beyond fanning the flames of the infamous New York/Boston rivalry (New York is obviously superior, by the way). It extends to the very way the game is watched, the style of its commentary, its very representation. Heck, it even extends to fanning the flames of the infamous San Francisco/Los Angeles rivalry (L.A. won, by the way.)!

Familiar sports elements

Everything about the Overwatch League purposefully crafted to make it accessible to the mainstream sports fan, the same sort of fan that would be utterly lost watching any other random Overwatch game. Team colors go a long way toward making the action easy to absorb. Everything is plastered with team colors. Characters wear team colors. Control points, payloads, and areas of the map bear team colors, as if they were parallels of a football endzone. Even bullets and hit effects bear their team’s colors.

This is why matches are so easy to digest for the casual fan. You may not know much about Overwatch but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that a bunch of purple guys crowding into a red zone is bad news for the red team. You might not know the intricacies of Mercy’s healing rate but you know that green line stretching from one green team member to the other means someone is getting buffed.

Once you get past this basic understanding of gameflow, everything else falls into place with assistance from expert commentary. This is the best commentary we have seen in Overwatch history, possibly even e-sports history. Every action is explained with incredible detail, but without using insider jargon. When the commentators exclaim that “Junkrat is using his ult” it only takes a few logical steps to understand that his ult is the rip-tire, and that it’s tied to the slowly growing percentage shown not only on the Junkrat player’s screen, but also constantly in an overlay at the top of the screen.

The camera work also enhances the experience. As usual, the camera shifts between the first person views of the players, however it can also pull back to show a spectators view of a confrontation, or pull high into the sky to show every player’s position at once. Character health is always shown at the top of the screen and overlapping each character regardless of what view the camera takes. Spectators can always see exactly who has the advantage and who is in trouble. Particularly amazing plays are shown quickly in instant replays and commentators will pull players aside after matches to talk about what was going through their head during the game. Between games, commentators will put player stats up on the screen, allowing you to see how the star players on both teams compare.

Smooth technical performance

There was also a remarkable lack of technical difficulties. Even the most high-profile e-sports events deal with some sort of technical snafu. A connection problem, a delay in match, a rule issue, something always seems to go wrong. Not so with the Overwatch League. Matches started on time and ended on time with no fuss in the middle. No one had an equipment failure. The stream never went down. The best way to describe it is “professional.”

All of this is to say that the Overwatch League does the same thing every other mainstream sport does, which is actually a major change in the way we view e-sports. The e-sport community always seemed to pride itself on how different it was from traditional sports. However, utilizing the same broadcasting techniques as football, baseball, hockey, etc. has only made e-sports more engaging. It feels good to see your team sporting their home colors. It feels good to buy into the traditional sports narrative and to root for your favorite team and player. If this is the future of e-sports, then it is a bright future indeed.

But enough about how the league was run, let’s talk matches. Three matches went down on opening day. The first was the Los Angeles Valiant versus the San Francisco Shock. Despite most games playing out evenly, the Valiant took the set 4-0, largely due to incredible aggressive play from their DPS.

A good sign of things to come for the OWL

Game 2 featured the Shanghai Dragons versus Los Angeles’s other team, the Gladiators, and was much more one sided. The Dragons have been one of the most controversial teams in the league, leading up to its official kickoff. They have been fined multiple times for account sharing, and have been the center of more than a few player sniping and payment scandals. It’s possible that this caused them to play shaken, as the Gladiators outplayed them at every turn. A combination of Hydration, their DPS player’s, Doomfist, powerful disruption play, and a heavy focus on anti-tank strategy lead to shutouts in every game except one.

The final match, the Dallas Fuel vs. the Seoul Dynasty, was the closest match, and it should have been! It brought back two rivals who once knew each other by other names, Team Envy and Lunatic-Hai. Dallas manages to pull out to an early lead on Junkertown, but Seoul took it back on Anubis. Seoul ended up crushing Dallas on Illios preventing even a single capture. That brought everything down to Numbani, which ended in a draw, letting the Dynasty close out the win with their lead.

Today the London Spitfire will go up against the Florida Mayhem, the Philadelphia Fusion will take on the Houston Outlaws, and the Boston Uprising will fight the New York Excelsior (New York is going to win, by the way.) Friday will see the Los Angeles Valiant have their second match against the Dallas Fuel, the Mayhem go up against the Uprising, and the Shock go up against the Dragons. Finally, Saturday will see the Spitfire go up against the Fusion, the Excelsior go up against the Outlaws, and the Dynasty go up against the Gladiators.

Watch last night's action here:

Watch Stage 1 Week 1 | San Francisco Shock vs. Los Angeles Valiant from OverwatchLeague on