It wasn’t long ago that the Boston Uprising were the most feared team in Overwatch League. They kept a 14-game winning streak alive against teams that most agreed were better all around. Stage Four, however, brought some changes that Boston couldn’t navigate around. A new meta and personnel changes worked against them, having a 4-6 record to show for their efforts.
The first game of Thursday evening’s events was also the most important, with the Houston Outlaws and Philadelphia Fusion going at it to secure their spot in the playoffs. Here’s how the day went down.
The Los Angeles Valiant have lost a little bit of traction in stage two, but remain one of the strongest teams in the league. For the Boston Uprising, consistency has been somewhat of an issue thus far, but they’re a team that has proven they can wake up at any time. This was a very important match for both teams, so let’s see how things played out.
The last match of Overwatch League week three was between the Los Angeles Gladiators and Houston Outlaws. Both teams have been playing very well lately, with Los Angeles looking to even out their record, and Houston hoping to keep their winning streak alive. Even though Houston are slightly favored in this matchup, Los Angeles has been giving very good teams a run for their money. Let’s take a look at how the action played out.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Overwatch League is that all twelve teams represent cities from around the world. Los Angeles is unique in that it’s the only city in season one to have two teams – the Valiant and the Gladiators. Owned by Stan and Josh Kroenke of the Los Angeles Rams, the Gladiators wear purple and black into battle, and though their roster is small right now, they’re ready to prove that they can compete with any team.
Overwatch World Cup Grand Finals at BlizzCon took place on November 4th, with Canada’s unlikely run being met by the dominant South Korean team. Cultural esports dichotomies aside, this matchup would highlight what professional Overwatch is all about. You have Canada, a team full of big personalities and individual talent from the most criticized region in professional gaming, going up against the prototypical and historical champions in a narrative everyone was hoping for. Creativity, aggression, and adaptability were the name of the game in the Grand Finals. Here’s how everything played out.
While Overwatch League continues to dominate esports discussions, collegiate esports may offer Overwatch players an alternative to Blizzard’s premier league. UC Irvine made big headlines recently when they announced a new scholarship aimed at Overwatch players. This development has caught the eye of players who wish to continue their education, as well as their parents who want them to pursue their dreams. In an era where the esports industry is making significant pushes to normalize professional gaming, the role that organized collegiate gaming plays cannot be underestimated. We recently caught up with Acting Director of Esports for UC Irvine, Mark Deppe, to get his thoughts on collegiate Overwatch, and to shed some light on other aspects of the program.
Overwatch League is all about breaking down old esports paradigms and constructing new ones. We know all about the localization of teams and the benefits that are coming to them, but there are other aspects of Overwatch esports that are being impacted by Overwatch League. From existing rosters to things non-endemic teams need to accomplish, we’re already starting to get a picture of what’s in store. Some fans and analysts might not trust Blizzard, but one thing is for certain: the invested parties are being active.
The history of professional Overwatch has been tumultuous. With highs reaching the clouds and lows reaching cavernous valleys, players and consumers have had a lot of concerns over the last year. Perhaps one of the most encompassing issues has been the turnstile many endemic organizations have been going through in regards to fielding Overwatch rosters. Indeed, many industry experts were, and still are, convinced that Overwatch was going to be a case study of the “esports bubble”. That is to say, the same general hype that inflates a title dissipates, leading to the bubble “bursting”.
On the surface, it’s natural to ask yourself how a scene can stay alive with big organizations jumping ship, such as Denial Esports. Unable to reach a common ground and understanding with their roster, Denial opted to part ways amicably with their Overwatch team. The superstar lineup, including Canadian Overwatch World Cup tank, xQc, has stayed strong through everything, enjoying success at Overwatch Monthly Melee, and, most recently, at Overwatch Contenders season zero. Now known as Arc6, they join the ranks of many other unsigned rosters hoping to make some waves before Overwatch League starts.
I recently spoke to Arc6 analyst, Kitta, and their head coach, Jeremy Wong, about the climate of professional Overwatch. Regarding Overwatch League, the folks at Arc6 remain mostly positive of Blizzard’s revolutionary esports league.
“When I look at the overall progress with Overwatch League on a business level, it’s very interesting but it’s nothing unusual with other businesses that I see up and coming,” Wong says. “They generally develop into a success, but that is dependent on capital. And where is that capital coming from? Based on what I know and what’s been given to the public; if you’re a player, a coach or a spectator, things look grim. When you actually start to look into the business side of things – When you look at what C9 (Cloud9) and teams that have, or are in the process of, receiving their funding, it doesn’t look bad at all. When you’re talking about bringing in big sports brands or VC firms that really have an interest in esports going into the future, I think there’s a lot of interest in Overwatch because of the things Overwatch League is going to provide.”
Consider Immortals for a moment. Not only did they have an exceptional Overwatch roster, but Noah Whinston, their CEO, had been busy trying to bring in money so that they could afford the Los Angeles Overwatch League spot. Their most recent partnership was with AEG, a live entertainment investment company. Now that they successfully worked with Blizzard and investors, they can sit back and wait for the benefits of Overwatch League to kick in. Ok, well, they’ll probably be playing in tournaments or something, but you know what I mean. Jokes aside, Overwatch League aims to bring about change to the esports industry, and people are, indeed, interested.
Jeremy went on to say, “I think its end goal is great. You’re just going to see the ecosystem of esports in general has followed what Blizzard does at that point. If they’re the first bringing that sort of money into the scene, they’re the first to help endemic orgs meet these VC. This is just going to boost everything from marketing to exposure to broadcasting rights, because a lot of these teams have broadcasting deals with networks, that’s going to automatically give exposure to the scene. You’re going to see player salaries go up. It’s definitely going to be more sustainable as a career path for players, coaching, or even industries that could possibly support esports.”
The localization that Blizzard is trying to bring to the scene has dominated discussions as of late. Making an esports team part of a local business ecosystem is unheard of, and though some remain skeptical, it will create brand new opportunities for anyone interested in investing in the industry. Imagine driving through Miami and seeing Misfits Overwatch League billboards advertising a charity event or something. It’s very likely to happen if things go smoothly.
Jeremy also brought up some interesting thoughts regarding the future of Overwatch esports, and the esports industry in general:
“Jack (Etienne) at C9 has been successful, and I really admire that he’s been able to keep his cool during this whole transition and has found solutions to really get the funding he needs to keep going and create that really successful brand that has exposure. These big sports players are going to come in with their money. If you’re one of these endemic orgs that doesn’t want to hand over part of their ownership or their equity for that investment because for, whatever reason, you need to own the entire company, you’re going to get phased out. You’re not going to be in the game in three to five years from now. You’re just going to get muscled out, it’s that simple.”
Though only sources close to the endemic organizations that dropped their Overwatch rosters know the details, one can’t help but wonder if stubbornness factored into their decisions. In regards to Overwatch League, Immortals (Los Angeles), NRG (San Francisco) and Misfits (Miami-Orlando) all have traditional sports investors, and both the Boston and New York slots are owned by the New England Patriots and New York Mets, respectively. There’s big money in esports, and the investments will only get bigger as the industry evolves, forcing endemic organizations to make some careful choices with their brands.
While Overwatch League discussions can’t be avoided these days, the coaches at Arc6 also talked a little bit about team versatility and player psychology, and how that all factors into their analytics and approach to each individual match.
“I think what separates the North American teams from the Korean teams is versatility,” Kitta says. “With the North American teams, a lot of them tend to run compositions that they’re comfortable with and they kind of lack that versatility. They run that composition over and over to where it becomes habitual, and when it comes to analyzing, it’s very predictable what they’re going to run. And everyone thinks, ‘Well, okay, if we’re good at this composition, no one’s going to beat me.’ But with this game, what people don’t understand is that every composition can be countered. The international teams, Korean teams – Envy and Rogue got that experience where they got to see, ‘wow, what is Lunatic Hai running? It doesn’t make sense, but it works!’ And when you actually look into the theory behind it, it does make sense. So I think to be able to compete at the same level as EnVyUs, you have to break out of that comfort zone. You have to be able to run odd things because if it makes sense, it will work. So I think when it comes to analytics, that’s what makes it challenging: when you have to keep guessing what the enemy team is going to be running.”
With the dive meta so prevalent at every level of play, it’s easy to see how this could play out. It’s also why you’ll see teams like Arc6 start using off-meta heroes like Sombra in situations that might make you scratch your head a little. Or perhaps why one team might have a dive composition with three DPS to out-damage the opposition.
“Another thing that separates NA teams from teams like EnvyUs and Rogue is player psychology,” Kitta elaborated. “People don’t really look into it or analyze it, but once you look into it, you tend to pick up patterns of players. With that, you can exploit it as well. That’s what we’re trying to enforce in our players. That’s something we did at Overwatch Monthly Melee, especially through Selfless (disbanded esports team). That was successful and that proved that when you’re analyzing, you can’t just look at compositions and strategy, you have to look at everything.”
“The one thing I think that really lacks in the North American scene than everywhere else is that we get really complacent really fast,” Jeremy added. “A lot of players will get their jobs, they get into it, they do really well, and then some teams literally fall off. They don’t adapt or adjust the development and growth of their own playstyle. It’s exactly like Kitta said: It’s that player psychology that you can really tap into. I don’t think a lot of teams are doing this in North American Overwatch. I think it’s important that you have people looking into that like myself as a coach and an analyst like Kitta, where we understand that.”
Korean teams have long been known to take action in regards to player psychology. Most recently, Lunatic-Hai benched one of their star players, Whoru, because of “ego issues”. In today’s world of social media and streaming, I’m sure many teams around the world will have to take psychology into consideration. It’ll be interesting to see if any Overwatch League teams will have wellness programs for their players on top of the benefits that come with insurance.
Overwatch is a young game with a lot of room for improvement and development. The esports scene has had its struggles, but with the industry growing and franchising taking over, perhaps Arc6’s progressive approach to competition will become the norm. Imagine a world where esports organizations have highly specialized coaches, trainers and support staff like traditional sports teams. If the trajectory keeps on the way it is, it’s only a matter of time.
Jeremy and Kitta would like to mention WaWa’s Boot Camp, a place where aspiring players can sharpen their skills with some of Overwatch’s best coaches and star players. Follow them on Twitter and check out their stream!
“Jeremy and Kitta spoke with Damian in early June. Amidst the rampant panic and speculation, their comments were rational and would go on to reflect the realities of Overwatch League and its interested parties.”