The Disconnect in Competitive OW and OWL: What can be done?

2018-05-18 / Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

With the off-season in full swing, I decided to do some research on a topic that’s bugged me for some time. Why would people who play Overwatch competitively not be interested in the Overwatch League? It just didn’t make any sense to me. The league showcases some of the highest levels of competitive Overwatch ever recorded. There had to be some reason they weren’t tuning in.

What was this survey about?

 As mentioned, many people have wondered why players of the competitive community are not interested in the first season of Blizzard’s proprietary league. I ran a survey through my personal Twitter, the competitive Overwatch subreddit, and various Overwatch discords. I wanted to find out what attracts people to a particular “side”. Can anything be done to bridge the gap between the two communities, or is it purely a divide based on a certain set of interests?


The Data

Time Played & Reasons for Playing

The large majority (73%) of the players surveyed play between 0-10 hours of competitive Overwatch every week. When asked why they play competitive mode, 72% of players answered “Seeking competition/Self-improvement”. Self-improvement and team building is an organic self-esteem booster. Pushing against one’s own natural boundaries makes the person smarter, wiser, and mentally strong. Chasing that feeling of individual growth and development is a part of playing competitive Overwatch that OWL simply cannot provide.


While most are looking for self-improvement, 51% of players also answered that they enjoy playing with friends and find the game mechanics appealing. This part of the survey enters a bit of a gray area, because OWL can also be enjoyed with friends while watching the highest level of coordination. The way Blizzard has laid out the format, watching OWL is not dissimilar from watching an NBA or NFL game. I think this is a common set of interests that both the competitive and OWL communities can appreciate together.


Matches Watched per Week

When asked how many OWL matches per week the surveyee watched, the results had an interesting spread, check it out:

2018-07-14 / Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Most people fell into the ‘1-5 matches’ bracket, but the ‘8+ matches’ statistic was rather surprising to me. There is something to be said about the people who browse the subreddit and are apart of Overwatch discords; they will be watching plenty of OWL. When asked why they watch OWL, the overwhelming top answer was ‘Spectating coordination at the highest level is enjoyable’ at 85%.

The next 2 answers were having a ‘favorite player/team’ and ‘learning from the best’ at 63% and 62%. It seems that most people who watch OWL tend to be in the lower SR brackets when they play the game (Platinum and below). When I asked, “What gets you the most excited when you are playing and/or spectating Overwatch?” More than 75% of the answers included “Clutch plays, high-level strategies, strong team play” in some form or fashion. Watching what the team play is like at the absolute top level is something not very familiar to players in those lower SR ranges. This admiration of high-level play coupled with the traditional sports format of the league introduces storylines, favorite players and teams, and an original esports experience like no other.


The Patch Problem

Patch consistency is another issue which had a significant turnout:


Almost ⅓ of people were less inclined to watch OWL because the live and league patches were different, which is something I am sure Blizzard will improve upon in Season 2. If this survey is any indication, it’s sorely needed. While the game is constantly changing, Blizzard needs to introduce some consistency to their balancing schedule. Custa and Sideshow had a great conversation on Twitter about this, bringing up the idea of scheduling live balance changes around OWL, rather than the other way around. Sounds good to me, honestly. 


Can we do anything about it?

In the survey, I asked “What’s the #1 aspect that can be improved upon in OWL for Season 2 to improve accessibility?” 65% of answers called for individual player cameras that the spectator can choose from. Although I understand this would be an absolute nightmare for Blizzard to implement, the answer makes sense. Players want to watch the roles they play themselves. This plays into the self-improvement aspect of playing competitively. Some people like observing raw mechanical skill. Some love watching Winstons pull off a risky flank. Main support players (Lucio, Mercy) hardly get any camera time compared to their teammates. I can absolutely see how spectators who play these heroes can be put off by this.


2018-06-06 / Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

After sifting through the numbers, it seems like having the ability to spectate high-level play on an individual basis is the best option to connect the competitive and OWL communities. Primarily, competitive players want to see themselves improve, and the OWL spectators want to see the individual player cameras. This is asking for a lot, but Blizzard is already focused on improving on their strong start in Season 1. Hopefully, we get to see this implemented down the line sometime.


Sameer Karim
Sameer has been playing and spectating professional Overwatch since launch, and has been absolutely engrossed with it. He recently started writing and is excited to cover the league as a Houston native and Outlaws fan. He started writing on Medium, and eventually branched out writing about other topics in OWL.
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