Overwatch enters the competitive gaming scene as the new kid on the block.
The latest Blizzard Entertainment new IP, Overwatch is set to release worldwide on the 24th May 2016. The game is a team orientated competitive FPS (First-Person Shooter) with emphasis on its class system. Overwatch aims to break into the eSports market with other successful titles such as Dota 2, League of Legends and CounterStrike: Global Offensive. As the recent games haven’t been as popular as the earlier titles, Blizzard hopes to reclaim the competitive gaming throne.
Blizzard’s successful competitive past
Back in 1998, Blizzard released one of the best and most balanced real-time strategy games of all time. This game was StarCraft with its additional expansion set Brood War. The real-time strategy game became one of the most popular computer games in South Korea. Blizzard released the game during the country’s feuds with Japan, this feud left Korea with no access to games consoles produced in Japan. This meant more gamers were turning to computers for their gaming fix.
During this time the Korean government aimed to vastly improve the country’s internet speed and broadband infrastructure making it the fastest in the world. Due to this perfect storm of circumstances within the Korean region the game was a massive hit amongst gamers creating one of the most successful competitive gaming scenes. StarCraft’s game balance and the versatility of in-depth strategies that could be performed, made it a popular in other countries around the world as well as in South Korea.
Fast-forwarding to 2010 and with the release of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty it seemed like nothing could stop the RTS from being the computer game with the greatest concurrent players. As Twitch streaming continues to grow StarCraft 2’s viewership began increasing, having professional players from around the world streaming their matches. StarCraft’s steep learning curve and in-depth strategic methods led viewers to watch the pros to learn the tips and tricks that they’d provide.
Disappointments and Attempts
StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty was a huge success. In 2013 the next expansion pack for StarCraft 2 was on the horizon, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm. Professional gamers were given beta access but the real-time strategy genre was already on a downward spiral. Heart of the Swarm wasn’t welcoming to new gamers as they’d have to pay for the base game (Wings of Liberty) in order the play the new expansion set. The introduction of new units created room for more strategies to be implemented, but this only steepened the learning curve which isn’t a good trait for a competitive game that looked to gain more popularity.
The compulsory purchase of Wings of Liberty and the learning curve steered gamers away from the RTS game and towards games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as they are free-to-play and have a much more tolerant learning curve. StarCraft 2’s first expansion set caused a temporary spike in the games online player count.
Followed by another spike in player count coming from the introduction of Legacy of the Void, StarCraft 2’s second addition. Despite Blizzard’s best efforts by making the game more accessible to beginners and dropping the Wings of Liberty requirement to play. The player count still has not seen high numbers in comparison to its rivals in other genres.
The professional scene wasn’t without its disappointments either, with many pro players recently being arresting for connections with match-fixing scandals. These embarrassments only jeopardized the competitive integrity of the game resulting in a decrease in online viewership .
Blizzard weren’t only watching the player count of one their most beloved franchises whittle, but also the popularity of the real-time strategy genre as a whole. Enter Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft this lightweight competitive card game was a breath of fresh air for everyone and pulled a lot of gamers in. Hearthstone has a few advantages that other competitive online games don’t have, such as a low time commitment and being a 1v1 game means no one can ruin your fun. Games typically last from 5 to 15 minutes, meaning you can squeeze a quick game before work. MOBA’s on the other hand require at the very least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time towards them because we all know how it is when someone goes ‘AFK’. Hearthstone was a good move for Blizzard, with games that could potentially last 5 minutes they could be played whilst waiting for a different game to begin. Commonly done on Twitch by popular League of Legends streamers, Hearthstone gained a lot of free exposure to masses of gamers. Unfortunately the card game didn’t really capture the hardcore gaming audience as they felt the game was too reliant on random number generation in order to win the game and not strategy. The game was often seen as casual and came secondary to the almighty MOBA’s, it wasn’t enough.
After years of development Blizzard has entered the MOBA race bringing us Heroes of the Storm. When the beta released a lot of players were interested in giving it a try, given Blizzard’s successes and reputation of making solid games. Some gamers liked the varied approach Blizzard was taking in the development of their MOBA. Heroes of the Storm had its advantages with recognizable heroes to play as such as Kerrigan, Diablo and Raynor. For some gamers this alone would be a reason to switch from other MOBA’s. Unfortunately Heroes of the Storm came late to the MOBA party and by this time the market was already becoming over-saturated with games of the same genre. To name a few, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, Dota 2, Smite and Vainglory all released before Heroes of the Storm and had established a significant dedicated following. With a genre that takes commitment it always going to be hard for Heroes of the Storm to hold the attention of some gamers. Regardless, the MOBA was a very well developed one, consistently generating respectable numbers on Twitch.tv, still it was no match for Valve and Riot’s offerings.
Blizzard’s bright future
Blizzard had a surprise for all of us, they had a new game currently in development. Overwatch is the first original game from Blizzard since 1999 this alone created a lot of hype. Not only this, but in a genre they’d never touched prior to Overwatch, first-person shooters. The game’s announcement during BlizzCon 2014 shocked the whole fan base and was a well-kept secret. Given the reputation of the game development company the community made assumptions that the game would be solidly developed. Blizzard were under pressure as they were falling behind with games that are yet to capture a new generation of gamers, especially versus the likes of their rivals.
Overwatch has been a fresh start, with a new universe and a whole host of new characters. The team-based shooter requires communication, co-operation and strategy in order to defeat the opposing team. Every character has different abilities and as long as new characters are not introduced too frequently I believe the balance throughout the game can be easily maintained. Blizzard developed Overwatch from the ground up with the competitive scene in mind. As eSports continues to grow in viewership and participation I feel Blizzard have made healthy strides in order to make the game accessible and understandable to everyone watching and playing.
In my opinion Blizzard have risen, unlike Dota 2 and League of Legends you do not have to play the game to know what is happening during a professional match. FPS games are among the most popular games right now meaning that Overwatch will have the “pick up and play” factor for almost every gamer. The tutorials are simple and the objective of the game is often echoed by the announcer in-game. Other things such as the recommending that the player pick a support hero or a tank hero to help give your team balance is another good addition as it can prevent conflicts found in other eSports titles. Combine this with no forceful micro transactions and Overwatch has a lot of potential. With Blizzard giving their new game the backing it deserves, it has the ability to disrupt the big three that are Dota 2, League of Legends and CounterStrike: Global Offensive. My prediction is that Overwatch will be a contender if Blizzard can tailor the competitive play into a watchable state.It already has advantages such as being accessible to new players and the backing of a computer game giant in Blizzard.