Opinion: Overwatch Struggles for Relevancy During the Golden Age of Esports
Overwatch 2 was announced in 2019 during BlizzCon, an annual convention hosted by Blizzard Entertainment, where they announce new projects and host other events.
I remember watching the announcement live on Twitch. The live stream always has announcements from different games in seemingly random order, but that year I knew Overwatch would be last.
Earlier that week, several leaks had revealed player vs. environment (PvE) leveling pages for Tracer, along with her new design and new Overwatch 2 logo. With the announcement of a sequel, I assumed Blizzard would want to save the biggest news for last.
The announcement started out with a recap trailer for all the cinematics for Overwatch that had previously been released. Did I tear up? A little.
After that, Jeff Kaplan, game director for Overwatch, came on stage to talk about the upcoming announcements. He made a funny nod to the leaks at the start.
“I have something that I’m very embarrassed to tell you now, and I’m only telling you because we have this close relationship,” Kaplan said. “I totally forget what I’m supposed to say right now… Luckily, I can, from the internet, I could read everything I’m supposed to say from the last week. Thank you so much for helping me with that.”
I felt so bad when he said that on stage, I’m sure it would feel awful to have all your hard work swept out from under you before you got to show the world. Kaplan went on to introduce the cinematic that would announce Overwatch 2.
What came with the announcement of Overwatch 2 was the confirmation that development on the original Overwatch would be slowed down a little. We didn’t really start feeling the pain of this until earlier this month. Recently this week, Echo was released to the live servers. In between Echo and Sigma, the hero released before her, fans had to wait almost nine months for the next hero to be released. Before the announcement, heroes came out about every three or four months.
For an esports title, interest is a large factor. If a game isn’t releasing new content to keep players interested, then the game will die out. Why play with your old toys when you can play with new ones?
Another issue that Overwatch suffered from was balance. Other popular esports titles have very consistent balance changes. League of Legends runs on a bi-weekly schedule, releasing balance changes every two weeks.
Overwatch would get balance changes about every month to month and a half, which was pretty bad for the game’s meta. One of the most popular metas in Overwatch was GOATS, a three tank and three support team composition. With slow balance, GOATS ran from late 2018 to July 2019.
Blizzard had to create the role queue, a system where players can select a role they wish to play as, and the game puts together a team with two tanks, two DPS and two supports. Quickly after that came double shield, which ran pretty soon after role queue was instated to earlier this year, almost five months.
Many of the changes that make Overwatch great didn’t come until long after they were needed. I’ve heard some people speculate that all the slow development came from the fact that most of the team has been working on Overwatch 2. While there is no confirmation for that, it seems pretty likely.
Overwatch also has to compete for relevance while other titles continue their regular development. VALORANT just started their closed beta, reaching over 1.7 million viewers on twitch. Overwatch, as of writing this, has 20 thousand viewers on Twitch, falling behind many other esports titles like Rainbow Six (39K), CS:GO (138K), League of Legends (219K) and VALORANT (704K).