What Do the Changes to the Overwatch League Mean for What Comes Next?

After Toronto Defiant’s parent company, OverActive Media, announced that they were exiting the OWL and getting a $6 million termination fee, it was confirmed that the teams have come to an agreement about the Overwatch League behind the scenes.

Overwatch League
"Overwatch" (CC BY 2.0) by wuestenigel

After six years of action and a steady decline in popularity, Blizzard’s official eSports Overwatch League is coming to an end. While the League shutting down is an unfortunate move for fans, players, and punters of Overwatch alike, it’s not thought to be the permanent end of Overwatch eSports. This leaves us wondering, what comes next for one of eSports' formerly biggest darlings, and what does it mean for the pros finding themselves without a home?

Death of a League

When Overwatch first launched in 2016, it was heralded by review sites like IGN as the next big step in competitive online FPS gaming. Overwatch was the first game to carry on the legacy laid down by Team Fortress 2, where character-based gameplay was taken to the next level. The classes in Overwatch were varied, its world and characters loveable, and its gameplay was approachable no matter your skill level.

Overwatch was a perfect combination of team and spectator sport. It was involved enough that it had a high skill ceiling for the players, yet it was simple enough to be understood by viewers and newcomers with only minor introductions. Yet, it couldn’t stay this way.

Over time and patches, a lot of what the players used to love was pushed out as Blizzard homogenized the gameplay. New characters and metas created issues, and balancing attempts often created more problems than they solved. None of this was helped by the release of Overwatch 2, which failed to deliver on promises, dropped the player count from six to five, and included questionable monetization options. Viewers and players began to drift away, and the inevitable result, as we now know, was a closing of the official league.

To Greener Pastures

While Blizzard promises a new approach to their eSports landscape coming soon, players are left in the lurch, and prior experience with the company leaves spectators hesitant to take the company at its word. What we do know is that the promise of eSports money is too much for Blizzard to ignore, so they're likely to try again once they find an approach they consider more financially viable.

As for the players, many will find themselves jumping ship to another title. One of the great things about eSports, as with so many forms of electronic gaming, is that knowledge and skills are transferrable to other arenas. Equally, if it's the graphics and interest in the gameplay's structure that appeals to a player, they might consider trying out something completely different, so see how it compares. Online slot games follow a bunch of new variants as illustrated by releases like the Slingo series of titles. This combination of slots and bingo that calls upon both game types and particularly upon themes tied together with images and soundtracks. Entries like Slingo Space Invaders and Slingo Piggy Bank are unique enough to offer something new to classic players, but they’re also easy to drop into for anyone.

Of course, pro eSports can be a little trickier, but there are other games close enough to Overwatch that a change is possible. Valorant, with its class-based gameplay, is a prime example, as the game continues to usurp Overwatch's former throne. Some might even make the leap to Counter-Strike 2, which can be extremely lucrative for the top performers.

While we don’t know exactly what form the new Overwatch 2 competitive space will take, we do know that Blizzard has an uphill battle ahead. Lowering public opinion of the company and its treatment of players means they’ll need to fight for goodwill, and might never reclaim the position of popularity they once enjoyed. At the very least, we'd love to be able to jump back to the original Overwatch, should the company take a similar path as they did with WoW Classic. Sometimes, as eSports shows, the right step forward really is two steps back.

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