The Overwatch League is slowly winning over Craig Robinson, who explains why in this comment piece.
It was only a few months ago that the Overwatch League astonished me with its traditional American style.
Several venture capitalists donated to various brands, and many cities and states formed their NFL-style Overwatch teams. And then there was London Spitfire… I said to my mates privately: "What does an all-Korean team with American backing (Cloud9), on Fnatic’s doorstep, offer me?"
Just like many other Brits that put pen to paper, I too was disappointed. With nothing too appealing for a lad up North, surrounded by Liverpool and Manchester, the potential didn’t really connect.
Yet, there I was last Thursday evening, spending my 100 free tokens on a Spitfire Sombra skin… What happened?
The week leading up to the event got me a bit more hyped for it. My coursework was ending, and I could stay up late and watch some of the games and not feel guilty.
Day 1 was coming up, so I put in the Twitch address, loaded up the stream, and there I was looking at the opening match between LA Valiant and SF Shock. More games went by as the days went on, and I found myself enjoying the matches and clutch fights. Watching the pro players perform was enjoyable and inspiring.
"I asked my friends what an all-Korean team with American backing, on Fnatic’s doorstep, could offer me? Yet, there I was last Thursday evening, spending my 100 free tokens on a Spitfire Sombra skin… What happened?"
As for my Spitfire purchase, what can I say? The sense of British patriotism in the branding, and as they are my 'local' team, for the time being, I may as well get behind them and spend my free tokens on them.
How much the impact from 2017’s Dunkirk, and 2018’s Darkest Hour has to do with this I do not know, all I know is I like war-themed iconography and the Spitfire may have been enough to entice me slightly.
Not only this, but it separates itself from other teams' locations and - insert flamboyant noun here naming conventions - I am looking at you Dallas, Florida, LA etc.
After all, I am not American, and this style will probably take some time to grow on me. At least with the London Spitfire branding, I feel some form of connection.
Although, this does not mean I am completely basing my decisions to support the team on branding alone. If there is another way I can feel connected to teams, it is by geography. I feel more connected to teams that have more Europeans on the team, especially if British players are there.
Philadelphia Fusion currently has Overwatch World Cup's Team UK star Boombox, with coach Hayes within the support staff. This is a team I am going to be keeping a close eye on, especially as they are the newest line-up since they were not part of the pre-season games. That storyline - and supporting homegrown talent - is always a plus.
For me, enjoying an esport casually is about how fun the games are to watch, and how exciting the meta is. Remembering how previous metas went with the NiP triple tank comp is something I wish I could forget. But now the meta looks like its back to that 2/2/2 comp, with slight alterations here and there for counter picking and other strategical aspects.
I feel like the opening formula made the game much more enjoyable for the inaugural week, and it's something that can keep people coming back.
"To me the Overwatch League seemed doomed when it all was first announced. But at the moment it's proving me wrong."
For other people, supporting teams will be enough for them to watch regularly. If Philly and Spitfire can lock me down as a fan, I will keep coming back for more, even if the game times are a bit of an inconvenience.
Even if specific teams fail to lock down people who do not have a local team to root for, the way esports works with fan-favourite players, streamers, and other personalities, that can benefit the casual fanbase overall.
Like with other esports, some people are interested in certain players, and then they end up supporting that team due to the player(s). That way, the marketable players will remain valued by fans, the same way traditional sports gain fans from the locality.
For the Overwatch European fanbase, Europe is yet to receive investment in other cities outside of London. Much of the pro player base comes from within Europe, so there is a viewership that will have to support players by watching vods, since not everyone will be able to watch the matches live.
Despite my positivity above, I am still skeptical about the success of the local team. It is just a question of whether the team arenas in their cities could be suppressed by the tradition of esports having online-based communities.
I do hope for the sake of esports that Blizzard does nail down local support when that stage begins, especially in America. But for now, the look of interest in Twitch’s view count, and the viewing parties that took place all over America, does suggest it could be on the way to success.
And that's something I wasn't expecting - to me the Overwatch League seemed doomed when it all was first announced. But at the moment it's proving me wrong.