If someone asked you what the biggest and most popular esports in the world are, you’d probably name Dota 2 and League of Legends. It’s true that these two multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games offered huge prize pools in 2018. Dota 2 ranked first in total prize pool in 2018, with players competing for over $40 million last year. League pros were offered $14 million, placing the game 4th in the ranking. Not far behind in 6th place, however, was a fast-growing game that any esport enthusiast should be keeping track of: Overwatch.
The Overwatch League (OWL), first run in 2018, is the game’s professional level tournament. The debut year of OWL boasted almost $3.5 million in prizes, with an additional $2 million awarded in the game’s lower tier, the Contenders League. Now in its second year, OWL has grown in the number of teams competing as well as its prize pool. The 2019 edition of the tournament, which began in February and will finish in August, is offering around $5 million in prizes.
But before you familiarize yourself with OWL’s 20 teams and their rosters of excellent players with experience in several competitive esports, what is Overwatch exactly, and how has it become such a smash hit in a short time?
Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter and esport developed and released by Blizzard Entertainment on May 24, 2016. The main game mode pits two teams of 6 players against each other in an objective-based match. Objectives differ between games. One entails escorting a payload safely to its destination before a timer runs out. Another requires teams to control an area of the map for a certain period of time unopposed.
The game also includes additional game modes with varying rulesets. These include free-for-all deathmatches, capture the flag games, 3-on-3 matches, and themed holiday events for Christmas, Halloween, and more.
While the different game modes and objectives provide a lot of replayability on their own, the real key to Overwatch is its hero-based gameplay. This is because players can choose between 30 different characters loosely categorized into damage, tank, and support roles.
Each hero wields wildly different weapon arsenals, abilities, and powerful Ultimate powers. Different heroes are suited to certain objectives and maps and require different skill sets to play effectively. Certain heroes also offer unique synergies when combined. As in MOBAs, choosing the right composition of heroes can mean the difference between stunning victory and humiliating defeat.
Overwatch is a Smash Hit
The game’s colorful visual presentation and solid mechanics ensured that Overwatch was a hit with the gaming media on release. The game earned a 9.4 rating from IGN and perfect scores from several outlets. But gamers have kept playing it more than two years after release because the heroes of Overwatch are excellently designed and balanced, and are dripping with personality, style, and versatility.
Tracer is perhaps Overwatch’s best-known character, appearing on the game’s cover art. She is a British former ace pilot who got her abilities after accident with a teleportation matrix. The accident caused her to become desynchronized with the flow of time. She gained the ability to make short “blinks” in space, as well as to reverse time briefly, including removing any damage she is dealt. In-game, she is a potent attacker whose kit makes her one of the quickest and most difficult to kill heroes.
She is also a mainstay on the professional scene, with the best players in the Overwatch League picking her in an attempt to carry their team to victory.
Overwatch released with 21 characters but has received many balance updates and hero debuts, bringing the count to 30. With the second season of the Overwatch League in full swing and the game showing no signs of slowing down.