'Overwatch 2' Is Not a Very Good Sport

 I recently spent several hours watching the professional debut of Overwatch 2. During this time, virtually every team utilized the same characters—most notably Lucio, Ana, and Genji—and pursued nearly identical dive strategies. Disconnected fights happened everywhere, all the time, obscuring what the audience should be paying attention to, and the Tracer’s first-person perspective nearly induced motion sickness. If it’s not great for me, someone who’s put a lot of hours into understanding the game, I cannot imagine how it would read to someone new to the Overwatch experience.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7kbnab/overwatch-2-is-not-a-very-good-sport
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I’ve been getting back into Halo Infinite lately, and with it I’ve been watching the tiniest bit of the Halo Championship Series (HCS). While the level of play is clearly on a much higher level than I could ever aspire to, it was still recognizably Halo. Folks were using the combat triangle, shields audibly popped and recovered, and the objectives or score were cleanly laid out so I could easily tell which team was winning. I’m by no means going to be a full time fan, but it was a pleasant and entertaining experience to have the stream on.

I bring this up because I too am puzzled at the nonsense chaos of pro Overwatch play. As someone who has been with the game since 2016, I can’t even recognize how to bridge the chasm between casual play and this sweaty, overturned mess that is being broadcast. I simply don’t get how a game with so many different variables, and constantly changing player abilities, can maintain any semblance of a competitive scene. Like Halo changes, sure, but everyone starts the match with the same kit and goes from there. Same with something like CS:GO, which feels static enough to feel like a real life sport.

Overwatch had such a cool pitch when it came out, the PVP shooter for the non-sweaty crowd. Not good at shooting? Here are so many different ways to play! Lost the match? Well check out this cool play of the game you did! And then Blizzard had to chase the dollar signs and create a league that feels completely astroturfed from top to bottom. Just ditch it guys, no one gives a shit about the Toronto Defiant.

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I watched some Overwatch Competitive stuff back in 2016 when this game actually was much of my entire life, and even then, I couldn’t follow it for shit. I went to an Overwatch Finals in Philadelphia some years ago and had no better luck, it was just fundamentally an impossible game to follow.

If I had a theory as to why this doesn’t work, I think it’s just that Overwatch does not have stoppages. If you’re watching one of the classic sports on TV, be it baseball, basketball, football, cricket, whatever, the game is constantly broken up by fouls, flags, plays ending, or baseball’s general lack of action. Only like ten minutes of actual football happens in an NFL game, most of the clock is eaten by the spaces between plays. Overwatch, meanwhile, is a constant flow of seemingly random particles bouncing into each other, and it never cuts out. You can see distinct events like a DPS character winning their duel off to the side, but the overall structure of the match is never a coherent beast because it never stops. I think only racing tries to be one endless stream of action, but that’s a much more readable structure since it’s just as easy as knowing who is in front and who is behind.

The OWL is like watching a soccer match with eight balls, four goals, and no out of bounds. Just things flying in a million directions.

Anyway, what we really needed was Major League Pyre. I want the pro scene for that thing.

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This is why I like watching the Quake finals even though I don’t play a lot of Quake!

(Timestamp 24 mins)

Quake is such a straight forward shooter that anyone can watch a match and immediately understand what is happening while at the same time understanding that the players have a much higher skill level then most. The final matches also often happen to be really close with scores only being a difference of one or two points. Super fun to watch with a crowd because you can feel everyone on the edge of their seat.

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The other thing with mainstream sports is that you tend to absorb a lot of the knowledge to understand them solely through cultural osmosis. If you don’t have that background, you can still run into the same problem of not understanding what is happening and why something is exciting. Granted, as mentioned above, the stoppages/slow in action help. Plus, if you aren’t familiar with it, you typically are around or near people who can explain what is happening.

I remember going to a baseball game with a friend who had somehow managed to be completely unfamiliar with the sport despite growing up in the US. So I got to poorly explain to them what little I knew about the rules of baseball and why people consider it exciting and they got to explain to me exactly which baseball player could “get it”. It was a good time.

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A key part of making a sport fun for spectators, whether it’s e- or IRL, is giving them more information than the players have. When you watch a NBA or DOTA 2 game you can see and have access to far more than the players do. This makes the often extremely complex action that’s happening digestible to a layperson. Two things that make Overwatch fun make that sort of presentation impossible. It’s maps have a lot of verticality and a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces. That makes the maps very fun an interesting to play on but make giving any sort of top down view impossible. Overwatch also encourages basically non-stop action. This is great as a player because you can just hop in and immediately be in it but it means that there’s no downtime for broadcasters to go over replays or break down strategies.

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Naively, I assumed that third person cameras would help the spectator experience for OW. Reader, it did not. The characters look like toys in a tilt-shift diorama who don’t seem to be capable of doing anything meaningful to each other. When the 3rd person camera is completely weightless and the 1st person camera is vomitrocious, it’s no wonder that the game isn’t a good spectator sport.

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I don’t think I’d have ever played Overwatch as much as I did if it had a draft. Overwatch 2 seems dead on arrival, so I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, but even if it wasn’t, a draft would seriously put me off. Don’t make things more like MOBAs.

To be clear [and a little picky maybe, but more at id’s marketing], this is Quake Champions, right? (Quake is, arguably, an even more straight forward shooter… but I would be astonished if the Quake multiplayer scene was hauling in any real visibility…)

Quake Champions is the one that is getting stage presence and prize pools but people are still playing 3 and Live. The player base size for the games is smaller then the actual number of people who watch the tournament streams (Steam stat tracking sites say Champions is maybe 500 people regularly right now). Which I think is just a part of where gaming is at in terms of arena shooters, I don’t think we’re ever going to get back to a pure arena shooter being in the top 10 on Steam for example.

Champions is actually pretty fun IMO and I think the different characters don’t bring too many changes for someone who is not playing on a pro level to care too much. It’s still fun to just drop in and play a few rounds and they do put out updates every few months. I just wish it wasn’t a 30GB install.

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I’m actually surprised Quake Live is still surviving in the post-free-to-play phase of its existence. I played it a bit when it was FTP, and it struck me as being a pretty accurate recreation of Quake 3… but I don’t think I would ever have been prepared to subscribe.
I guess $10 on Steam for “Quake 3 with more modern netcode” is probably enticing now, though…

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The thing is Quake Live’s netcode is just more-or-less the netcode that was in the mods that everybody used to play Quake 3 with anyways (in fact I believe one or more of those mod makers got hired for QL.) A lot of people got back in to Quake when QL was a browser game for a bit and we all realized that it was kinda just a worse version of Quake 3.

That being said, yes, if I was going to watch an esport I would rather watch a 1v1 scenario i.e. Quake or a fighting game. The only team games that seem to work are elimination style scenarios where players get whittled down every round; things can be wild at the start but will always focus in on the last couple of perspectives.

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