Overwatch League just had its best broadcast yet
By the end of the year, the Overwatch League is likely to change irrevocably. But Saturday, July 22nd was one of the most important and touching days in the life cycle of the Overwatch League, but not for the reasons you think.
In spite of the uncertain health of the ambitious esports competition, massive backend layoffs, and reported dips in players for the game at large, this one day of broadcasting felt like home.
The talent deserves a salute, the players deserve the world, and this is the only way forward.
Overwatch League just had a miracle weekend. Let's break it down.
Everyone is here
Overwatch esports is at its best when a good percentage of the cast is not only viable but is used.
And this Saturday had it all.
In this one day of broadcasting, all but six heroes from the Overwatch 2 cast were played and that was only because we dodged Circuit Royal.
If that map was scheduled, then you can knock this number down to five as Sigma would have undoubtedly been played.
While the randomised Hero Pools of the 2020 season were not successful, their impetus had merit; creating new systems and incentive structures that allow and even reward teams for experimenting or forging a strong identity is going to serve Overwatch esports in the long run.
Whether the league itself props up and creates content around these identities when they emerge or the format itself changes to facilitate more variety while not infringing on the team's competitive agency, Overwatch is primetime esports when the majority of the cast is present.
And we'll bet Team 4 at Activision Blizzard knows this.
We say this with confidence because 2020 not only saw Overwatch introduce Hero Pools to both its flagship esports league and even the ranked ladder but during an anniversary celebration, they tested a hero ban system.
For Overwatch's fourth anniversary, Overwatch League featured an exhibition between two legendary APEX Era teams.
Both Lunatic-Hai and RunAway assembled members from across their many different iterations and battled through a rather special first to three.
Prior to the match starting, the teams would submit four blind hero bans, two DPS bans, one support, and one tank ban.
Even more interesting, these bans were not considered "global bans".
To put it more simply; if Lunatic-Hai bans Lucio, RunAway cannot select Lucio. If RunAway bans Tracer, Lunatic-Hai cannot select Tracer. If both teams ban Winston, neither team can select Winston.
And to put the cherry on top; on maps three through five, each team can lift one ban.
It's systems like this shelved experiment that could be the blueprint to study as we assess what happens at the end of the year.
However, it wasn't just that the silly heroes were on display, but the fact that they were flanked by some endearing and meaningful moments that makes it masterful.
It feels as though the Overwatch League has made a concerted effort to bring a loose and more entertaining tone to the broadcast.
This accentuates the personalities of the talent and commentators but it's been difficult to relay that same relaxed-ness towards the players themselves, up until this past weekend.
Let's call a spade a spade; Jacob "JAKE" Lyon and Danny Lim's unscripted back-and-forth with Kim "Shu" Jin-seo after Houston's upset win over Atlanta was a gold-star moment.
To call it entertaining does it a disservice. We've heard in the past that players have a hard time really speaking up because of community backlash. Shu not only spoke his mind, but he spoke directly to someone.
This not only featured Shu showcasing some of his personality, it adds legs to a narrative, and to top it off the broadcast had to be ready to call an audible and play along for a moment.
That willingness to try created an all-time moment in Overwatch League history as Shu lambasted the former Outlaws player and coach for not predicting that they'd win.
We know drama
While appreciation and a much-deserved "thank you" is owed to the broadcast talent, at the end of the day, the matches themselves are the bread and butter of any competition.
And not just the matches themselves, but the stories they set up; the Boston Uprising fell to the Florida Mayhem at the Midseason Madness.
And after their dramatic five-map set, is there any more Mayhem doubt that has been redacted from the record? Past that, how will this burgeoning rivalry end?
The rubber match between the two teams is set to open the show on August 27th, but that doesn't rule out a possible fourth or even fifth runback as we ventured into the playoffs.
A team with the only player to ever sweep an awards season losing to a budget team built on synergy and team identity is stuff your story tales are written about.
And while the San Francisco Shock didn't go down without a rather creative fight, the London Spitfire are still providing a difficult pace and style.
Has the Shock dynasty finally met its end by way of one of the greatest Cinderella stories in league history?
Can the season one champion make one last jab at the title before we reach the horizon?
And we can't speak about champions without recognising that the Atlanta Reign, for the first time since the 2023 Pro-Am, look mortal.
For months now, the Houston Outlaws were the only team even remotely capable of stopping the force of nature that has coalesced in Atlanta, but after 13 straight wins, the Outlaws finally dealt the Reign their first loss.
Does this ominous wind paint a picture of things to come or was this just one bad day at the office?
It's an evergreen feeling to glimpse the Overwatch League schedule and to try and pick out which days you're not going to want to miss and nine out of ten times you're always wrong.
A day full of narrow matches with upsets not only feeling possible but actually happening is rare. What brings some sense of excitement is that while we did find gold this weekend, even more, precious gems still lie in wait.
"Nearly perfect" accurately describes this past Saturday well, because it didn't check every box and it couldn't.
Think of when Overwatch esports was at its most popular. More veteran fans might point towards OGN's APEX, some will say the first few seasons of the Overwatch League, but both share their live atmosphere in common.
And that's what is missing. We've heard it from players, broadcast talent, and the fans themselves; a live audience is how esports should be consumed.
LAN events are the spice that elevates the esports dish. The highs and lows of the dramatics feel more pronounced. The energy bleeds into every aspect. The stage lends itself to more showmanship.
If you took Saturday's broadcast, changed nothing about it, but put it in front of a live audience, that's how people fall in love with your game.
That's how people become career fans of your esport. This weekend was the best the Overwatch League has seen in a long while.
It was authentic and charming.
It featured matches that kept you on the edge of your seat.
And it spoke true to the heart of what Overwatch is as an experience.
Regardless of whatever comes next for Overwatch esports, this one weekend during 2023's Summer Stage was the single best broadcast day in Overwatch League history.