Reader, art connaisseur, or youthful explorer - Who is in charge of your Overwatch fandom?
A playoff patch, the late recruitment of Gui-un "Decay" Jang, the invitation of all Overwatch League teams into the playoffs, and the incredible efforts of the Washington Justice’s roster was all it took to divide the crowds like Moses parting the seas. Everyone in the Overwatch League has been put on a spectrum, from competitive integrity zealot, to chaotic free spirit that loves seeing things go boom, with varying levels of schadenfreude to empathy for the Dallas Fuel on the y-axis.
The discussion on the specific points is varied. “Playoff patches are the norm!” some say, to which others retort “Yes and that’s awful!”, weighing the impact of the global pandemic into the discussion. Other points flung against each other are the nature by which the Justice were able to secure the help of Decay, citing issues with the spirit of the rule as it was communicated with us. Lastly, the questions of having earned a playoff spot as the second-worst team during the regular season weighed against the difficulty of the playoff bracket and in context of the season’s troubles are weighed up against each other.
While these are all important issues to discuss, the fronts appear to be motivated by axioms several layers deep buried in things that we grew to love, and are near and dear to our heart. It’s not that we are high on motivated reasoning, it appears that it’s the very foundation of our fandom where we differ, though both sides have a spot left in their soul for the other, and when revealed, will likely allow others to feel empathy with where it’s coming from. It’s a difference so fundamental that it’s hard to stay stoic, uncovering how different we feel about things like merit, fairness, and the importance of stories in our lives. Somehow, despite the conclusions being diametrically opposed, the axioms seems weirdly looped together and we can find ourselves of both swayed to the other side.
What do you want your season to be? What do you watch for? Do you want to see the upper echelon of teams compete at the highest possible level? Do you need your winners to make sense as a story, having followed their season from start to finish?
I want to watch matches like the Shocks vs the Titans matches of season 2 on loop, performing beautifully elegant dances around one another like colourful peacocks vying for our attention. To achieve this consistently, the playoff format would have to ruthlessly throw everyone out that doesn’t cut it at the time of playoffs.
Yet, I also want long narratives of improvement, of young people in their prime succeeding in the face of adversity. I want character development I can follow from start to finish like an epic novel unfolding and rewarding me by having stuck through the slow parts to really understand how the stories of our teams finally converge in a playoff bracket and manifest the destiny that they had dreamed of over the entire season.
I also want to share this experience with my fellow community members who stay with me throughout the season, making whatever happens in Overwatch League to be the discussion at the water cooler like a Game of Thrones episode (when the show was still outstanding in the early seasons.)
The more I think about these greedy desires, I realise that I want to have my cake and eat it too.
Goals at odds
For the aforementioned goals to be met a nigh unworkable reality would have to be created that simply doesn’t match our emotional landscape. If we change the game frequently, then people’s interest will be kept but if we change the game frequently, some stories will inevitably stop feeling earned, interrupted by a force majeure events in which some of the stories I’ve become attached to stop developing to a satisfying conclusion, while others like the Justice’s will be forced into focus.
I followed Jaime Lannister like I followed the Paris Eternal, I saw Bran Stark climb the throne like the Justice just might. The reader in me is hurting, while the admirer of the beautiful moment which this team creates can deeply appreciate the experiences they are creating for us in the now. I wish these two sides of me could find peace, but for me personally, the reader is winning. It might not in your chest, but whoever makes it to your fingers to type out a comment to assert your point, I feel you.
The worst of all is, the above mentioned two parts could very well be friends, if it wasn’t for the novelty-seeking toddler in my soul. The patch could just never change and the highest level of play, as well as the most beautiful stories, could develop alongside each other. It could, if it wasn’t for the other pesky bugger banging on the walls of my consciousness. “All perfectly known futures have already happened! Give us a patch!” it screams from the deep pits where I’ve banished it to and in empathetic moments can accept those of us who have this character take charge of their Overwatch fandom. “Life is too short to be taken seriously! It’s just a game!” I know, let me pretend.
The strength of those voices in us are likely to be determined by the environments we grew up in. Were you a fan of American sports? You’ve probably accepted that the regular season might mean very little. Do you follow European football? Your champion is determined by their aggregate performance and has truly earned it. Was sports lived as a pseudo-religion in your family where your father had to be left alone on Sundays to watch his game? It probably left an impression on you. Are you a long time fan of Formula 1, a sport that changes up its rules seemingly every season? You probably don’t mind changes to the game’s rules much.
I believe that ultimately even the most impassioned participant in these discussion knows deep down that the other side has a point. Rather than giving in, they let their dominant inner-voice dictate the discourse to carve out as much room as possible for their preference, while acknowledging and accepting the existence of the other.
Usually, we congregate towards experiences that appease the loudest voice in us the most, and in setting expectations and giving clear signals as to what kind of interest will be mainly appealed to, the Overwatch League hasn’t done a great job at communicating it. While season 1 and 2 satisfied the reader more, season 3 got the kid in us jumping for joy. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect the league to have it figured out after only three years of its existence with an expansion on the way that could potentially change things fundamentally once more.
At the end of the day, we will all find something to enjoy during these playoffs, though the competition out there is fierce. Perhaps more than trying to move the needle, we should look for experiences that vibe with us in the esports space instead. While the reader in me is mourning over the early demise of Paris Eternal, I’ll try to let the part of me that enjoys great Overwatch take charge which the Justice have proven to be capable of delivering.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment