The Overwatch League was always going to have an exciting 2022 season after it emerged that the matches would take place in early builds Overwatch 2 — which wasn’t officially released until October 4th. While this seemed like a risky (but much needed) move, it seems to have paid off in many ways. We had a lot of great matches this season, with the fastest pace Overwatch 2 making them feel more dynamic and exciting.
I spoke with Overwatch League VP Sean Miller over the summer (prior to its release Overwatch 2) on the big changes this season and the impact the transition has had on the league afterwards. With the 2022 OWL Grand Finals taking place today, it seems like a good time to revisit this conversation.
The biggest change in Overwatch 2 is the shift from groups of six to groups of five. It seems to have been mostly positive. “One of the big things that we’ve touted early this season that we’ve seen is a huge plus is the 5v5 format and we’ve been seeing constant feedback from both the most dedicated and die-hard fans and the casual audience that 5v5 was just a very better community experience,” Miller said. He also pointed out the new content in the overwatch 2, like new heroes and maps, which has freshened things up. This was much needed since the game remained relatively stagnant during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
The ever-evolving meta has allowed some teams to climb the ranks at various points this season (take these Play-offs for example, where 12th seed Hangzhou Spark finished in fourth place). “It was a lot of fun for me to see teams like that [London] Spitfire, who just know what they’re good at,” Miller said. “They force teams to adapt to them. It’s the adaptation and constant fluidity of the meta in the hero choices in these games that’s been great to see this year.”
TV viewing on the rise
During this week’s Play-offs, the Overwatch League appears to have received strong viewership numbers, perhaps boosted by the release of Overwatch 2. During Tuesday’s highly anticipated match between Shanghai Dragons and San Francisco Shock, simulcast on English channel OWL jumped north of 250,000.
This figure is comparable to last year’s Grand Final, which averaged 218,000. And on Sunday, the first day of the Play-offs, OWL broke the record for the top viewership on YouTube, according to Miller. Perhaps we’ll see new records set during the Grand Finals – the fact that Blizzard will reveal the next Overwatch 2 hero during the event certainly won’t hurt the ratings.
The OWL Pick’em game, in which people could win points and prizes for correctly predicting the results of the matches, also attracted fans. In addition, Miller noted that being able to watch OWL games from the perspective of a professional player for an extended period of time in a high-level competitive environment can help fans learn how to become better at overwatch 2, giving them one more reason to tune in.
Live game rate
I found one aspect of my conversation with Miller particularly interesting in retrospect. I asked why the Overwatch League doesn’t always run on the same patch as the live game — professional matches tend to run on an older version of the game.
“The basic logic behind this is that we know that with any game, whenever you release a patch, it’s impossible for a game team to catch literally every bug, no matter how much playtesting you do,” Miller said. “This is especially true when League is literally being played in beta this year.
“If the game team comes out with a new hero, and some fairly large balance patches, and a new map, there’s going to be some secondary stuff. They always exist in any game. These two weeks give us all some time to work out some bugs, make sure things work and are suitable for the level of quality, polish and precision these League-level pros play with.
All of this makes perfect sense. However, interestingly, the Play-offs and Grand Finals are being played in a patch that won’t be available in live play until November 15th. So OWL is currently running on a newer version of it Overwatch 2 than one you or I can play right now.
“The League’s goal has always been to mirror the live game as much as possible, and this is an attempt to do just that,” said an OWL spokesperson. GGRecon. “With Overwatch 2 in the hands of more than 25 million players, it’s critical for League to be representative of the game played by the community, and we’re excited that our grand stadium will reflect that.”
An inclusive future
Beyond OWL, Blizzard hopes to transition to a free-to-play model Overwatch 2 it will open up the game to many more players. Within 10 days of launch, and despite initial server issues, more than 25 million players had joined the battle. Lowering the barrier to entry (at least in some respects) could lead to a more diverse pool of Overwatch League players in the coming years, which is definitely a positive – after five seasons, only one woman has joined an OWL team and played in the League.
Miller told me that the free-to-play change “will lead to a wider pool of potential Overwatch League viewers and players worldwide, which will make the competition more intense and bring in new fans.”
Blizzard is working on some initiatives to expand the player base in its higher tiers Overwatch 2. A program called Calling All Heroes, which is jointly run by the Overwatch League and Overwatch 2 teams, includes a Challengers Cup tournament to be held this fall. The event was designed as “an entry point for underrepresented genders to transition into the wider Overwatch esports ecosystem.”
Blizzard also strives to help potential talent from underrepresented genders learn from experienced casters, develop their skills, and forge professional relationships through a Caster Camp.
Within days of Calling All Heroes airing, hundreds of people had signed up for the Caster Camp and Challengers Cup. We hope to see people participating in these initiatives appearing on the Overwatch League stage and in the caster booth in the near future.
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