Ask the developer of any game with a player-versus-player mode if they have plans for it to be an esport, and they will undoubtedly say, “of course.” Esports are the buzz of the video game industry in recent years, with viewer numbers breaking records at every turn. Yet, with shelves upon shelves of games coming out every year, it takes something very special to actually snag a following. Overwatch doesn’t just find a foothold in the esports world, it demands one.
Overwatch has stripped away the fat that surrounds and muddles many of its competitors, allowing it to deliver a near-perfect esports experience. You won’t find loadout unlocks here—granting advantage to those who have spent more time in the game—nor will you find a campaign to further explore the world of Overwatch. Delving into Blizzard’s team-based shooter, players will only find tight mechanics, addictive gameplay, and the occasional butt-shot.
That’s not to say that Overwatch is bare-boned—the title is packed with more detail and character than many games in the genre—it is just that every minute feature in the game has been purposefully curated. On the surface, Overwatch is a team-based shooter that has players pick from a massive roster of heroes to battle their way against an enemy team to capture points or escort payloads. There is no campaign to distract players: just the pure, simple enjoyment of competition.
When presented with so many heroes, it’s very easy to settle into characters that you “main,” or play the most. Overwatch, however, does an amazing job of making every character appealing. Each is beautifully designed—not only visually, or ability-wise, but with complex backstories that can be unearthed from the digital comics, animated shorts, and graphic novels that were created to pair with the game. I found myself initially moving towards D.Va—a Starcraft II player—because I thought her story was hilariously meta. Then, after unlocking a new skin for the missile-firing Pharah, I shifted over to her. After getting wrecked by a Genji, I started playing him to understand his kit. Even now, over 30 hours in (post-beta), I still have the urge to play every character, which I’m sure is exactly what Blizzard was hoping for.
One of the really interesting features of Overwatch is the ability to swap heroes and have multiple instances of the same hero in the game at any time. Whereas many competitive esports have a “ban and pick” mechanic to what characters can be played, Blizzard went all-in on allowing players to go all-in. By not putting restrictions on character choices, Overwatch offers opportunities for teams to pull off creative strategies and counter enemy tactics.
As I became more and more competitive in Overwatch, I realized just how true this is. For every character’s strength, there is a character to counter it. Getting annoyed by Tracer’s teleporting? Lock her down with Roadhog’s hook. Bastion’s turret giving you issues? Widowmaker’s sniper rifle can shut him down from afar.
The balance in Overwatch has been expertly set. From character abilities and counters, to level design, there is beauty in the near-perfection that Blizzard has created. Specific and focused intent can be felt behind everything from barrel placement to emotes, showing off just how much the game’s lengthy beta allowed the team to polish.
The frustrations in Overwatch are fairly minor—all things that can be fixed in patches or future updates, but they do exist at the time of review. The first is how grouping works (on console). Whereas the rest of the game is an efficiency machine, adding someone to a group, or attempting to leave a match as a group is a mess. If someone wishes to join your group, you get an onscreen prompt, asking if they can join you with the option of “Yes” or “No.” While this seems simple enough, there is no indication as to what button one should press to accept or deny the request.
Similarly, if a friend wants to join your party, you may find the quickest way is to pop out to the lobby and invite them. However, this means that not only do you lose the bonus xp you were achieving for consecutive games, but you’ve also left any group that you were in, even if you initiated leaving the match as the group leader. A simple “Leave as group” option would go a long way at keeping things streamlined.
An additional reason to lose your consecutive streak experience bonus comes from wanting to open the Loot Boxes. As you get higher in levels, these rewards are much further apart, and it’s very tempting to want to see what you hauled in while playing. However, as Overwatch currently stands—unless you get kicked to the lobby while the game finds you a match to play in—there are no opportunities to open your Loot Boxes, access your Hero Gallery, or do anything really without leaving the match. There isn’t even an option to change your skins or sprays between rounds, which—while a very small thing—would be much used, especially by gamers wanting to look similar to friends that just joined the party.
Yet, none of those frustrations really affect Overwatch as an esport. No one will be attempting to join a game mid-match during ranked competitive play, nor will the consecutive experience bonus probably apply to ranked play. The thrill of a Loot Box can also wait until after a match, and skins will be set before even loading in. As much more “casual” concerns, it makes sense why Blizzard may not have focused on these features as much as they could have.
The only thing that detracts from Overwatch’s esports experience is that it launched without ranked play. For what will be the main bread and butter of the game for a large (and vocal) portion of its audience, it is odd to not be able to review this aspect of the game. It’s understandable that Blizzard wants to allow gamers time to learn Overwatch before hopping in and destroying their ELO, but due to a massive revamp of the system post-beta feedback, we really have no idea what to expect. If we allow the caliber of the rest of the game to speak for its upcoming mode, though, I’m fairly confident in what will arrive come late June.
At the end of the day, we’re witnessing what I expect to be one of the first new, legit esports of the decade. Handcrafted with care, Overwatch is perfectly poised to stand tall alongside esports giants like Counter-Strike and League of Legends and carve out a section of the audience all its own.
With a focus on exquisite gameplay, Overwatch has asserted itself as the new standard not only in team-based shooters, but esports as a whole.
T - Teen
|Overwatch is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Blizzard Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Matt learned how to play video games from his grandma, who bravely adventured with him through the “terrifying” halls of Shadowgate. He plays a lot of Dungeons & Dragons on a podcast with comedians.