I’ve never really been one for watching sports. Sure, I’ll keep up with the big-deal games and news, but more as a desire to participate in society than from actual interest. I’ve got nothing against sports or people who enjoy watching them, I just only really enjoy them as a way to interact with people. Watching the game with some friends is fun, but mostly because I’m with my friends. This has held true during the rise of e-sports, which have captured the attention of many of my friends who generally shared my apathy toward professional sports. Only this year has that changed. With the advent of the Overwatch League, I’ve finally started taking an interest in a professional sport.
Which it totally is at this point. There’s a league, a code of conduct, privately owned teams, merchandise, specialty merchandise, and publicly broadcast matches you can watch. Heck, you can ever get into twitter arguments about whether or not you think a team should have won. Thankfully, there are fewer moments where a loss can be blamed on a referee since software is the final arbiter of truth and anything you disagree with is a result of the tiny bit of lag between the server and your computer/display. The players make a bunch of money and the popular ones make even more, there are licensing deals in the works, and we’ve already had a few scandals that temporarily disqualified people. Finally, the most important part of determining whether or not something is a sport, ridiculously young people have already aged out of the professional scene. For e-sports, that seems to be somewhere in the early to mid twenties.
Every time I go to watch an Overwatch League match on Twitch, I remark to my roommate (who watches them all with me) that the players are all babies. I mean, sure, they’re required to be at least 18, but that’s still practically baby age. I recognize that I’m getting older and I don’t have to go back that far in my Facebook photos to find pictures of me looking like a baby, but it still feels ridiculous to see how young they all look as they sit on top of the world. Well, as they sit on top of this particular portion of the world. I feel kind of bad for them, honestly. They spend their teenage years getting good enough to qualify, lose their early adult years to professional gaming, and then age out by the time most people are graduating from college. That’s gotta be rough, you know? I don’t envy them their positions or problems. I doubt I’d do that even for the amount of money they’re making from streaming and merchandise. I want to enjoy my gaming.
Honestly, though, even for a first-year sports league, Overwatch is a lot of fun to watch. I’m a good enough player to recognize the flow of the game, key tipping points, and what a player did that resulted in their death or a big kill-streak. It is a lot of fun to sit on my couch with my roommate and discuss the matches as they’re going. I’ll admit I still maintain a certain degree of apathy, but I prefer to watch and dissect when I can. My roommate watches all of the old matches on YouTube once they’re over, if he misses a broadcast, but I’m content to just look for highlights and cool plays. I don’t have a favorite team yet, since I don’t really follow any of the streamers, but it has been really cool to see how much some of the strong solo-players have shined. I prefer my tanks, and really enjoy seeing a good tank play, but those are relatively rare given the current accepted strategy for the professional scene. I’ve still gotten to watch a few nice tank plays, though.
The popularity of the Overwatch League has brought a lot of players back to the game and I’ve enjoyed the wider variety of players. I’ve also enjoyed that pretty much everyone is trying to emulate the professional team compositions and play styles, because it makes it easy for me to work around them or take them down. Professional-style play only really works if you’ve got the skills to back it up. One person who knows what they’re doing can easily disrupt an entire group of people who are trying to emulate something they saw on Twitch and don’t have the skills to do. I was able to place in the top 45% of players, world-wide, for the current competitive season by almost solely playing to counter professional team compositions. Backup from a group of competent players who knew what I was doing was integral, of course, since it was up to them to actually do something with a disrupted and disorganized team.
I think I enjoy the professional e-sports league so much because I enjoy playing Overwatch. I don’t really enjoy playing most sports and most other games in e-sports, so I’ve never really had the chance to see something I’m good at and enjoy on my TV like this. I’m looking forward to how the Overwatch League grows and develops over the next few years. Maybe we’ll even start to see our first e-sports bars pop up around town! I’m willing to bet one already exists somewhere. An Overwatch-themed one would be a lot of fun!