Header art by Gareth Damian Martin
Overwatch esports begin in earnest this weekend at the 2016 ESL Atlantic Showdown at Gamescom in Cologne. Eight teams from esports organizations both familiar (e.g. Cloud9, Fnatic, etc.) and fledgling (e.g. Misfits and Reunited) will compete for $100,000, as well as the rights to call themselves the first real ‘champions’ of professional Overwatch.
How to watch:
Free on: www.twitch.tv/esl_overwatch
Starts on August 20, 2016 at 10:00 CEST
In the annals of esports, there is perhaps no game that has seen such a meteoric rise as Overwatch. Though Blizzard’s spirited team shooter was designed with competitive play in mind, its potential as an esport was (and, for that matter, is) a bit of an open question. To be frank, it’s often seemed like Blizzard itself was taken aback that so many people have been so eager not simply to play online matches for themselves, but also to watch professionals take Overwatch to its limits.
As a result, there’s a lot about Overwatch-the-esport that’s still being worked out. The bare-bones spectator UI isn’t all that useful at the moment (though major changes are reportedly in the works) and we’re still some way off from a standardized, competitive ruleset. All of those present certain challenges to an organized, professional tournament like Atlantic Showdown, which takes place this weekend at Gamescom in Cologne. Eight teams from North America and Western Europe will gather to compete for a $100,000 prize pool, the largest purse yet for Overwatch. Other scenes might scoff at that number, but that’s not bad for a third-party tournament for a game released three months ago.
Unlike just about everyone else in the Kill Screen ecosystem, I don’t play Overwatch all that much. But I do admire the game quite a bit, and, as someone who loves esports, I’m excited about its blossoming professional scene. And while I will be tuning in in part to see what kind of crazy shit pro players can do in Overwatch, at least half of what’s interesting about Atlantic Showdown takes place outside of the game. In a way, esports has a metagame, just as individual esports have metagames. Historically, the only reliable way to build an esport has been slow, grassroots, community-driven cultivation over a period of several years (see: Dota 2, CounterStrike, and every other top tier esport). Top down approaches tend to end in embarrassing failures (Infinite Crisis never forget).
Overwatch might break this trend. Sort of. The blistering pace of competitive Overwatch’s growth is unprecedented, but, for all intents and purposes, it’s still a grassroots endeavor, just taking place in overdrive (So, bamboo-roots? What botanical metaphor works here?). Simply put, we’re in uncharted territory for esports here, and Atlantic Showdown is a major test as to whether Overwatch esports can live up to its hype. So even though I’m excited to watch the games themselves, I’ll also be watching the viewer count, the chat, and the voluminous discussion this tournament is sure to create. By Sunday night, we’ll have a much better idea of whether Overwatch esports is here to stay.