Overwatch has been out for nearly five months now and it continues to draw a large audience on Twitch, where it has consistently been in the top five games alongside League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2 and Hearthstone. And you know what else is has in common with those games? There's a growing competitive scene. Aspiring esports come and go, but Overwatch seems to be making a strong start. Let's take a look.
Although there have been plenty of small competitions, there are four Overwatch tournaments that stand apart at the moment.
The Overwatch Open, which concluded recently, was a $300k tournament hosted by Turner Sports and ELEAGUE that brought together the best teams from Europe and North America and rubbed them together until someone emerged victorious. It began with weekly open tournaments online, which fed into more organised group stages that then delivered eight teams from each region to the live finals in Atlanta. If you want a taste of what competitive Overwatch looks like at the moment, you could do worse than watching the grand final between Misfits and Team EnVyUs, which we won't spoil.
More recently, Overwatch APEX kicked off in South Korea and sees teams competing for a prize pot of 200m Korean Won (just under $180k). APEX is a league that runs October through December and features 16 teams in the pro bracket. The majority of them are Korean, including divisions of well-known esports orgs like MVP and Afreeca Freecs, but there are also four invited teams from the west - NRG eSports and Team EnVyUs from the States and REUNITED and Rogue from Europe. Also of note is that APEX's English-language broadcast features renowned OGN casters Erik "DoA" Lonnquist and Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles. Check out their work in this VOD of REUNITED's debut matchup:
If that's not enough for you, though, right now you can also check out APAC Premier, which is a tournament taking place in China with a CNY 1,280,000 ($190k) prize pool. There are 12 teams in this one: six Chinese qualifiers and invited teams from Europe (Rogue), North America (NRG eSports), South Korea (Afreeca Freecs Blue and Lunatic-Hai) and Japan (Unsold Stuff Gaming, DeToNator). There's a APAC Premier Megathread on Reddit, which is tracking results and providing links to VODs and streams.
Finally, Blizzard itself is hosting something called the Overwatch World Cup at BlizzCon next month. Rather than inviting traditional esports orgs, though, the developer has held auditions for the best individual players in the world and pieced together 16 national teams to represent various countries in a live tournament. The full list of Overwatch World Cup teams and line-ups is on Blizzard's website and rest assured it includes Team USA and Team Canada, as well as China, South Korea, and six European countries.
Overwatch competitive meta
Anything we write here will probably be out of date within a few days, so forgive us, but the last few months has seen the emergence of a few interesting trends that are worth mentioning to give you an idea of how the game is functioning at a competitive level.
For example, one of the more prominent compositions has been a triple-tank-triple-support setup, often built around Reinhardt (one of the tanks) and Ana (one of the supports). Ana quickly builds up her Nano Boost ultimate ability by healing the three tanks and then uses it on Reinhardt, who takes advantage of the increased speed, damage and incoming damage reduction to lay waste to the opposing team. Additional support buffs also come in handy.
Triple-tank-triple-support (or "double triple", if you like) has been very effective at high levels of play, although it isn't always the most fun to watch. Fortunately, talented players who have been firing into it for a while now have figured out how to counter it, using a dive composition that favours diving the back line to neutralise Ana, restricting the tanks' ability to get motoring. (GosuGamers has a good piece breaking these comps down and looking at niche picks.)
As Blizzard makes more changes to the game and pro teams continue to explore the potential of different compositions, we'll probably see the meta shift in other directions too. Overwatch is unlike other competitive games that utilise unique champions (e.g. League of Legends or Dota 2) in that it allows players to switch to other heroes during the match, so there's always great potential to behave disruptively and reach for pocket picks at different times.
It will be interesting to see whether tournaments like APAC Premier and Overwatch APEX prove successful and how organisers around the globe choose to follow them up in 2017. At the time of writing, there are a ton of major orgs with Overwatch rosters, including household names from other major competitive games, and while some of that will be organisations hedging their bets, as they have with other games, for now Overwatch has potential.
It certainly passes the most basic test of an aspiring esport, which is that it is fun to play, fun to watch, and watching teaches you stuff that makes playing more fun.