[toc]The long-awaited Overwatch League is finally kicking off this week.
The preseason schedule is already underway, and the inaugural games will take place through Dec. 9. Originally promised to begin sometime in 2018, Overwatch fans are ecstatic for the OWL’s timely launch.
Here’s everything you need to know about the league leading up to its debut and moving forward:
Creating a new type of competition
Overwatch has been nothing short of a success story since its release back in May 2016. The last recorded player count in mid-October marked 35 million heroes.
The masterminds behind Overwatch’s creation and design — Blizzard Entertainment — are also responsible for reputable titles such as World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and StarCraft. Many anticipate Blizzard bringing the game to unimaginable heights with the integration of its Overwatch League.
The Overwatch League is a first of its kind in terms of structure. Rather than established gaming franchises having ownership of OWL teams, Blizzard scrapped that idea and started fresh by auctioning franchise ownership of localized teams (for a lofty buy-in starting at $20 million).
What makes OWL unique in this case is that it disqualifies companies like Liquid, Counter-Logic Gaming and Echo Fox from owning teams and instead shifts that focus to geo-franchising, a crux of this model.
Unexpected start for Overwatch League
Prior to the action taking place this week at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, one of the 12 teams already had to drop out of the preseason.
The Philadelphia Fusion cited “player logistics issues” as the reason for pulling out of the OWL debut match against Florida Mayhem. Further research into the topic shows their South Korean tank Su-min “Sado” Kim was issued a 30-match suspension for boosting, or leveling up other players’ Overwatch accounts for money.
Despite this, the OWL is already in full swing and delivering on its promise of a rich Overwatch viewing experience for spectators as well as a fierce gameplay for competitors.
Eleven out of 12 teams ventured out to the Blizzard Arena to partake in the four-day event. Inaugural league games include bouts between Florida Mayhem and San Francisco Shock (originally Philadelphia Fusion) as well as Seoul Dynasty squaring up against the Shanghai Dragons. The preseason schedule wouldn’t appear to be impromptu, either, as teams that would in theory be rivals met each other early in the competition.
All three California-based squads face each other at least once over the course of the preseason. Dallas Fuel vs. Houston Outlaws is another rivalry match. New York Excelsior went head-to-head against Boston Uprising in another age-old city rivalry in the opening two days.
The outcomes of the initial matches will determine the remainder of the games.
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OWL meeting expectations
At first subject to a vast scrutiny from esports enthusiasts for seeming ‘too ambitious,’ it’s safe to say the Overwatch League has since silenced naysayers. Blizzard’s dedication to the league shined through much of the controversy surrounding its release.
Our first glimpse of the OWL is more than what anyone could have expected. Intended to enhance the spectator experience, an array of new weapons in spectator mode include a detailed mapping of each hero’s health, kill-feed and objective status bar across the top of the screen.
In replay mode, seamless transitions to past bites of skill helps viewers relive these crucial moments without deviating too far from the current action of the match.
Most popularly, OWL released designated skins for each team to sport in competition. Players wear their squads’ customized armor, making the action that much easier to follow on screen, especially in a chaotic game like Overwatch. Compare this to an athlete wearing a jersey, the concept is simple yet something we’ve never seen in esports. That’s not to mention the skins are purchasable in-game, with 50 percent of the proceeds going in the pockets of the teams themselves.
So far, the Overwatch League premiere seems to fulfill, if not surpass, the immense expectations the totality of the professional gaming community placed on it.
Tension still exists within a large portion of the esports community, fearing that Blizzard’s global league will collapse under the weight of its own aspirations. Blizzard’s exquisite roll-out of the OWLwas a marketing strategy to marvel at and will more than likely help drive it into orbit.
Overwatch League preseason games and schedule are on the OverwatchLeague.com website or MLG.tv.