The Grand Finals, Overwatch esports’ annual flagship event, followed the worldwide release of “Overwatch 2” in early October, which professional gamers have been playing since the season began in May. As winners, the Dallas Fuel take home $1 million. The Shock received $500,000. The Houston Outlaws walked away with $350,000 after the Shock beat them to advance to the Finals on Friday.
Flashy one-on-one games and laser-sharp precision played a big role in this year’s playoffs thanks to the new five-on-five format and heroes introduced in “Overwatch 2.” Changes to the Overwatch formula allowed many underdogs to succeed – like the 12th-seeded Hangzhou Spark, who finished third overall, and the London Spitfire who won the third round after winning just 12 games. last season.
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It was the first time since 2019 that the Grand Finals took place in front of fans, who packed the Anaheim Convention Center. “Very different!” shouted San Francisco fans during the closely contested game. The Dallas group, clearly in the minority in the arena, waved their flags and jerseys in the colors of Fuel. The rail shootouts of Sojourn, Reaper Death Blossoms, and Kiriko Kitsune Rushes drew passionate cheers from fans.
It was a tough season for the Fuel and it showed on the relieved faces and the tears in the eyes of the players. Team member Han “ChiYo” Hyeon-seok fell to his knees in front of the trophy at the end of the match.
“As a team, we really relied on each other,” Fuel head coach Yun “RUSH” Hee-won said. “We depended on each other and worked towards the same goal thinking we could beat any opponent we faced.”
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“Overwatch 2” breathed life into the OWL, which had struggled to sustain viewership in 2021 and most of 2022. The renewed interest in the game and the league was felt in Anaheim , California, the home of BlizzCon and the 2019 Overwatch World Cup. Friday’s crowd in the venue was barely 6,000, and they made their excitement felt for the game’s new way.
“People want to watch people when they can actually play a game,” said fan Steven Youssef, referring to a time when “Overwatch 2” was only available to professional gamers. He had left Egypt to attend the grand finale.
“I know, it’s a bit crazy,” joked Youssef.
Thousands more have tuned into YouTube, which has exclusive rights to broadcast Overwatch matches through the end of this season. The grand finale reached a peak live viewership of 350,000 on the main stream on YouTube, and hovered around 300,000 for the majority of the event. The League plans to release the Average Minute Viewership (AMA) for the Grand Finals next week. AMA, created by Neilsen, measures estimated total viewership divided by total broadcast time; the figure provides a closer comparison to traditional television and has been used by OWL to gauge success. Last year’s Grand Final reached an AMA of 1.68 million.
This year’s playoffs reached a live AMA of 250,000, a figure that factors in YouTube replays. A League spokesperson said playoff viewership numbers exceeded previous numbers on Twitch. The platform paid $90 million in 2018 to acquire the rights to the first two years of OWL.
Sean Miller, head of OWL, said the game’s impact on viewership was greater than expected. Miller had to keep refreshing his phone as YouTube viewership grew during the playoffs. The period between the launch of “Overwatch 2” and the playoffs was partly to thank, he said.
“A month later, we have this amazing event where we do the biggest thing of the year with this new hero, Kiriko,” Miller said. “And that really provides a great on-ramp for people to get more and more engaged in the game.”
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Mathew Taylor, general manager of Dallas Fuel, said it’s still too early to tell how “Overwatch 2” will affect the OWL, but he remains hopeful about the upward trend in viewership that has come with the release of “Overwatch 2” in early October. .
“I know how good this game has been and can be,” said Taylor, who has worked with the Fuel since OWL launched in 2018. He said he wanted to get back to the level of excitement then. . “I know where it can be. Personally, I think we can come back to it.
Season six, which begins in May 2023, will give fans of the scene more insight into whether “Overwatch 2” gave the OWL the boost it needed.
The move to five-on-five competition changed the flow of the game and made it easier and more exciting to follow, according to fans, players and coaches. Removing a tank role from the metagame reduced the initial phase of games, where opposing teams trade blows, looking for an opening to fight.
At the highest level – like the OWL – teamwork still makes the dream work, but individual choices are more meaningful. Losing even one player completely changes the course of a team fight.
“In ‘Overwatch 2,’ I think you can follow the action a lot easier,” said Houston Outlaws assistant coach Jake Lyon. “If a team is in front, it is clear that it is in front. If a team is late, it’s clear they’re in trouble. I think it certainly makes the game easier to follow and probably easier to enjoy from a casual standpoint.
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Longtime fans in Anaheim welcomed the changes.
In the previous meta, “if you make a mistake, that’s it, you lose,” said Jasmine Ogle, 24, a fan who traveled from Virginia to see the grand finale. “But now we’re going back to that objective style game and it’s so, so much better to watch and it’s better for the professionals. It’s just a lot more competitive, I think.
DPS player Pak “Architect” Min-ho, who won the 2019 in-person Grand Finals with the San Francisco Shock and now plays for the Hangzhou Spark, has confirmed.
“Combat gets wilder with the five-on-five setting, whereas like six-on-six, you need a more systematic approach to teamfighting,” Min-ho said through a Korean translator. .
Making competitive Overwatch more exciting and easier to understand could be useful for new players who have arrived since “Overwatch 2” was released as a free-to-play game. ActivisionBlizzard said 25 million people played “Overwatch 2” in the first 10 days of its release, undoubtedly introducing at least some new fans at the OWL.
“People playing a game are the easiest audience to convert into viewers and fans of the sport and at the end of the day, that’s really important,” said Grant Paranjape, vice president of esports business at The Washington Justice.
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Marketing for the Grand Finals is highlighted at the bottom right of the game’s “Overwatch 2” title page, with a direct link to the OWL website.
Activision Blizzard also hopes to attract a more diverse group of fans, not just more of them. It introduced a new program in September, Calling All Heroes, which aims to attract more female fans, gamers and broadcast talent.
“It’s things like that that will help players get to a basic and semi-pro level and give them a reason to grow, that we want to do more,” Miller said.
Activision Blizzard announced a roadmap for “Overwatch 2” in June, committing to releasing three to four new heroes per year. Game director Aaron Keller told the media at the time that the development team had tripled since the launch of “Overwatch” in 2016.
“We’re so committed to releasing more content than ever before,” Keller said in June.
As part of that commitment, a new hero was teased on Friday night during the finale. Ramattra is a hulking Predator-like robot, also known as the omnic in Overwatch lore. The towering figure features long black artificial dreadlocks and fills the role of a tank. Ramattra’s story focuses on her ongoing struggle to preserve her race in the face of human prejudice. Her main abilities revolve around her ability to transform into a “nemesis” form. Ramattra will be released on December 6, when the second content season of “Overwatch 2” kicks off.
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The “Overwatch 2” developers have also been in close communication with players and other esports personnel, making balance changes where necessary.
“It’s a good relationship we have with the league and the developers,” Taylor said. “I think the developers are really trying to listen and then try to balance things as best they can with a brand new game.”
Min-ho confirmed that he and others are providing feedback to developers. But he added that more time between big patches and tournaments would be beneficial. The latest update left little time for players to prepare, causing virtually all teams to fall back on the meta they are most comfortable with – Sojourn, Reaper, Winston, Lucio, and Kiriko.
The overall success of an esport can also be measured by sponsor interest. OWL lost its sponsors last year following a harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against Activision Blizzard. Brands such as Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, State Farm and T-Mobile jumped ship last August. The individual teams, meanwhile, retained most of their sponsors.
After the release of “Overwatch 2” and at the end of the season, the League found its first sponsor in Butterfinger. Butterfinger is owned by Ferrero, a multinational company headquartered in Luxembourg.
In-person events aren’t where they were in years past for “Overwatch 2,” but Lyon believes they’re still hugely important to the community. In interviews during the Grand Finals, fans gushed about new friendships formed and Discord servers created around a shared love for Overwatch.
“At the end of the day, whether we’re playing games online or playing on our computers all day, we’re still humans, and humans want to come together and they want to celebrate their passions together in person,” said Lyons.