I thoroughly enjoy watching esports tournaments. The thrill of highly skilled players going toe-to-toe, relying on excellent communication and synergy to pull off strategies most casual players could never dream of achieving. Watching teams having to adapt to their opponents’ strengths and smaller, underestimated teams rising to the top against all odds. Esports lends itself to a certain atmosphere I’ve never really felt from regular physical sports. But there’s one esports tournament I’ve been actively avoiding this year – Overwatch League.
The reason I’ve been avoiding it probably won’t surprise most…
GOATS is boring as hell.
For the uninitiated, “GOATS”, the 3-3 format, originated from a team called GOATS who initially ran the 3-3 Meta.
I’m not underestimating the work and communication that goes into making GOATS work. If you put 6 solo players together and made them run GOATS it would fall apart incredibly fast. My issue isn’t that GOATS is “easy” or a “kop out”, but that it’s just so boring to watch.
Season 2 of Overwatch League has seen competitors running 3:3 compositions – 3 tanks and 3 healers. Lucio, Zenyatta, Brigitte, D.Va, Winston and Zarya have been dominating the competitive scene. When there’s a game with so much variety (the 30th hero is currently available on Overwatch’s public test region server) a composition so static is unacceptable.
Look at a game like Counter Strike: Global Offensive. While I don’t play the game myself, in my opinion it makes for a great esport. Despite the premise being the same across every game, teams are constantly having to adapt to situations and pitfalls. Lose a few games and the team’s economy will collapse, causing players to be more strategic with their purchases pre-round. The basic formula of each match is identical, but there are so many factors that can change the match’s progression.
And then there’s Overwatch, a game with so much potential for different play styles, compositions and match pace; it ends up falling face-first into the same old routine. Overwatch League is the 9-5 office worker of the esports world.
A few DPS heroes have popped their heads round the door occasionally, only to be promptly barged out the way by a tank or healer determined to maintain the 3:3 meta. When the most exciting part of a match is the odd Widowmaker or Sombra coming out of the woodwork to make a brief appearance, it begs the question of whether or not Overwatch League is a viable form of entertainment.
There could be a few ways to potentially fix this. Taking a leaf out of League of Legends’ book and implementing ban picks could force teams to shake things up a little. But this still creates the potential for hero backups to become a secondary meta.
Another potential solution is to limit the number of hero types in the team, such as no more than 2 tanks/healers/defence/DPS. But again, this further pushes players into restrictive compositions and creates further cause for unchanging metas.
Unfortunately, Overwatch League’s issues simply boil down to poor game design in Overwatch itself. The game is a lot of fun to play, but when it comes to watching it for entertainment it struggles. These fixes may work temporarily, but it would only be a matter of time before professional players fall into the comforting embrace of another stale meta.
All is not lost. Overwatch has a huge potential as an esport, if it can just add meaningful gameplay changes over time. The question is, will the audience still be there waiting to find out?