A Casual Gamer’s Experience at an Overwatch League Event

#valla #wingsout

I attended my first Overwatch League event yesterday.

I love sports. I can appreciate when a great play has been made or a great game has been played. It’s fun to watch a competitive game, no matter the sport.

But I don’t play Overwatch.

My husband picked up Overwatch on release day and actively plays with friends and strangers alike. I get to hear about the different plays and stories from his gaming session the night before. I’ll be honest, half of the information he spoke of early on was not relatable. Flanking, dives, ladder, character names…but I found it fascinating. There’s clearly a strategy, organized plays, competition, and the element of fun. There are tens of millions of players that find Overwatch enjoyable regardless of their skill level. And to be fair, Blizzard has always been great at creating games that let anyone pick up their games. Those that want to take it to the next level can do so.

Beyond my husband’s enjoyment of playing Overwatch, he was increasing his involvement by following different player streams on Twitch, listening to podcasts, and watching Contenders, the equivalent of minor league for traditional sports. Over the past 6 months, there have been different tournaments and games streaming on our TV as if we were watching any other sport —the usual reaction of oohs and aahs, and the excitement of possible blowouts or down-to-the-wire victories.

With the emergence of a new league came its hiccups and “needs improvement” areas — following the play was very difficult due to limited camera tools, the visual interface of information was hard to understand, and the discussions of plays were geared towards those who are familiar with the strategies of Overwatch.

Now that Overwatch League has started, here’s my breakdown of attending Stage 1, Week 3, Day 4’s matches and what it was like.

My witty contribution to LA Valiant’s player SoOn and “soon(TM)”

Quality

Blizzard Arena doesn’t hold back on quality production. I was impressed the moment we stepped into the building where I’m given a custom cloth wristband for the day’s events (it’s not plastic!), some thundersticks, a program, and a ton of “welcomes” from all the staff. Not a bad first impression Blizzard, not bad. And then you walk into the arena…

The view during play — center is the live stream, and additional player info is available on each side as an attendee within Blizzard Arena.

Those screens. Oh those screens.

If they wanted the “wow” factor, the screens delivered. Vibrant, high-res crisp, and of the highest quality. I can’t imagine the cost for the screens, but whatever was paid was well worth it as they look impressive whether you’re in the arena or streaming from home. I hate to say the phrase “pop”, but the colors totally popped.

And the sound. It’s one thing to watch at home with the volume at whatever level you want. But inside Blizzard Arena, you get the chest-thumping feels every time Roadhog hooks a player. You’ll feel that bass.

It’s another level of an experience, visually and audibly immersive in every way, and part of what will keep me wanting to go back to see games live.

Passion

There is no shortage of passion for the teams of Overwatch League. We were just a few minutes late from grabbing seats and seeing the team introductions, but you could hear the crowd’s thunderous cheers from the entrance. Talk about setting the mood for the day. This wasn’t a passive event to watch.

You were here to share in the heart of these games and witness amazing plays unfold.

Isn’t that what every sports fan wants to see?

I can tell there is a sense of pride and excitement from the staff helping things work smoothly, to the commentators and their discussions about the game itself. Probably the only people where it was harder to gauge were the players themselves. Houston Outlaws were probably one of the more engaging teams to see between play because of their animated discussions as viewed on their dash cams. Part of what needs improvement is the players’ stories, which came through on a few videos, and I expect that this will increase as we get a few more weeks into the inaugural season. As an outsider who knows little about the backgrounds of these players, this is an area that would be nice to improve.

Inclusive

Without delving into recent controversies, I do want to say that Overwatch is far more family-friendly that I anticipated. Lots of kids were in attendance and older audience members were super chill — everybody was there to enjoy the games regardless of team affiliation. This is a really important point because traditional sports fans have a sense of entitlement when they’re playing on their home turf. Every team is playing in Blizzard Stadium for the inagural season, and I think this has been to the advantage of the league to build a sense of family and community before it splinters off to their respective cities around the world.

The number of women in attendance at a gaming event was one of the top highlights for me. It would be difficult to know what the exact numbers were, but I felt like it was pretty balanced between men and women. I sat next to 2 girls, who I assume were sisters, and their exuberance for the games made me thrilled to know that Overwatch League has (hopefully) a strong chance to shine when women do enter the league.

Overwatch as a game has been excellent in representing their heroes as anyone and everyone, and I am happy to see that translate into the audience. The gaming environment is slowly being cleaned up, and I hope to see that translate into a positive gaming experience.

I should also point out the cost of attending is only $30. While that may increase in the future, this is an amazing value. It’s impossible to attend most sporting events in LA for less than $50 these days, and I was pleased to know that this price-point makes it available to many families where costs add up really fast.

Sidenote: Blizzard…can we get a “Purchase” button next to the schedule of games? Seems like a lost opportunity.

Length of the Day

Here is my biggest criticism for the current schedule. Expecting a casual sports fan to watch all 3 games is asking too much.

Commitment

The first game started at 11am and it’s difficult to know how long a game will last. If a dominating sweep occurs, the game is done in slightly less than an hour. However, if it goes to the tie-breaking 5th map and it’s been neck-and-neck the entire game, expect that game to be 2.5 hours long. That means, worst case scenario, you’d be watching 3 games for a total of 7.5 hours.

Holy. Crap.

For comparison, the longest traditional sports game I sat and watched was about 5 hours 17 minutes for Game 5 of the World Series. Most standard games last about 2.5 to 3 hours. For everyone’s sake, I hope once the teams move to their locations there are 2 games a night rather than 3 to provide an event that doesn’t feel like such a large commitment. I have to give major props to the casters and commentators for keeping up their energy and ability to continue talking in coherent sentences at hour 6/7/8 of the day. I can’t imagine keeping such focus for 4 days straight.

20 seconds until gameplay…or 5 minutes?

One small yet effective detail to add for attendees is the full length of halftime and game breaks — there was no clock to know the full duration of a break, only the time until the stream would be back up for viewers. That way, attendees know if there’s enough time for snacks, bathroom breaks, or a quick run to the merchandising.

And let’s talk about the playoffs really quick. I honestly feel bad for those that want to attend the entirety of the playoffs for every Stage because the day begins at 11am and will end whenever the final 7pm game ends. If everything goes according to plan with 2 hours allotted for each game, that is a 10-hour marathon of games to watch.

Stage 1 playoffs start AFTER I watched those first 3 games?!

How can a casual gamer attend or spend their day like that? It plays into the hardcore gamer mentality, where the 8-hour gaming marathon is considered normal. The retort “Don’t show up until later” or “Watch it when you’re free” is not a great excuse. Part of the fun of games is to witness that one play when it happens and share that enthusiasm with others.

Sports enthusiasts want to be there from start to end, but within reason.

If Blizzard did this due to the schedule and costs of spreading out games for the first season, so be it, but it needs to be addressed moving forward.

Food

I was aware of what I was getting myself into when I spent $30 on a ticket to Saturday’s event, but I was internally freaking out…when was I going to eat? What was I going to eat?

There is a concession stand available, but I wouldn’t call it something that’s going to fill you up like a standard lunch would. There are snacks, beverages, and a few sandwich selections (which I’ve heard aren’t great). But I’ve got a solution…

FOOD TRUCKS

Seriously, we live in an amazing city with tons of food trucks. This has to be one of the top things that Blizzard can do to improve the food situation and overall experience of being at an all-day event. I would happily ignore the potential 7.5 hours of my day spent watching games if I had a tasty meal from a tasty food truck near the arena. Heck, the parking lot would be a walk worth making if there were food trucks for a 2-hour window. I just need options beyond something comparable to airplane food.

Translation to Casual

The casters and commentators are top-notch, however they continue to speak to the people that play Overwatch. I am not their audience. What makes esports interesting is that it quickly jumps beyond the basic gameplay into the intricacies of strategies and right now, that’s where I get lost. I want to be clear that they are never dismissive of those that don’t play, but the conversations themselves and the language used to discuss the game are not in my vernacular.

If capturing casual gamers is a priority, there need to be alternative streams or ways of sharing the universal language that exists for Overwatch so that I can make the jump to listening to the standard stream.

Going Forward

Will I go to another event? You bet! We’re only at the end of week 3 in an emerging, exciting, competitive, and brand new league. Who knows, maybe in a few more weeks we’ll have taco trucks (fingers crossed) and next year’s format has a bite-sized schedule. I expect nothing less than great things from Overwatch League and Blizzard going forward, and they’ve already delivered above and beyond what I could have envisioned for this sport. GG, well played.

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Always working towards making things better. UX @Invoca

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Nicole Conary

Nicole Conary

Always working towards making things better. UX @Invoca

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