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Opinion – Overwatch is dead, this time for good

The recent string of news has led to quite an exodus in sponsors for the Overwatch League. What has started out as esports' shining new star is now a smoking wreck.

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Are you an Overwatch fan? Then you are a rare survivor of a steady decline over the years. With recent news that downward trajectory has now turned into a straight dive off a steep cliff.

Taking center stage on release

Imagine you could travel back in time to 2016, back to when Overwatch was just released and became a rising star. Millions of players signed up for the new Blizzard game that promised to be the successor to Team Fortress 2.

Back in 2016 Overwatch was simply the game to play
Back in 2016 Overwatch was simply the game to play | Image Credits: Blizzard

In the early days of Overwatch it seemed like everything came together perfectly: A fresh take on the genre and a varied cast of interesting characters to play. Together with Blizzard’s pedigree it came to little surprise that many players jumped on board of the hype train.

So when roughly half a year after release first talks of an Overwatch League appeared it seemed like a natural development that could result in the next big esport title besides the established ones.

A rough awakening

A franchise league requiring multi-million dollar buy-ins right off the bat should have raised eyebrows, but players, fans and investors alike decided to believe that Blizzard could do no wrong. The hype and glitter of the game brought in investors and many others that have never been part of the esports world.

While the initial season of the Overwatch League did okay, it was far from the ground-shattering tournament series that Blizzard and many investors, players and fans had hoped it to be.

London Spitfire were the inaugural Overwatch League Champions in 2018
London Spitfire were the inaugural Overwatch League Champions in 2018 | Image Credits: Blizzard

It was no revolution of the industry and far from a justification for the several hundred millions of Dollars invested into the project to kickstart it.

The game itself also started to show cracks under the strain of expectations. The developers could not keep up with the meta in their balancing efforts over the years. Especially as more heroes joined the fray or exisiting ones were massively reworked.

The GOATS meta in 2018 marked the low point of the game’s state of balance after Mercy had already terrorized the players beforehand. The playerbase declined further and further from the highs of its release.

Overwatch 2’s announcement results in a content draught

To combat the trend Blizzard then announced Overwatch 2 at BlizzCon in 2019. But the reaction was more scrutiny than enthusiasm. On closer examination the sequel looked like an expansion pack el. While Blizzard has promised that all Overwatch players will get access to the new content (besides the exclusive Single Player Campaign) the announcement also meant the end of regular updates for Overwatch.

Echo was the last addition to the Overwatch roster | Image Credits: Blizzard
Echo was the last addition to the Overwatch roster | Image Credits: Blizzard

A devastating development for a community that grew accustomed to three new heroes per year and new maps every couple of months. The last new additions were Echo, 2020’s sole hero release and Kanezaka in January, a Deathmatch-only map.

Enter COVID-19 and VALORANT

2020’s thin content updates came coupled with two more devastating developments for Overwatch: COVID-19 and VALORANT.

Let’s talk about the pandemic first. Overwatch struggled massively to keep its competitive circuit running. The OWL went off-air for a couple weeks and proceeded to only come back in an altered format, which could never quite replace the Homestand events that made the OWL stand out.

VALORANT’s beta and subsequent release were perfectly timed to worsen Overwatch’s situation.

VALORANT arrived with a bang in 2020
VALORANT arrived with a bang in 2020 | Image Credits: Riot

Eerily familiar to 2016’s Overwatch, VALORANT took over Twitch and built a strong player base in record time. For many Overwatch players the temptation to switch over to a new and more vibrant game became irresistable. Even the very best of the game like Jay “sinatraa” Won ditched Overwatch to seek greener pastures.

Declining Viewership

Unsurprisingly 2020 left its mark as a steep decline in viewership for the Overwatch League. According to esportscharts the third season’s grand finals showed a shocking confirmation of the downward trend in peak viewers ever since the first season. The 2018 edition had 349,000 viewers tuning in to see London Spitfire take the victory. But for San Francisco Shock’s second title in 2020 only 183,000 fans bothered to open the stream.

This all brings us to the current state of Overwatch in 2021. A game languishing in limbo without significant updates and a dwindling playerbase. But it gets even worse as the pro scene is rapidly getting hammered by the repercussions of the ongoing sexism scandal at Activision Blizzard. Since the news broke more and more sponsors are pulling out of the OWL.

There is even more financial damage at the horizon for the OWL as the US Department of Justice’s antitrust investigation is still underway with potentially devastating consequences.

But what about Overwatch 2?

If Blizzard manages to launch a phenomenal game they could conceivably save the struggling franchise. But that is looking very unlikely.

Case in point was Jeff Kaplan’s exit from Blizzard earlier this year in April. There is something fundamentally wrong when your Game Director leaves before his product is even released.

Reports of Overwatch 2 being delayed to 2023 only serve to confirm this impression. Overwatch 2 has entered development hell. Can Overwatch survive until then?

The player interest has never been lower than now and there is no sign of new content coming anytime soon. The much heralded esport scene is treading water as it releases academy teams, on-air talent and more to cut costs.

To no one’s surprise the rumours of the delay for Overwatch 2 immediately sparked speculation about the future of the OWL, to which the Vice President of the league felt obliged to take to Twitter to deny them.

Unless Activision Blizzard can somehow replicate the hype of the launch in 2016 there is no hope left for Overwatch. Considering Blizzard’s recent track record, that seems increasingly unlikely.

As it stands now Overwatch serves as a cautionary tale on how abhorrent mismanagement can kill a franchise that had every foundation to succeed.

Overwatch is dead, this time for good.

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Image Credits: Matt Botsford via Unsplash/Blizzard