The pinnacle of esports has been a long time coming, but thanks to Blizzard it seems like it might finally hit its stride. The Overwatch League has been in the preparatory phase for quite some time, but it has officially begun. The vast majority of Twitch users were tuned into the Overwatch League debut, rather than their usual fare. Around 440,000 people were watching at a single time during the event. These numbers are likely to rise, if the events raise even more hype and show that they can engage audiences. Of course, these numbers could also fall if the Overwatch League matches are not entirely up to snuff.
The biggest factor when it comes to the possibility of esports becoming a regular thing is the abiliity to include the average person. Obviously esports are catering to those that are already gamers, just like traditional sports caters to those that already love sports. The biggest thing traditional sports has going for it is that there are only so many different types of games and they've been around for a very long time. Plus, the basic rules are usually fairly easy to follow. Of course there are innumerable amounts of strategies and the like to understand if you want to be a major sports fan, but all in all, the entry fee is not high if you want to get watch sports.
The same cannot necessarily be true of esports. There are all kinds of different genres of video games (some better for viewing than others), and then each individual game has its own rules. It seems the only way esports could become popular is if there are a set number of titles that reign supreme. But even then, each game has varying modes, characters, weapons, and skills. For those viewers that haven't played the game in question, it can get very confusing to watch. This is one of the biggest takeaways that viewers had from the first Overwatch League day. If you're unfamiliar with the maps and play styles of each of the characters, it can be a bit hard to tell exactly what's going on. Esports seems like it could be limited to those that play the games in question or those who have already watched many hours of gameplay.
This isn't impossible to overcome. If Overwatch League lasts long enough, those who pop in to view will get the gist of the game eventually. Just like I'm sure in the beginning days of American football, any viewer had to constantly be told what was going on. Can you even imagine? “So they are all standing in those positions because they're making a 'play' called the 'quarterback sneak?' How can such a large man sneak?”
This same confusion is going to exist in esports viewers who are new to gaming entirely, but also to those gamers who are unfamiliar with the game being played. I don't mean for this to come off as sounding only doom and gloom though. Clearly spectators learned how football work, and the same is possible of esports.
A certain stride has to be set, certain standards must be decided upon, and quite simply, some time will be necessary. When enough time has passed, esports have the potential to be just as popular as regular sports. There's certainly already an existing audience for it in the gaming community, and it just might spread to non-gamers in the future. Perhaps esports will even breed a whole new community of gamers who wouldn't have otherwise picked up a controller. Blizzard's Overwatch League is a first step towards this brave new horizon. The concerns listed above are great, and only when we overcome those can esports really flourish.
Numbers don't lie though, and the initial viewer count for the Overwatch League was pretty good. For an absolutely brand new concept, 440k is not bad. The upcoming livestreams, events, matches, and possibly even further past that, seasons, will really dictate the future of esports. With the production values, and fan furor that the first Overwatch League showed, we could be witnessing history in the making. What do you think? Let me know!