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2020: A decisive year for the future of the Overwatch League

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The fragility of the eSports industry has been exposed for some time by a long Kotaku article: huge investments with little return and inflated audiences permeate this universe, and it is likely that the Overwatch League will be the first major league to acknowledge these symptoms.

A large exodus of casters and presenters, along with relevant players retiring prematurely demonstrate that the million dollar league is experiencing internal difficulties. On top of all this, the third season of OWL promises to be the most ambitious so far: teams will travel between countries to play the matches. The movement is bold and brings the conventional sports scene closer, but it can have terrible consequences for the teams.

Millions of investment… no return?

Activision Blizzard is behind the Overwatch League. (Image: Blizzard)

With the gigantic Activision Blizzard behind it, the Overwatch League was a project that it longed for from the beginning. The championship adopts the franchise system: fixed teams, without relegation or promotion of the teams, ensuring long-term stability. In the case of OWL, that stability came at a very high price: a spot in the league's first season would cost $ 20 million, according to some reports at the time. In the second, the value increased to between $ 30 million and $ 60 million, according to an ESPN article.

All of this would reflect in a league of immense structures, with a total prize pool of US $ 3.5 million – very high value for the world of eSports. Around this are typical elements of the franchise system, such as live matches and numerous licensed products for sale. Looking from the outside, everything looks very beautiful, but it is not necessary to go very deeply to realize that this investment may not achieve the desired return: in terms of audience, the OWL Playoffs in 2019 are far from the numbers of the World of League of Legends the same year.

To give you an idea, the data from Esports Charts show that Overwatch had a peak of 318,000 simultaneous viewers, with an average of 110,000 viewers; the World Cup beat 3.98 million people watching, and maintained an average of over 1 million.

Let's face it, the LoL World Championship has been around for a long time, and it had more opportunity to consolidate itself. However, even compared to the newcomer Free Fire, Overwatch does not do so well on the tape: Battle Royale Mobile peaked at 2 million viewers, maintaining an average of 1.2 million viewers.

Curse would be responsible for this silent distribution of transmissions. (Image: Twitter)

On top of that, there are accusations that Blizzard would still be inflating its numbers by incorporating OWL streams on game-related sites. Thus, any user who visited the site would be counted as a viewer. This had already been mentioned by Kotaku as a common practice in the middle of eSports, and the scenario gets even more ugly for Overwatch when it understands the whole context behind this claim.

According to the report, a company called Curse would be responsible for this silent distribution of transmissions. Coincidentally – or not – Twitch, which paid $ 900 million for OWL's broadcast exclusivity, was once Curse's parent company.

Amid low numbers and a huge conflict of interest, it's easy to see that the Overwatch League audience is a mess. Unfortunately for the league, there are even more obvious problems.

Exodus of talent

Another weakness demonstrated by the Overwatch League is in the exit of its casters and presenters. (Imagem: Twitter)

Another weakness demonstrated by the Overwatch League is in the exit of its casters and presenters: Malik Forté, Auguste “Semmler” Massonnat, Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykkles, Erik “DoA” Lonnquist and Chris Puckett are the names that will not return for the third season of the tournament .

As much as some of these professionals were very discreet about his departure, MonteCristo was very vocal, making a thread of twelve tweets about the reasons that led him to leave OWL and his future as a professional.

MonteCristo goes so far as to say that creative differences were among the reasons for his non-renewal of contract. Regarding the next content to be produced, the caster says he will no longer make Overwatch content on his personal channel. The reason? There was not so much demand from the audience.

MonteCristo's statement further indicates that the audience at OWL and the eSports scene as a whole are unsatisfactory, and there is still more to explore in that hole.

There's still more

Overwatch Contenders, a kind of “cradle of talent”. (Image: Blizzard)

Amid so many internal problems in the Overwatch League, Activision Blizzard still has one more question about the game scenario to be resolved. Lack of live matches and little promotion of broadcasts are making the tournament economically unfeasible.

Overwatch Contenders, a kind of “cradle of talent” for OWL, is increasingly precarious and has already had relevant casualties in terms of enrolled teams: NRG, Gladiators Legion and Mayhem Academy – all linked to teams from the main division – are among the teams that left the tournament.

With so many problems, it is possible to say that international travel may be Activision Blizzard's last card. The plan can work, enhancing and revitalizing the league; on the other hand, it can only increase the speed with which the tournament implodes. In one way or another, 2020 is a decisive year for the Overwatch League.

Brazilian, 23 years old, I follow eSports since 2010 with a good experience in Counter Strike Global Offensive, Fortnite, League of Legends and Valorant with articles and news published in the electronic sports scene.