Over the last week four organisations: Splyce, CompLexity, Denial and Red Reserve have all folded their Overwatch teams, stepping away from the popular shooter just as Blizzard are starting up the hype-machine for their own competitive juggernaut, the Overwatch League.
Why are teams stepping away from Overwatch? The answer is money, and the visibility of competitive Overwatch.
Earlier this week, a rumour emerged that two NFL franchise owners had bought slots in the Overwatch League with Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, picking up slots in a multi-million dollar deal.
There was a general rumbling from endemic brands in esports that they would be priced out of the market after this move, and it’s tough to see where the big investment factors are for those buying in. Overwatch’s viewer figures have remained modest compared to the giants of esports, and there haven’t been many success stories both in terms of narratives, but also events, many of which are losing cash due to lack of enthusiasm from both spectators and players.
In April this year Brandon ‘Seagull’ Larned, one of Overwatch’s most beloved players in the pro scene, announced he was quitting the competitive scene in favour of streaming. In a statement, he claimed that his motivation for competing in “small online tournaments” was lacking, with full time streaming providing a more reliable income.
“In the current Overwatch pro scene, we’re in limbo while we wait for the Overwatch League to start up later in the year.” Said Larned http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sppmda “I’ve been struggling to justify giving up streaming hours to play in the competitive scene during this downtime. As any competitive FPS player knows, it’s tough maintaining motivation for small online tournaments - particularly when I knew I was letting down my fanbase by not having a regular stream.”
In a video, Splyce CEO Marty Strenczewilk explained why Splyce is taking a step back, and also talked about the low financial rewards: “If we’re going to invest more money in the game right now, we want to have a real understanding of what we’re investing our money into and where this is going,” saying that despite the recent announcements regarding the Overwatch League, it’s going to be some time before it affects Splyce.
He mentioned that the announcement doesn’t mean that Splyce won’t be competing in the Overwatch League, it just means that for now they don’t necessarily see it as worth the outlay at this point in time. However, this is difficult for Blizzard, as having esports organisations onboard is key for turning the nascent pro-scene into the monolithic presence Blizzard crave.
Strenczewilk adds: “There’s a couple of $5k, $10k online cups every so often, but that’s about it. Outside of this, there isn’t that much competitive overwatch. This has been challenging for our players, and for us trying to build a fanbase around the game.” This has proved tough for teams that are playing around the world, except for Korea where the Overwatch scene is already huge.
Unfortunately, this is also part of the problem as teams outside of Korea are rarely invited to come and play, with just Rogue and EnVyUs invited to take part in OGN APEX, one of the biggest tournaments in Korea.
CompLexity’s general manager Kyle Bautista, in a statement, said “Anticipation of Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch League and an uptick in mainstream esports attention means that now more than ever, we have to be confident we’re making the best investments in each game. The decision to part ways with long-term members of our organisation is never one that we take lightly, but ongoing roster instability has resulted in inconsistent performances in an already narrow field of events.”
It would be easy to look at CompLexity’s struggles to make an impact on the scene and suggest that they were leaving because they weren’t have many successes, and on a surface level that’s correct. However, a closer look reveals that, without the Overwatch League in place, there isn’t much of a competitive scene to make an impact on, and this lack of regular high level competition, in addition to the waves caused by rumours of high prices for Overwatch League slots, have created a high barrier of entry to new organisations trying to get involved, but also a hostile atmosphere for endemic brands looking for success in Overwatch.
In short, getting involved with Overwatch is prohibitively expensive, won’t make teams a lot of money, and fewer people are watching it then other sports without those problems. Blizzard have a tough task ahead of them convincing teams to give the game another shot, but as more teams are announcing their intentions to step away from the character-based shooter, it’s increasingly clear that corrective measures from the publisher are needed.