Overwatch’s Best Esports Game awards show a divide between esports and mainstream gaming

Esports Pro was a judge for The Game Awards. We’re not trying to throw shade.

Last night, or very early in the morning if you’re a bleary-eyed London dweller, Overwatch snatched a win at The Game Awards for Best Esports Game. Back in November, it also grabbed a Golden Joysticks award for the same.

Yet, the esports community is up in arms about it. Rather than link any specific tweets,just have a look on Twitter yourself. Needless to say, people are pretty pissed.

With good reason, too. While Overwatch might be a big esports hit in 2019 or even 2018, this year was mostly marred with news of high profile departures from the Overwatch scene, with Overwatch’s best known player stepping down to stream back in April because the scene simply wasn’t generating enough money for him compared to streaming.

Following this, nearly every big organisation involved in the scene shelved their rosters, some for no stated reason, but many claiming that the competition wasn’t healthy enough to justify the cost, with a lack of audience and prize money that meant the exposure and prestige wasn’t matching up to the financial burden of operating a top-level team.

As you can see here, aside from a big spike around Blizzcon, there’s an average of around 30,000 people watching Overwatch on Twitch at any time. This is pretty small for a big esports title, with Overwatch in a solid sixth place. Streaming isn’t the be-all and end-all, but if you look at the prize money, Overwatch is in 10th place, supported largely by the big-name Korean tournaments throwing large prize-pools around. Look closer though, and no one in Overwatch is making a lot of money at all, with the highest earning pros all having around $50k in prize money.

Again, this is all to change potentially, but as it stands currently Overwatch feels like an esport that’s developing.

This week sees the launch of the Overwatch League preseason, and there’s a lot to be excited about: slick presentation, regular high-level competitive play and a cool ring on the ceiling that fills up as points are captured.

But it’s also still got a few hurdles to get past: the preseason isn’t streaming on Twitch, and one of the teams, Philadelphia Fusion, isn’t even competing in the preseason at all. This comes soon after Blizzard handed out a 30 match ban to one of Fusion’s players, Su-Min “Sado” Kim, for account boosting violations.

The future could be bright for Overwatch, and several sources suggest that with the support it’s getting from nonendemic organisations it really has to be so it doesn’t scare them away from esports for good. However 2016 (where it also won a Best Esports Award)  and 2017 were a complete shambles for the game’s competitive prospects, so how does it go away with two of the biggest prizes in gaming?

I think there are reasons– and i’d like to preface this by reiterating that I’m not trying to call anyone out or suggesting anyone is doing anything malicious here – but there’s clearly a flaw that needs to be resolved.

Both The Game Awards and the Golden Joysticks are awarded based on a public vote. The voting process for the Golden Joysticks requires you to vote on everything as you move through. This means players that have come to vote on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for game of the year are being asked what their favourite esports game is this year, and so they’re picking Overwatch. The Game Awards is better, letting you vote individually and encouraging voters not to participate in categories where they haven’t played the game.

Why wouldn’t they vote for the game they know in a category though? Overwatch is one of the most accessible shooters of this generation, and it’s tremendously popular.

Unfortunately, it’s not popular as a competitive game. Yet. We’re not into gatekeeping but being the most popular game among people voting at TGA and the Golden Joysticks doesn’t equate to being the best esports game, and this is what’s caused the outrage on Twitter.

But there’s no way that Overwatch should have been on the shortlist for the public to vote on, because public events are all too often a popularity contest where the game with the best mindshare will often take the award. Both awards had a panel of experts to choose what should be up for consideration, and a certain amount of discretion should go into how successful these games are not just in general, but in the areas they’re competing in.

Overwatch’s first serious competitive league outside of Korea is still in its preseason, and while I’d love to see Overwatch do well as an esports games, it’s important to stress that it’s still developing and has so far been underwhelming. Awarding this to Overwatch over the many other well-established, global competitive scenes shows how little esports games are served by mainstream awards.

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