Given the phenomenon that Overwatch has become over the last couple of years, it was only a matter of time before an event of such epic proportions as the new Overwatch League found itself being tabled at a Blizzard conference room meeting. Unsurprisingly, the idea of having stupendously wealthy individuals pay in the region of $20,000,000 just for the franchise spot required to enter a team into this newfangled league was apparently not met with all that much resistance.
Some are saying that this could one day be a sports league to rival the NFL, and with base salaries of $50,000 and performance bonuses totalling $3,500,000 for players, as well as healthcare cover, retirement plans and housing during the season, it’s clear that Blizzard have their sights set on lofty heights. This is an international professional sports tournament and makes no mistakes.
Twelve teams representing major cities around the globe are competing in the inaugural year of the Overwatch League. The tournament is split into two divisions – the Atlantic and the Pacific – with six teams in each.
Though there is an inescapable bias towards American teams, it might console readers to know that the namesake city of a team has little to do with its composition in terms of players. The London team, for example, consists only of players from Korea whereas one UK based player finds himself playing for the Philadelphia team. The diversity of players is respectable, with competitors from Ethiopia, Australia, Spain, Thailand, Canada, Belgium, Sweden and France, to name a few, all playing in the league.
Yet some voices have been heard noting the distinct lack of female players, and lacking the Overwatch League truly is, with not a single woman on any of the teams’ rosters. Could it be that there are no female players who are good enough? No, of course not. There are a number of female Overwatch players who are known to be at the very top of their game, perfectly suited to compete at the very highest levels of play. Notably, Kim ‘Geguri’ Se-yeon, who is widely considered to be one of the best Zarya players of all time, was passed over as a choice for the new Leagues teams and the reasons given as to why are unconvincing at best. Issues with co-ed housing, getting teams to gel and the risk of a female player being seen as a so-called ‘PR’ stunt by the press are all genuine reasons given by team managers to account for the lack of women competitors.
A further, if somewhat less politically charged, issue that has arisen following the launch of the world’s newest e-sports league is centred on how it affects the game of Overwatch at large, for those of us who are not international competitors. As part of the event, and in familiar Blizzard style, a series of cosmetic ‘skins’ were released for purchase in the game. These allow players to change the appearance of their characters, with a specific skin representing each of the twelve teams being available for every one of the 26 playable characters, making a total of 312 individual products.
The skins are bought with a token system only used for League cosmetics, with each skin costing 100 tokens. Players who log in before February 13th receive 100 free tokens (amounting to one cosmetic skin of their choice). Any further tokens must be bought with real money – from £4.99 for the minimum 100 tokens to a substantial £87.49 for a haul of 2600 tokens.
These prices have been met with some level of annoyance from the community, who argue that the prices are too high. The problem is made worse by the fact 21 – Sean Bennett A look at Overwatch League Image: Flickr, BagoGames that the only way to get the League specific skins is to buy them, as they do not appear in the winnable loot boxes like most other special event skins. For those with the desire and money to do so, a full collection of all of the League skins will see you forking out a whopping £1,049.88.
Given how new the Overwatch league is, and how lofty its future intentions are, it was inevitable that there would be teething problems. Blizzard know that they are on to a winner with the game, but if they aren’t careful their desires to reach the sporting importance of football and baseball will start to fade away. Athletes do not make a sport, the supporters do. If Blizzard out price the interest in their events, then their support might not fall away completely, but may not be as high as they need. Far more importantly, they are in real trouble if they can’t find a way to solve the embarrassing and woefully excused gender imbalance in their professional circles. £5 for an in-game purchase might annoy a few people, but active gender discrimination can destroy a venture like the Overwatch League, and perhaps the people behind it too