Overwatch Tournament path to pro and the difficulty of getting to pro

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However, even if contested by players, Blizzard’s intervention in the competitive sphere of Overwatch tournament had a logical background. It was based on the self-styled “path to pro”. The idea was to set up a system inspired by the main sports leagues in the United States that survey young people in schools, select the most promising for colleges and, finally, through the so-called draft, choose the best for the professional league.

In this case, there would also be three different levels of tournaments — the so-called tiers. They would go from amateur to professional. With this structure, it was proposed that the good player, regardless of their region of origin, could complete the so-called path to pro and walk from the lowest tier to the highest. In terms of Overwatch: from Open Division (introductory tournament and open to any player who joins a team) to Overwatch League.

But history tells us that the converse was not so true. Not for everyone. The existence of players who managed to trace the path from path to pro to the League is a fact. However, the claim that their regions of origin mattered little does not hold up. What we have seen in four years of the competitive scenario in South America was the emergence of very high-level players who, even after conquering everything they were entitled to within the region, did not get the proper recognition and ended up giving up on the game.

The blame for this problem — which resulted in the segregation of South American players — falls, once again, on Blizzard. Nitro highlights that one of the crucial factors that compromised this situation took place in 2017. The decision to prohibit teams originating from one region from registering in the Open Division from foreign regions was harmful to SA players. In addition to making it impossible for them to evolve alongside the best in the world.

Take as an example the Brazilian football team and its difficulty in playing friendlies against European teams — with few exceptions, the best in the world. The lack of frequent high-level disputes creates a technical difference between the teams. Something that was evident in the last two World Cups in which Brazil participated (eliminated, respectively, by Germany and Belgium). 

Now imagine how much more problematic it would be if not even the great players of the national team could compete in the high-level championships. As if Neymar and Marquinhos could never play for Paris Saint Germain. That’s what happened to the best Overwatch players in South America. The action taken by Blizzard resulted in a catastrophe, or rather, made SA an unsustainable and hopeless region for its players.

Not even the surprising signing of the Brazilian, Alemão, in 2018 to the Boston Uprising team – from the Overwatch League – was enough to renew the hopes of South American players. Starting with the fact that the hiring shouldn’t have been surprising. 

Alemão was part of the most successful team in the history of the SA region, BGH (Brazil Gaming House). From 2016 to 2018 he won everything in his power and lost just a single match. He represented the Brazilian team in two World Cups where he had good individual performances. Even so, he surprised even himself with the opportunity to play in the professional league. The player intended to leave the scene shortly before signing the contract with Boston Uprising, something that happened to most of his teammates.

The Overwatch League model

That was the final breath of a scenario on the verge of decay. Much of this is due to the Overwatch League itself. The model idealized by Blizzard becomes flawed precisely at the top of its chain. And the factor that made it unsustainable is its main inconsistency with the one used in traditional American sport: the lack of a system that resembles the draft.

The Overwatch League, like the NBA and NFL, is a professional league that contains a limited and unalterable number of teams — or franchises — that, regardless of their results, will never be relegated or removed from the championship. Thus, it is faced with a stagnant system that does not allow a natural rise of new casts. That’s why the draft was created, an institutionalized mechanism that ensures that new players can reach the professional level. And it’s precisely the missing piece in Overwatch’s path to the pro model.

Both Nitro and Alemão do not abhor the structure of tiers 3 and 2 — Open Division (OD) and Overwatch Contenders (intermediate division that has professional teams separated by region), respectively. According to the former Boston player: “The idea of ​​Open Division + Contenders is not a bad one. It helps a lot to evolve the tier 2 and 3 landscape, as well as providing an equal opportunity for all teams in OD.” Nitro adds: “I really like the Contenders model, the problem is not having anything else. 

The problem is the existence of the League. The biggest event should be the Gauntlet (a kind of world championship between the best teams in each Contenders region), just like in other games like Valorant. Too bad it only happened once, in 2019”.

The impression that remains is that Blizzard, during the years of scenario, ended up “spending its money” by investing capital in unsustainable ideas, such as Contenders and the lack of growth prospects for its players. It was like swimming against the tide. The company’s mistake was to try to innovate the way esports is understood using a formula in half. 

Finally, Nitro points out one more issue regarding the team-franchise system in electronic games: “It is difficult for you to maintain this spirit of representation for a team in a scenario that was born very close to its idols. A scenario where those who watch a team’s games also watch live streams from their favorite players. Nobody loves teams, they love players”.

The scarcity of updates

Now add all the structural errors to one more factor that compromised—and continues to compromise—Overwatch’s longevity not only as a competitive landscape but also as a game itself. You’re talking about the lack of frequent updates. 

We live in a world where information circulates quickly and ages even faster. This rule also applies to video games. It doesn’t matter if a competitive game is named the best of its year — as Overwatch was in 2016 — if it doesn’t have updates that leave it in constant metamorphosis, it will age. As a result, it will be less played, little watched, until the moment it falls into oblivion by the public. This is what has been happening with Overwatch since it launched.

For a competitive landscape to remain strong, the game needs to cultivate a thick and active player base. Otherwise, there will be no “raw material” to participate and encourage the championships. Once the company responsible for a game gives up following and listening to the community, delivering content updates and balancing its characters (trying to make all heroes, each in their own way, have equivalent strengths on the battlefield) , production has its days numbered.

To casual audiences, the image Blizzard passed under the command of Overwatch was one of abandonment. It stopped innovating content after a year of playing, hosted — and continues to host — the same themed events as in 2016, and it’s been almost two years without announcing a new character.

As for the competitive public, the image passed was incompetence. Since 2016, the only thing Blizzard has been able to cultivate in its production is a string of bad balances. On the subject, Alemão comments: “A company that does not listen to who consumes its products is doomed to failure. An example of Blizzard not listening to its players is that Brigitte (a heroine added to the game by Blizzard in 2018) was 100% part of the meta (strongest possible character composition for a match) for almost a year, that’s unbelievable.”

It was with the lack of new content and the stagnation of a single meta – due to a bad balance – that Overwatch lost its fluid proposal, stiffened, stopped in time and began to be overtaken by other productions. “Not that the other games have done anything extraordinary, that’s the basics. It’s Overwatch’s fault for not following along,” says Nitro.

And so, in February 2021, the official shutdown of the Overwatch competitive scene in South America was announced. Some say it was a direct consequence of the pandemic, but it is believed that it was only the anticipation of something inevitable.

Overwatch 2 and the future of the South American scene

But was that really the end point? Or can there still be, as in the arts, a renaissance? Could 2022 be the year of Overwatch?

All these questions depend, today, on a single factor: the launch of Overwatch 2 . The sequel to the first game was announced in 2019 and is scheduled for release next year (2022). It is currently one of the only sources of hope for fans who still dream of seeing the Blizzard game on the rise again.

For the former BGH player: “There is a small (almost impossible) possibility that the scenario will improve with Overwatch 2, although I find it very, very difficult.” According to him, the company should, first and foremost, review each of the decisions made in Overwatch 1 “and do the opposite of what they did”. For this, Alemão suggests that Blizzard listen more to the community, especially to professional players. The former player’s final opinion was that “if it continues in the same way, I would not recommend anyone to invest in the competitive scenario of the game”.

Nitro, on the other hand, says he can see a renaissance in the competitive landscape. According to the content producer: “I get it because the game is good. It has a nice gameplay and carries everything that enchanted the world back in 2016”. But for that, he adds, certain points need to change urgently: “At first, [the developers] need to work on the promotion, Overwatch 2 no longer has the same hype (public expectation) that its precursor had”. 

Due to this lack of expectation, Nitro points out that it is essential to make the game free. This is the pattern followed by the big competitive games like League of Legends (LOL), Counter Strike (CS) and Valorant. Finally, he hopes that Blizzard “gets its hands on the competitive model”, especially with the introduction of a league model that makes it mandatory to recruit players.

The year 2022 may not be Overwatch’s big moment, but it is a fresh start. The game will not fly away and will need to earn its space in the industry and in the public imagination. There is a lot to be regained, but if the proper care and adjustments are taken, it seems that there is hope.

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