With Overwatch finally out into the wild, more and more people are leaving the OnlyWatch camp to experience Blizzard’s latest shooter.
While scores of newcomers fell in the first few hours of the game to the countless Bastion and Torbjorn turret spams, many more are slowly getting the hang of the game. Barely three days since release and players are clamoring for Competitive Mode to return. Many are anxious to start laddering up to see who is the best.
For a moment, let us suspend the discussion (or what barely amounts to a discussion) of whether Overwatch will be an eSport. For the purposes of this article, let us assume that Blizzard can and will do everything in their power to turn their latest IP into a real competitive title. If you’re looking for a review of the game, or my thoughts on how it can break into a market dominated by MOBAs and Counterstrike: Global Offensive, you can read this link.
(Spoiler: My current review is as follows — the game is worth buying, they have managed to balance some of the problematic heroes in my last article, and no, they have yet to fix spectator mode. #MakeOverwatchWatchable)
Instead, let us focus on how the proto-competitive scene of Overwatch has evolved and what might we learn from the precursors to Blizzard’s team-shooter.
If we were to describe the Before-Times of competitive Overwatch, we would compare it to the frontier times of the American expansion. Community tournaments, of which the most competitive were organized by GosuGamers, began as early as November of 2015, during the first-wave of Beta access. In those times, most teams were composed of competitive World of Warcraft players, to pros from Arena shooters such as Quake or TF2.
Hero balancing never went away as a persistent topic in high-level Overwatch. After all, Beta or not, the limits of game balance is always tested to its maximum capacity when done by highly competitive players.
But one of the main conversations (certainly one with the most impact to the game) revolved around competitive game modes. During the first and second wave of beta access, Blizzard introduced only two modes of play: Point Capture and Payload.
The competitive scene by and large did not enjoy Point Capture and Payload in its default state. As game modes are tied to maps, Point Capture and Payload made Attacking nigh-impossible and Defending too easy. There was also no easy ways to really gauge skill as the game only cares whether a team achieves their objectives (to capture points or defend them), regardless of how much time has passed in between.
To fix this predicament, tournament organizers introduced Stopwatch. In essence, the attacking team’s progress in capturing points are timed on their attempts. It is the defenders job to prevent them from capturing points or to delay them.
Times are then compared to determine who won the match. An attacking team that can complete their objectives in the least amount of time, compared to their opponents, wins. It wasn’t an elegant solution, especially since the game itself does not accommodate the fix. To outsiders watching a match, the game can sometimes cut with plenty of time left on the in-game clock; there simply would be no point to continue the match as the enemy team had already completed their objective with a better time.
Even when Blizzard released its own “competitive” mode, Control, the blossoming pro scene did not take it immediately. The problem was that as a mode, Control resembled King-of-the-hill style gameplay, meaning that rounds could go down to whoever takes the initiative and snowball from there.
To date, the community has answered this lack of meaningful in-game competitive mode through a series of band-aid solutions. Stopwatch is used on maps such as Payload and Point Capture, while entire matches are composed of different map types to balance out everything.
Many have tried to cut their teeth into competitive Overwatch when the community tournaments of Overkill and GosuGamers were first announced. Understandable, as getting in on the ground floor of competition is often one of the easiest ways to build a career around a game.
But of the teams that have come and gone in competition, four have remained standing past the Closed Beta and into the release. Cloud 9, REUNITED (formerly Fnatic), Luminosity and EnvyUs. For today, we’ll tell the story of two fraggers from Cloud 9 and Luminosity: Surefour and Seagull.
Cloud 9 is a gaming organization that should be familiar to eSports enthusiasts of the modern day. Their team is composed of former Arena shooter pros along with some new blood.
The team of Adam, Kyky, Surefour, Debett, Adam, Grego and Reaver have been dominating the NA weekly tournaments for months before they were picked up by Cloud 9. As the orgs first Overwatch team, Cloud 9 has managed to win 50 out of 57 competitive matches spanning March to May of 2016.
Team standouts include Surefour, who is a universally feared primary fragger for the team. He first caught the eye of the audiences when Cloud 9 used the dreaded Genyatta (Double Zenyatta, Genji) composition to tear through opposing backlines like they were made out of butter.
But Surefour’s successes would be short-lived. As Cloud 9 continued to rack victories, Surefour would continue to build a steady stream of aimbotting allegations. After winning the Overkill tournament against EnvyUs, Surefour was interviewed by GosuGamers as the premier pro player interview of a young competitive scene.
The move was universally hated, with many taking to the Overwatch sub-reddit to pile on video evidence of Surefour cheating. While the jury is still out on whether Surefour truly did cheat, he remains a polarizing figure in the community. His alleged history of cheating in other shooter games does not help to his notoriety.
The video below is from Surefour explaining to viewers the difference between his style and aimbotting. The explanation begins at 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Seagull is Luminosity’s primary fragger who in many ways is similar to Surefour. The only difference is that while Surefour is universally hated in the community, Seagull is loved by all thanks to a combination of high-profile plays, a more crowd-pleasing stream persona and a YouTube channel dedicated to teaching players high-level Overwatch.
As a team, Seagull’s Luminosity’s numbers don’t compare favorably to Cloud 9. With only 34 wins in 56 competitive matches, Luminosity’s win-rate is a respectable 60%. Good, but unspectacular compared to Cloud 9’s 90%. Luminosity will remain as 2nd in North America and 4th overall in the world, but their results thus far will always play second fiddle to Cloud 9.
What sets Seagull apart however is that while Surefour is a great fragger, he is bolstered in his team by Reaver, the team’s other fragger who pulls in the same numbers. On Luminosity however, Seagull is undeniably the team’s primary carry.
While on mix^, Seagull demonstrated his prowess against Cloud 9 in LiJiang. Despite being down 99%, Seagull’s playmaking on Genji brought the team back from the brink of defeat to ultimately take the round against their North American rivals
There are many more stories from the before-times of Overwatch. Of how Double Reaper, Double Winston compositions terrorized the land, or the great darkness of the Genyatta line-ups that led to widespread balance tweaks to curb its power-level.
With the game finally released, the prologue is now over. Its time for the main story. Will Overwatch become a true competitive title? Will people ever learn not to complain about Bastion? The story to be written is in the playing.
But as with any good tale, it will do new authors well to study the stories that came before to create a truly rich narrative. The community grassroots struggles of Overwatch have attracted the attention of competitive organizations and some truly interesting talent have so far stepped up. Who will become the new heroes, and villains, of the game?