eSports News by Content Engine AI

Overwatch League has always been about empowering budding pro-athletes. In fact, its goal has always been to reach those people who aspire to become professional players of gaming culture, but are unsure of where to start.

Since launch, the competition has been focussed on North America, whereas most gaming events are held in Asia. That, of course, changed this year, with the league moving its opening weekend, beginning with Seoul Dynasty’s round robin game on Thursday, August 1.

“This year, we are focusing on developing a more accessible, fan-friendly, and inclusive, everyday casual Overwatch experience for our audience,” Blizzard’s chief marketing officer, Mark Kaplan, said at the time.

The league will now change location to Asia on an as-needed basis, going to a temporary location in North America and South America every two weeks. Each season will consist of a homestand — a single point game for six weeks in one location. The city and venue will alternate.

Is it a good step forward? Absolutely. Esports and gaming cultures as a whole, including Overwatch League, have rapidly evolved in the last several years, and that largely hinges on their accessibility.

Originally, the competition involved players coming from each of the original nine domestic Overwatch teams, from the UK to Australia. As more players would start working and travelling, adding more players from each region (that was until the early days of the series when there were nine teams). In today’s construct, there are now 13 teams; the others are a mix of both U.S. and Asian teams. Adding teams on both sides of the Pacific Rim automatically diminishes the need for fans in other regions to come to North America.

The angle is one Overwatch team, Seoul Dynasty, has highlighted as an opportunity to bring its fans closer to the local tournament. Seoul’s North American hosting hosted matches last year. Seoul’s 2018 season saw the team beat Las Vegas Invictus Gaming 3-1 to claim the top prize.

Earlier in the year, manager and coach SooDae Lee told us, “We have a high degree of local exposure in Korea. Especially from players. They play Overwatch League all the time. There are many fans that grew up with Overwatch. Hopefully, those supporters will now have an opportunity to watch the Overwatch League.”

Things, though, aren’t always as simple as being open to competition from all corners of the globe. The current first week of Overwatch League, held in California earlier this year, did not go completely smoothly. Reports came out of games being played on permanent hardwood floors in fields that they wouldn’t have visited had they gone to Chula Vista, less than 50 miles away.

The league, though, will not be back at Chula Vista for second round matches. Instead, games will be played in Seattle, moving to Manchester, England for the second round, and, if everything goes to plan, Seoul and Philadelphia should meet up on August 22. Should they not reach the final two weeks later, they’ll head to another location, though specific locations haven’t been mentioned.

There’s a chance this might be the first installment of Overwatch League competition in another continent. The extra space, though, doesn’t exactly guarantee nothing, and it definitely could increase the amount of hype the competition would generate around the globe.

Some have argued that a change of location does not affect the competition. Sjoerd Rom, a professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium who focuses on game design and esports, believes the point of Overwatch League is to train a new generation of pro gamers, and it is their futures that matter, above all.

However, he says, there is a danger of putting too much emphasis on travel and new destinations: “The key was to do this slowly and keep doing it all year, day in and day out. The European team, for example, has a lot of potential, but it can’t take on too much weight because we know Europe still has its issues with the authorities. There’s a lot of obstacles to overcome.”

Others argue that the expansion can only bolster other esports, and even lead to more esports games, as fans in different regions identify themselves with the movement. Other teams, teams, and players are also more likely to tour and showcase their talents in those regions. Should all go well, it could lead to more players branching off into other esports, and vice versa.

Overwatch League remains a very interesting experiment. The potential is there, but if Blizzard manages to navigate the waters, it could spark a new wave of esports on other continents, and inspire them to start their own competitions. The most intriguing thing, however, is the audience that comes with it.

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