Editorial: Response to Frank “Mirhi” Field’s piece, ‘How Blizzard Should Have Approached the Overwatch League and How They Can Save the Scene.’

Written by: Colin ‘Howl’ Kenitz (7/1/2017)

The subject of critique: https://medium.com/@Mirhi/how-blizzard-should-have-approached-the-overwatch-league-and-how-they-can-save-the-scene-9521b1f9cb24

This article brings up an excellent subject – A matter of investigation that began in a post on the competitive Overwatch subreddit about Jaru, previously of Toronto Esports, playing for Envision for the rest of Contenders Season 0, a tournament that is currently underway. As Frank ‘Mirhi’ Fields shows in his article, this is already the third occurrence of this he’s found. It’s seemingly a breech of the rule set, so how does something like this even happen?

That’s what we all want to know, and for now, there’s no answer. What we do know is that something like this is unacceptable. If rules are not only being broken, but approved by Blizzard in their own tournament, what kind of integrity are we looking at for competitive legitimacy going into Contenders Season 1 and Overwatch League (OWL)? There are a few things that come to my mind. First, is that this is a preseason that doesn’t really mean anything, as Blizzard’s stated that Competitors is supposed to be a proving grounds, or a combine of sorts, such as the NFL has, in order to display player’s abilities. In this respect, perhaps Blizzard is being lax on the rules in order to allow a strong player to show his stuff. This is kind of ridiculous, I know, but remember I’m trying to be hypothetical. This also completely legitimizes the results of the tournament, which would be completely counter productive to this purpose, as those interested in seeing players ability will mainly be looking at the winners, as well as whole team’s and their team work.

Another hypothetical is that it is a completely online tournament. I, personally, don’t give a lot of merit to online results. Maybe Blizzard feels the same way, and are viewing this whole Season 0 as a learning experience. Maybe they’re trying to invoke community critique to gauge how they should conduct things going forward? Who knows, but ultimately, no matter the circumstance of Competitors Season 0, it is a tournament held by Blizzard, there is $50,000 on the line, and everything should be conducted in the most legitimate way, if only to set a precedent going forward into Season 1 and OWL.

Well, there’s actually a good explanation to this, so enough conjuring hypothetical reasons to all this. Reddit user Noukky posted this in the thread of the article I’ll link here.

“The devil is in the detail of the rule which states “None of the Team members may be associated with more than one Team in this Tournament”

The keyword in this rule is “IN” which indicates that you cannot be in two teams that are actively playing in the tournament. For teams that are out of the tournament and/or disbanded or as a free agent that played with a mix in the qualifiers you can still trade or loan players.

With the huge team instability in the scene it would be impossible to not allow teams to get substitutes from other teams that are already out of the tournament (which were about 500+ team per region so about 3000 players)

In the case of Cyclowns it was a forfeit/disband from their site. They actively forfeit all of their machts for week 2 of groups and left the tournament. TO and Jaru is pretty self explainatory due to the fact stated above.”

Noukky is right, and while I don’t think this is a really big deal at this point in Competitors Season 0, I don’t agree with the rule either way. I think the rule should be amended going into Competitors Season 1. I don’t agree with Mihri’s analogy to LoL, and I think it is ridiculous to consider this a viable way to operate a tournament at any level of competition.

Mirhi brings up a lot of good points, but his article takes a hard turn toward criticizing how Blizzard is handling the launch of the OWL. I feel that there is a lot I have to be critical on when responding to this article, so let’s get started.

A lot of the pro players have been critical of the current status of Competitive OW. Mirhi quotes Taimou’s twitter, team EnvyUS’s DPS player, who famously stated recently that he’s becoming burnt out playing in South Korea’s Apex tournament for so long. If the pro players are becoming upset with the circumstances of competitive Overwatch, that’s a big problem. I’m fully with Mirhi when he states that the most important part of any competitive league is the players, and it absolutely can’t be ignored when several top players feel like the scene is a “shithole.” This is a big red flag, and definitely must be addressed by Blizzard directly. Hopefully they follow up with Taimou on this to figure out why he thinks it is this way. Without this exact insight, Mirhi goes on to express his own grievances with the competitive OW scene until now.

There has been a complete lack of western LAN tournaments for months now, and I really don’t think this is Blizzard’s fault. I think that the major tournaments, such as IEM, Dreamhack, MLG, and others, have been hesitating on hosting OW tournaments. Maybe this is because there is a lack of backing by blizzard, but I’m not so sure. Over in South Korea, the Apex series of tournaments started by OGN have quickly become insanely successful and Blizzard fully supports their efforts. If this is the case, why haven’t Blizzard supported any western LANs? I’m making a pretty drastic conclusion based on little data here, but I’m inclined to say that it’s more so because of the tournament organizers and not so much on Blizzard, who seem willing to support third party opportunities in this time before the OWL.

Mirhi goes on in his article to outline why he thinks that pro players are being so critical of OW, so far as to give up completely. He states why he thinks the launch of OWL is going poorly, why it will go poorly, and how they should improve. While I agree with some things he says, especially the issue with the competitive integrity of Competitors Season 0, I couldn’t help but disagree with a lot of his arguments in this piece.

Was Overwatch League Announced too Early?

Early on the article Mirhi criticizes both the timeline of the OWL, pointing to issues with players pouring their livelihood into this game only to be disappointed by Blizzard pushing back OWL and the current scene being rough. Before I get into the meat of this, I want to remind everyone that this game is barely a year old, and as well, despite a lack of LAN tournaments, there have been several consistent online tournaments such as Alienware Monthly Melee, Overwatch Weekly, and many one time events such as Overwatch Pit Championship, Carbon Series, and more. Because of this, teams are active, practicing, trying to figure out their team’s dynamic, who fits in and who doesn’t, and much more. Also, there’s enough of a competitive scene to dictate an understood meta that’s utilized by the best teams. Is it really damaging to the scene that this is all happening without OWL? Are these players wasting their lives for a false opportunity? I just can’t see it.

Esports is a gamble. It always has been. So is any profession. There are hundreds of thousands of kids across the world practicing basketball, playing in their high school and club teams in order to make it to the NBA. Yet, only 1% of NCAA college basketball players even get drafted into the NBA. The same can be said for photography, writing, etc; very few reach the highest echelon of their craft. The same thing happens in LoL, DotA, CSGO, and every other game. There are tons of people pouring their lives into this game because it’s their passion, and the vast majority will never make it. That’s reality, and that’s what makes the top level of any competition so great to spectate and be a fan of. It’s takes a certain level of crazy to push someone to the elite of their craft, and most people, frankly, don’t have the endurance it takes to keep up with them.

There are countless interviews with TSM’s owner and previous player, Reginald, stating that at first he started a team just because it was fun and he wanted to win. It was all about passion and competitive drive. Pro players are just very dedicated individuals who can become “professionals” because of backing by game developers and tournament organizers. None of the Team Fortress 2 players poured their livelihood into the game because of an announced league that never came, they did it because they loved playing the game and wanted to be the best, no matter what.

Let’s not forget that LCS began in February of 2013 while the game launched in 2009. Mirhi cites this timeline as a positive for the LCS, however condemns OWL earlier in the article for a “very long wait” being from November of 2016 until 2018, which is realistically barely over a year to a year and a half. He explains this by saying that the LCS was launched months after it was announced, however I just don’t see how the time between the announcement of the league and the start truly impact player’s decisions to devote themselves to being a top player. The LoL pro players were playing without knowledge of the LCS and they kept going, so how does a certain future to look forward to discourage the best players from pressing forward and dedicating themselves? I can’t see a longer timeline being a significant factor here. It’s not like once OWL begins the players are all set. It’s actually the opposite, and they’ll have to practice even harder to stay on form. OWL isn’t the end game, it’s just the beginning.

Why not shape it from the bottom up instead of the top down?

I do agree, starting a collegiate scene would be highly beneficial to OW overall. However, I think It’s reasonable to think that Blizzard is working on setting this up as well, as they did with Heroes of the Storm (HotS) a bit after there was an established player base. It’s not so easy as saying that this should be the first step, though. Sure, college students can form their own teams and their own clubs within their University, but creating a system for collegiate OW is similarly as arduous as OWL. I think that having a collegiate scene as well as an amateur scene is great, and it will come in the future, but I just don’t see the value in having this precede OWL’s announcement in any way. And what about the players that aren’t college students?

Where do you play if you’re a high school kid, or a full time worker looking to turn pro? Blizzard is looking to set up a league, not just let third party tournament organizers control their game. They have a vision and a direction, and they want a league that they design. It’s not like they can start by making an amateur league, either, because without the existence of a “major” league above it, the amateur league is the premiere league – that’s why going straight into OWL is the answer here.

Mirhi points to Riot Games’ LCS for League of Legends (LoL) to be an example of bottom up development, but I disagree.

It’s absolutely important to understand the context of the genesis of the LCS vs. OWL. LoL’s success was accidental, in many senses. A game produced by a small time studio becoming the biggest Esport in the world. It took time, chance, and a lot of other factors, mainly, an extremely dedicated player base. It’s not outlandish to imagine that Riot developed the LCS because they saw the potential of a competitive league and how beneficial it would be for the company to own it. The LCS is an amazing marketing tool for Riot, displaying new skins and new heroes being played by fan’s heroes. As a player of LoL when I first saw Bjergsen’s Syndra, of course I wanted to jump into solo-queue and emulate his play on her. Their main problem was, at the beginning, Riot didn’t have the necessary resources or experience to make a league right off the bat like Blizzard does. In this way, for LoL, the tournament scene in the early days had to sort itself out, not necessarily because it was a better way of doing things.

I don’t see comparing OWL as a top down creating to the LCS as a bottom up creation as a good analogy for these reasons. Blizzard has a lot more information and resources in just about every way to create a league that meets the goals of their vision of what Overwatch should be right from the start.

What Factors Make this a Now Vs. Then Situation, thus Indirectly Comparable?

Overwatch exists in a world where Twitch.tv has grown by massive percentages each year, all the way back since it was Justin TV and it’s peak stream was Theoddone with 2,000 viewers. Esports is a billion dollar industry now, unlike almost a decade ago. So why not come out of the gates and launch a game that you plan on being an Esport? Is a 2016 game launch to a 2018 League launch really so undesirable a timeline that we should fret about it? I think it’s just the converse, actually, and that we should be patient while Blizzard iron out the details. This will ideally allow us to dodge the numerous glaring problems that the LCS has gone through and still faces, which Mirhi has avoided mentioning. Those of us who eagerly anticipate OWL need to remember some of riot’s suspicious missteps having huge implications, legal and personal, such as the Renegades -TDK fiasco just last year, and it’s complete lack of transparency.

It’s also crucial to remember that the twitch viewer numbers we see aren’t the whole story. Overwatch is gaining momentum in China and is already extremely popular in South Korea. The game has a player base of over 20 million now, so why is there so much concern of integrating non-Esports fans into the viewer base? Sure, that would be really cool, but it’s far more likely that Blizzard’s goal is to draw these millions of players that already enjoy their game casually into a community of competitive fandom, which is how the game will thrive going forward.

Lastly, I don’t think that blizzard’s “first foyer into franchising” has been a rough start. It hasn’t really started yet at all, in fact – it’s still in the works. However, remember back to the networking event blizzard held at last years Blizzcon between traditional sport team owners and endemic Esports team owners to meet, as well as other various investors. Interest was high and well received, since these various entities can work together, complementing one another, to be mutually beneficial and create something really amazing in the future. C9’s Jack Ettiene and Immortal’s Noah Winston eluded to their excitement with future endeavors due to the investment of outside sources in their Esports salon episode with Thorin.

All in all, we have to remember that Contenders Season 0 is a test drive. The end product isn’t out to the consumer’s yet because they’re still working out the details, such as air bags in a car, to avoid dangerous recalls later on in the product’s life. There are going to be mistakes, and probably some pretty big ones early on. What we have to do is trust that Blizzard is keeping track and learning from all of their mistakes so that they don’t happen once OWL begins. Blizzard is well known for listening well to what the top players of their games have to say about the game. It’s known that in HotS they ask top ladder players and pros all the time about what they think is broken, needs tweaking, and how they’d fix it. Sure, there aren’t a lot of details known yet, and yes, that does suck for the pros. That’s why a lot of them, such as Seagull, formerly of NRG, are taking a step back to see what happens. That’s okay, and I really doubt the scene is going to suffer for it. In the long term scheme of what OWL is, a few months early on is nothing. It’s likely that a lot of the details aren’t being shared because they’re not set in stone yet. For now we just need to relax on the subject and in due time Blizzard will fill us in. Pointing out failures in competitive rulings like the one initially brought up by Mirhi is what is important for us as a community to voice our opinions against. This way Blizzard will learn how much competitive integrity means to us, and they will learn to deal with things better on their end.

 

For the record: This is an editorial piece. It is my opinion, not fact, based on disagreements I had reflecting on Frank ‘Mirhi’ Field’s piece after I read it. A lot of what he says has merit, and I’m glad he and other journalists are being hard on Blizzard and OWL. I simply believe there is a lot more to this story than what Frank talks about, and wanted to write a longer form criticism.

P.S. – Sorry for the lack of pictures and super vanilla piece, but I wrote this spur of the moment and don’t have time to frill it up, so take it or leave it.

If you enjoyed this article, please look into some of my other content or follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for reading!

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3 thoughts on “Editorial: Response to Frank “Mirhi” Field’s piece, ‘How Blizzard Should Have Approached the Overwatch League and How They Can Save the Scene.’

  1. Stopped reading when you called one of the tournament admins “a reddit user.”

    But seriously, pretty nice article

    Like

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