The State of Overwatch in ZA

Nadia 'Gutterlily' Oosthuizen

OVERWATCH, Blizzard’s first team-based FPS and first new title in almost two decades, debuted to much fanfare in 2016, ultimately becoming one of the biggest game releases that year. It was clear from the get-go that the publisher had high hopes for the game as an esports title, with the inaugural Overwatch World Cup being launched at Blizzcon a mere six months after the game’s initial release. The subsequent launch of the immensely successful Overwatch League (OWL) and accompanying Overwatch Contenders – where teams from across the world compete for a place in the League – quickly followed in 2017 to record breaking viewership numbers.


South African players have unfortunately been unable to secure us a spot in the Overwatch World Cup since ending at the bottom of their pool in the 2016 qualifiers of the international competition, perhaps because our inevitably smaller player base – especially  when compared to the European nations it is pitted against – have resulted in a considerable lack of players cracking the esteemed top 500 of the servers we are required to play on in order to qualify. Yet, two years down the line, and despite the lack of international accolades, the local Overwatch community does seem to still be growing and improving, with numerous players managing to reach the higher tiers of ranked competitive play.


Despite the commercial success of competitive Overwatch and extensive local interest, it would appear as if the South African esports fraternity have been slow in embracing the action-packed game.


Orena was the first to bravely venture into a world that could use more heroes, but its first R30 000  Overwatch Championship Ladder in 2016 saw just a handful of teams seeing it through to the finals, which one can assume, is why that competition remains the organisation’s last foray into the game to date. Luckily for the still burgeoning local Overwatch community, VS Gaming took the initiative in 2017 to include the game in its 9th annual Digital Gaming Championships, which culminated in an action-packed final at rAge where Energy Esports E.D.E.N took top honours. 2018 has seen VS Gaming being, once again, the sole platform to pick up the game for its collection of tournaments this year.


A total of 32 teams entered this 2018 ladder, and although a number of newer and less experienced teams have fallen out of the competition or, in some instances, merged since its commencement, 22 teams currently remain to battle it out for placements in the first and premier divisions in the second leg of the league.


It has been promising to see that almost every single one of the 2017 Digital Gaming Championships’ seeded teams have survived in some form, albeit with some rehomed players and teams, which has resulted in stiff competition in the premier and first divisions of the tournament. In fact, DDC Dominion, Energy Esports E.D.E.N, the erstwhile Damage Control Overwatch and PewPew Boostios (now Goliath Gaming Overwatch and White Rabbit Gaming Boostios, respectively), PLT.Pulse Gaming and NovaexRez all still feature among arguably the top teams this year, with the exciting addition of BerZerk Gaming’s 2CP.


Although a handful of homegrown MGO’s were quick to dip their figurative toes in the game soon after its release, it is still early days for competitive Overwatch in South Africa. It is accordingly difficult to predict whether Overwatch will be successful as a local esports title in the long run, but one need only tune into a match stream to note that the level of commitment and skill displayed by the players, especially in the premier league, bodes well for the future. It is, debatably, not a very difficult game to get into at the most basic level, from the perspective of both the casual player or spectator, and having the title feature among the Digital Gaming Championships’ finals to be held at Comic Con South Africa later this year, alongside established esports titles such as CS:GO and Dota 2, should also spark additional outside interest therein.


One can only hope that the above, along with the resourceful and substantial player base who actively promote the competitive side of the game at a grassroots level, will result in more opportunities arising for these teams going forward. The community is still growing considerably and looks to have mobilized itself to take full advantage of VS Gaming’s early investment in the game, successfully setting up various forums on social media where players, from the filthiest casual to the Grandmaster, can find teams, coaches, pickup games and scrims, or even learn the basics about streaming and casting matches.


The players are preparing themselves for something big, they just need the stage.