In 2016, when the ‘Overwatch League (OWL)’ was first introduced at BlizzCon, a lot of video game journalists including myself were skeptical. OWL was hosted by the development company and was based on competition between regional franchise teams. In order to be an owner, you had to pay a lot of money and buy ownership. This structure made it impossible to participate without having huge amounts of capital. A typical eSports league is usually composed of company-sponsored teams, a host, and a development company. With it’s divergence to regional franchise teams, the starting point of the OWL was totally different.
Despite the controversy, OWL managed to pull off their own system. The number of participants was fewer than expected, with 12 regional teams. But, it was still enough to manage a full league. The live streaming platform ‘Twitch’ also spent 90 million dollars for a 2 year exclusive broadcasting contract. Blizzard made an environment quite similar to those of ‘traditional sports’. At the same time, without just hosting OWL in a specific country or continent, they made regional franchise teams all across the world to help globalize the competition.
Now the results are about to show. The value of OWL will be decided by how well the first season ends and this will eventually determine whether the league can satisfy the public’s demands. OWL was developed from enormous amounts of capital and despite the worries, it is still on track as Blizzard planned. However, the public’s evaluation is still in process. This is the main reason why I brought up this subject.
The importance of the word, ‘Professional’.
The team Boston Uprising’s former player ‘Jonathan "DreamKazper" Sanchez' received an indefinite suspension from OWL due to sexual misconduct with a 14 year old child. He sent an inappropriate message to a young fan using his SNS account. The case involving DreamKazper was a big incident, though it wasn’t as surprising for old eSports fans. Since the advent of eSports, the scene has suffered from various issues. Player misconduct is not a new thing; however, the cycle of players getting involved in incidents and getting suspended is not exemplary of a ‘healthy’ league.
With the right amount of money and the support of a game development company, one can launch a league. However, in order to make a league strive, you need an audience and players; in truth, those two are the real driving forces behind any league. Blizzard wanted to make regional audiences and fans involved in more lively activities. This is why they tried so hard to build regional franchise teams. OWL doesn’t have enough audience yet; they need a box-office hit in order to gain a bigger fan base. However, the engine of the league, the players themselves, seem to lack professionalism.
It seems that the people can often forget the importance of the word ‘professional’. Even though players in the eSports scene are mostly young gamers, they are still part of a professional environment. The players are public figures whose actions and words carry influence and consequence. Whether they actually acknowledge their professional responsibility or not, their behavior and words are still shown to the public. Therefore, they must be aware of how they act. If a player does not like the idea of governing their behavior, that player can simply choose to give up living as a professional. Freedom comes with responsibility; freedom without self-control can lead to anarchy.
Of course, the blame is not just on the players. Due to the actions of a group of both players and officials who were involved in corruption and crimes, I have witnessed the total collapse of an entire gaming scene. It might seem unfair, but the host does hold some responsibility for not preventing this from happening.
A few years ago, the Korea e-Sports Association(Kespa) started to regularly gather eSports players for character education. Although it is not clear whether this resulted in any significant change in the players’ behavior, Kespa was somewhat exempt from blame due to their efforts. Now if someone is involved in an incident, the responsibility lies on the players themselves. However, Blizzard hasn’t officially released any precautionary measures for the players’ unprofessional actions. There are no real preventive measures, only punishments once an incident occurs. This ‘punishment’ is often arbitrary, with teams themselves applying additional disciplinary action to the player.
The league should be flawless.
DreamKazper was accused of sexual harassment. Profit flipped-off the camera. Undead was released because of his female relationships. xQc’s contract was terminated due to slander against sexual minorities and racism. Sado ran an account theft brokerage website. OGE was an account thief himself. These all occurred in the span of 3 months. There are so many other incidents that have yet to be covered if you go back to APEX. A total of 6 teams in the OWL were involved. Which is half of the teams in the league.
We all know that OWL has just been established and is still in its first season. This is a good excuse for the optimists. However, these issues would be better solved quickly. Although performance is the key factor to being a pro, one cannot maintain a career as a pro gamer with talent alone. By looking at the current state of OWL, Blizzard’s blueprint seems to be focusing on Overwatch becoming a global sport such as baseball, soccer, or basketball. But they’ve overlooked some small details.
Every player cannot be perfect, but the league itself should be; if the league had no flaws in structure and regulation, it would build up the brand power of the OWL and show players that it’s no place to fool around. Furthermore, it is an approach that can shape eSports ideals into a real form. Fans do understand that the players’ often haven’t experienced a professional career, which sometimes leads to amatuer behavior. However, the audience’s sympathy towards the players and respect for the OWL is not granted.
At the very least, players who participate in the OWL should realize that they are professionals. The title of professional is not an indulgent one; it come with responsibilities, and is a label that players have to live up to. Blizzard also has to put in a lot of effort. If these flaws grow without any solutions, the OWL might turn into a league that is quite different from its original concept.