If you have heard any of these sentences being yelled out, chances are you have been exposed to Blizzard’s latest major franchise Overwatch.

“Oh Sh*t, they have a Bastion”
“Reinhart’s shield is down”
“Genji behind us! Genji Behind us”.
“No! He picked Hanzo!

For those who are yet under a rock, Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment.  Players are put into two teams of 6. Each player can select one hero from a pool of around 20. These heroes are divided into four classes: Offense, Defense, Tank and Support. As such, each character possesses unique abilities and characteristics.

The heroes of Overwatch (Image credits: Silicon Angle)
The heroes of Overwatch (Image credits: Silicon Angle)

In addition, each hero also has an ultimate ability that charges up during the course of the match either gradually or upon eliminating enemy players. The ultimate ability is used in tandem with the skills of the other team mates in order to capture objectives and secure payloads.

The game was actually unveiled at Blizzcon 2014 and was in a closed beta from late 2015 all the way to early 2016. Upon launch of it in open beta, a staggering 9.7 million players signed up to play the game. It was released in May 2016 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Since then, Blizzard has made it a point to hype the game up as much as possible and their efforts have paid off well. But what makes this game so popular and why are people losing their heads over it? Well, we gathered up a few members from the local Overwatch community and decided to find out.

In the beginning was the Trailer, and it was good!

When the first trailer came, everyone was ecstatic. “OMG! DOTA AND TEAM FORTRESS HAD A BABY!”, exclaimed Kushan Dodanwala. “It was more than a trailer for me. It was the dragon’s movie”, said another gamer Deshan “DemiGOD” Thathsara. Blizzard always had a great reputation having being the creators of many legendary games. But Overwatch was their newest game in decades and it was their first First Person Shooter. Yet, they succeeded in making a great first impression. In fact, for some it was love at first sight. “When I saw the initial trailer, I knew this is a must buy game,” said Hassy “Syndrome” Vinod.

On the other hand, a major issue with new titles is that they do not live up to the hype created at the launch of the game. Kushan adds to this by saying that “I’ve learned to not jump on the hype trains too early, so my first proper look at the game was in the open beta a few weeks before the final release”.

There’s no doubt that Overwatch has indeed taken the world by storm, some would even say it has taken the world by blizzard. For some, Overwatch has replaced most of their daily tasks as well.

However, games like Overwatch generally take their time to sink into a player’s mindset in order for them to play it. You have a pool of 20 heroes, each with their own unique skills and abilities. Picking 6 individual heroes and getting them to work together take a lot of time and practice. Blizzard has cleverly crafted Overwatch in a way to cater to these needs.

What Made Overwatch Special?

But how did it come to take over the lives of gamers? How did a completely new game, replace those that gamers had been playing for years?  When asked, Kushan, a long standing Dota 2 player, explained that “I generally play anything that takes my fancy, from the newest multiplayer craze to long drawn RPGs to the occasional sidescroller. My general time sink though used to be Dota 2. Overwatch has taken up that position. For now.”

However, some have darker reasons as to why they switched to Overwatch. For Syndrome, a hardcore CS 1.6 and CS:GO Player, it was the increase in the number of hackers and the lack of preventive measures by the game developer Valve, to curb said hackers. Hassy, who used to be in one of the top 3 ranks in the game (Legendary Eagle), decided to bid farewell to his oldest and most beloved game and switched to Overwatch full time. “Looking back at it, I realize, I did right thing”.

There are a number of elements that came together to make Overwatch special. For starters, each and every hero has a unique and colorful backstory that plays a part in certain maps as well. For example, picking Reaper, a hooded Assassin wielding two shotguns and playing “Escort the Payload” on the Watchpoint; Gibraltar map will make Reaper say lines related to his backstory seen in the “Recall” animated short.

Similarly, characters such as Genji, a cyborg ninga, Hanzo, a lethal bowman, Soldier 76, a soldier with the ability to lock on to targets, all have their own animated introductory videos with more heroes being added. Each backstory is related to the other and it also carries forward in game, thus spinning an exhilarating map of connections that will leave you asking for more.

The newly released character Sombra had a massive cult following spurned on by Blizzard themselves. I still stop and think about how well Blizzard have thought about this game and it never ceases to amaze me.

Taking Overwatch to the next level

Though barely a year old, Overwatch has gained in popularity what many competitive titles in the Sri Lankan gaming scene have taken 3-4 years to achieve. Take for example, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. A game released in 2007 that is still the FPS of choice for anyone in the local gaming scene. It is seen as somewhat of an initiation process for gamers looking to play competitively. Even so, there’s no denying that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (or simply CoD4), is a dated game by any and all standards. Kushan’s views are simple. “A healthy competitive sport only moves forward by evolving and adopting new elements. It is the same with eSports: everyone needs to keep moving or get left behind.”

With the inclusion of Overwatch as an eSports title, both internationally, and locally, one must dare to ask if old classics such as COD4 and the likes would slowly die out. Hassy is quite optimistic regarding the stand on Overwatch. ”I’m pretty sure that Overwatch will be in every single major e-sports tournament. To be honest COD4 is dead as disco in the international e-sports scene. But in Sri Lanka, it still been played in a massive level. Also with the release of COD4 Remastered version I guess the game will have more sustain in the coming years. Only time will tell us.

Overwatch
COD 4 is still a competitive title at SLCG
Image taken from: https://www.facebook.com/gamerlk/

Others such as Kushan “Zero” Dodanwala doesn’t hesitate to beat around the bush. “COD4 died a long time ago and its corpse is propped up by SLCG. Whenever they are brave enough to let go for the greater good, the entire community will take a huge leap forward with the skill that’s currently stagnating in COD4 being put to better use.

Deshan “DemiGOD” Thathsara is more pacifying. He has seen players leave COD4 only to pursue games such as DOTA 2 and CS:GO, but he is confident that COD4 would stick around for a little longer.

Moving Up The Ranks

In case you didn’t catch it, Overwatch had its first official tournament at the recently concluded SLT eSports Championship 2016. Offering a prize pool of Rs. 120,000/=, the game marked a first where a new title was played competitively.

The winners of Overwatch at the SLT eSports Championship 2016, Team PressQFTW. Dineth “Mercy” Karunaratne, Rushan “XAINNN” Hettiarachchi, Randika “APOCALYPSE” Goonatilleke, Hassy “SYNDROME” Vinod, Nithin “GrumpyKitten” Lalvani and Sacha “BaeBait” Seneviratne. Image taken from https://www.facebook.com
The winners of Overwatch at the SLT eSports Championship 2016, Team PressQFTW.
Image taken from https://www.facebook.com

Just a few years ago, eSports as a whole was stagnating in the country with barely any sponsorships or investments coming in. A team or clan being sponsored by a global brand was something that only happened on the internet. Fast forward to 2016 where the entire prize pool for the SLT eSports Championship was a mind blowing Rs. 2 Million. This, Kushan says is a great achievement not just for the organizers, but for Sri Lankan eSports as a whole.

To make things even better, Overwatch is being added as a title to SLCG (Sri Lanka Cyber Games) 2016. In case you’re lost, SLCG is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest gaming tournaments. Gamers spend months training, to prepare for the intense matches that take place. This year, SLCG 2016 will be happening at BMICH from the 9th to the 11th of December. 

Granted, Overwatch is still a promotional title. So winners of the title at this year’s SLCG won’t be officially ranked. We met up with Raveen from GLK to ask him whether Overwatch has the potential to be ranked. According to him, that decision rests with SLESA (Sri Lanka E-Sports Association). On a personal level, he feels that Overwatch does indeed have the earmarks of being a ranked title. But it will take some time. Why, you ask? Well, you need to answer a number of questions for that.

  1. Is it free?
  2. Can it be run on low end PCs?
  3. Does it have international potential (e.g. DOTA)?

In our opinion, some of these questions while valid are redundant taken in today’s context. Most titles we say at SLCG apart from DOTA 2 and League of Legends require players to pay and have a valid account in order to play online. Furthermore, Overwatch has shown massive international potential. In fact, South Korea emerged victorious at the recently concluded Overwatch World Cup held during Blizzcon. For those not in the know, Blizzcon is a video game convention held by Blizzard Entertainment.

Overwatch
The team from South Korea who won the Overwatch World Cup
Image taken from https://blizzcon.com

Of course, the question about it running on low end PC’s is a valid concern. All gamers should have a chance to practice for a tournament before-hand, irrespective of their PC configuration.

Nonetheless, we respect the views of both the team at GLK and officials at SLESA. They have the responsibility of looking at the big picture, always. So their decision is made solely based on what the masses can play, and whether it’s worth promoting. A living example to the phrase “good things take time”.

There’s No “I” In Team

So what about the players themselves? What roles do they play? What are their favorite heroes? Hassy, who is the captain of Team PressQFTW initially played the gunslinging cowboy McCree, who was a DPS (Damage Per Second Hero). He later switched over to the role of a Tank. Thus he now plays as the Russian hero Zarya. Zarya has the ability to absorb damage from enemies and return it to them and her ultimate ability is a vortex that drags enemy heroes together thus making them easier to eliminate

Others, like Kushan, consider themselves an all-rounder, capable of handling duties in any position if required. He generally plays the aggressive support role for competitive play. “There is no favorite. Oh there is. BASTION! BASTION! BASTION!”, exclaims Deshan who prefers to simply play as his favorite character. Think of a self healing robot that can transform into a sentry armed with a mini gun, that is essentially Bastion.

According to Kushan, players tend to settle into play styles and in extension, characters that suit those playstyles.  Apart from the occasional terrible cyborg ninja Genji who think they are the next Seagul, ShadowBurn or Arhan, a few games with anyone is enough to get some idea of what role works with someone. If needed teammates can also be given individual training in order to improve their skills as well. These skills can range from aim to playstyle to game sense and everything in between. The development of these skills could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

In other words, practice makes perfect. For many of us, a typical game of Overwatch takes a little under 15 minutes depending on the match type. For some of us, one match or two would be enough. But eSports athletes spend at least an hour per day training. Do the math and that’s approximately 4 games per hour. These guys play 4-5 hours each day, every day, “Sometimes even more if there is a tournament coming up”, says Kushan.

However, one obviously needs a team in order to take part in an Overwatch tournament. According to Hassy, he and his team mates spend a lot of their time playing competitive game modes. This matches up the entire team with a team of equal skill level thus allowing them to improve and work on their weak areas. Each match is then critically analyzed with per-player feedback in order to identify any shortcomings that may have occurred. As you can see, these guys take their gaming seriously.

Overwatch
There’s no “I” in “Team”
Image Credits: ReadMe | Malshan

Working as a team is not always smooth sailing. There are bound to be minor issues that arise from within. For Hassy and his team mates, building team chemistry, synchronization and individual understanding has been a challenge. For Kushan, on the other hand, it’s “Getting everyone online at the same time” that proves to be the biggest challenge of all. As a member of that team, I too can vouch for that. In fact, as I type this article, out, I am constantly being messaged to join lobbies and practice sessions.

Time is the single largest factor that is a barrier for a team who wants to play competitively. “Any competitive endeavor requires a lot of time spent honing skills”, says Kushan. As the game is still new, the playing field is somewhat level. As time goes by, there will always be enough players with 3000 hours more game time than you.

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These

What good is a game that you spend hours on if there are no memorable experiences whilst playing it? Well when Deshan first started playing Overwatch, he was determined to unlock the “Smooth As Silk” achievement. To get this achievement, he had to kill an enemy with a scoped headshot while airborne as the sniper Widowmaker in Quick or Competitive Play. Sounds difficult, yes. But with some luck and a well timed shot, he was able to eliminate an enemy assasin, Reaper and unlock the achievement.

Hassy too has a number of impressive memories under his belt. He was the highest ranked player in Sri Lanka after the end of Season 1. From there he became the first golden weapon holder in Sri Lanka as well. That’s not all though. As of Season 2, he was the first player to reach Diamond tier and is thus far the highest ranked player with a SR of 3117. Quite impressive indeed. But all that fails in comparison to getting a sextuple kill as Zarya, which was “amazing”, he adds.

Kushan’s memorable experience deserves a special note. “This has to be a 6 Torbjörn team on Volskaya defense in Season 1 competitive”. Essentially, Torbjörn is a weapons designer who’s ability is to place an upgradable turret. The turret deals a massive amount of damage when locked on to a single target. Now imagine a 6 player team, each one as a Torbjörn with their own turret, all locking onto enemy heroes. Quite memorable indeed.

In a little less than 6 months Overwatch has indeed taken the world by storm. Fantastic gameplay coupled with enormous backing by developers and gamers alike has opened up new opportunities for both gamers and sponsors as well.

As I finish typing this article, My hand automatically hovers over the Overwatch icon and as I double click it I sense a familiar rush of adrenaline through my veins. As I don my headphones and join the voice channel, I hear 5 other familiar voices alongside me.

“Death walks among you.”

“Look at this team! We’re gonna do great”

“We shall prove ourselves in glorious combat!”

“Mi o sutete mo, myōri wa sutezu”

It’s a perfect day for some mayhem”

A perfect day indeed. Conflict is rising across the world again. The call has gone out to heroes old and new. Think you have what it takes?Head on to the official Overwatch site to see for yourself.

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