Image: Blizzard / Wallpaper Abyss

Overwatch League’s preseason is now officially in the books after a four-day event that mimicked the anticipated broadcast schedule of the regular season one month from now. We’ve seen it all over the past four days, including Uber dubbing Mercy/Lucio support parings as “Angels and Airwaves,” Mickie shamelessly hyping Jack in the Box, and Soe informing the Burbank crowd that one of L.A.’s two OWL teams would get to be the Lakers, while the other would have to settle for being the Clippers.  

The OWL preseason (pronounced: test-run) went off without a hitch for the most part and I think league executives will be happy with the product they were ultimately able to put on display this weekend. I’ve been told that they are keeping official viewership numbers close to the vest, which is likely a veiled bargaining chip as OWL looks to secure as many potential broadcast partners as possible in advance of the upcoming season. But if participation and engagement on the Competitive Overwatch subreddit is any indication of viewership, it looks like OWL is right on schedule.

The Production

So, how about that stage? I was completely blown away by the rendering of each upcoming map across all on-stage panels, and I can only imagine how breathtaking it must have been in-person. Although it didn’t come across in the broadcast, it sounds like there were additional display panels above the stage that provided the same team information that we could see on the broadcast interface, including player health bars and ultimate status.

The broadcast talent was without question the best any major Overwatch event has seen thus far. DoA and MonteCristo are known commodities at this point and are must-have centerpieces to all OWL broadcasts going forward. But one of the more pleasant surprises for me personally has been the rise of Uber and Mr. X. Of course, neither is new to the Overwatch casting scene by any stretch, but it’s clear that the frequent reps given to both Uber and Mr. X over the past year at events like Overwatch Contenders and the World Cup have paid off significantly. In the past, it would have been difficult to spell DoA and MonteCristo for any period of time given the stark drop-off in available casting quality. But Uber and Mr. X have proven themselves to be equally capable talents after this OWL preseason and, in my opinion, are just as deserving as the aforementioned duo to be given this opportunity.

As far as the other broadcast talent is concerned, I thought that Soe did a great job both on the desk, as well as, conducting player interviews and working the crowd. Given the wide disparity between different players’ command of English in esports, conducting live interviews is no easy task. Hosts must be prepared for such a wide variety of responses, some of which can be relevant while others veer so far off-prompt that I imagine it to be incredibly difficult to keep the interview from going off the rails at points. I thought Soe was very well-prepared as far as her agenda for asking questions was concerned, but she was also capable of being malleable when the bright lights and stage may have forced her counterpart to go off-topic.

That brings me to the host of Overwatch League’s preseason, Chris Puckett. For someone who allegedly has very limited experience in the role, I can’t believe how comfortable he looks hosting and moderating the broadcast desk. He exudes a perfect balance of professionalism and enthusiasm and constantly gives off the impression that he’s been doing this his whole life.

Going forward, I would like to see OWL improve on the downtime between matches. Traditional sports broadcast teams have the benefit of commercial breaks between segments to regroup and set-up upcoming graphics, segments, etc. But with thoughtful planning, I think that OWL can improve upon its offering between maps 1 and 2 and again between 3 and 4. The current format appears to be centered around tossing it to the desk before the match, after the match, and again between maps 2 and 3.

Given the ease of access to teams with everyone living in the Los Angeles area for the first sesaon, it shouldn’t be too difficult to create pre-recorded content that can be aired in between maps 1 and 2, and once again between maps 3 and 4. In traditional sports, broadcast teams often interview coaches or assistant coaches following time-outs, before halftime, and again at the end of the game. As an alternative to live segments or player interviews, I think the fans would be rewarded if Soe were to call upon the coaches to ask about player substitutions, general strategies, or player performances. Either suggestion would be a welcome alternative to the current airing of match highlights set to the Overwatch score.  

The Spectator Client

On the whole, the improvements made to the spectator client were both noticeable and helpful. The player models are certainly more crisp and the static team displays at the top of the screen are cleaner and more discernable than in the past.

However, one problem that I had with the OWL-specific spectator client was the decision to customize the colors of certain status effects in relation to the team using or being affected by them. Fans of the game already equate the color “purple” with Ana’s anti-heal grenade. In fact, it is quite common for players to announce when an enemy has been hit with an anti-heal grenade by shouting “Reinhardt’s purple!” for example.

So imagine my confusion when watching the Los Angeles Gladiators, whose purple team branding resulted in a distinctly purple hue surrounding any team member who was receiving healing. I found it incredibly frustrating being forced to divert my attention to the spectated players’ health bar in the lower left-hand corner to determine whether the player was gaining or losing HP.

I really like the idea of in-game uniforms for the teams and I do think that it helps viewers to differentiate between the two teams, but that should be enough as far as visual modifications for team identification purposes go. Green auras have always been the universal indicator of healing and purple should continue represent the anti-heal debuff. What happens now when a member of the Gladiators has been anti-naded by an opposing Ana? What color aura is Blizzard applying to that status effect? This level of customization is entirely unnecessary, and I pray Blizzard decides to re-think this adjustment before the start of the regular season.

Team Parity

Anyone following the OWL free agency period is probably aware of the early criticism that befell the Boston Uprising’s roster selections. But after a 3-2 series win over the Shanghai Dragons and many OWL pros openly praising Boston’s performance in scrims, the Uprising have shown that, come the regular season, no wins are going to come without a fight.

The Los Angeles Gladiators garnered similar sentiment with their win over the London Spitfire – a team many consider to be one of the two or three favorites vying for the league title.

Even teams that came away from OWL preseason without a win were impressive. The Houston Outlaws may have lost both of its matches against league favorites Dallas Fuel and Seoul Dynasty 3-2 and 2-1, respectively, but both series came down to a decisive final map.

All in all, OWL executives should be excited about the results from the preseason. Most predictions I have seen to this point have placed the Dynasty, Excelsior, Spitfire, and Fuel in their own tier and fully expect the league champion to come from this group. And while that may still be the case, OWL preseason has taught us that the gap between the league favorites and other teams might not be as sizable as we once thought.

Dave is the Creator and Editor-in-Chief for The Benchmob. He primarily writes about Soccer, the NBA, esports, and Pop-Culture.