Notes on the Overwatch League Finals

Shaktaji here.  Since last we spoke I made LIFE.  Twice. Perhaps you can forgive me for being a bit of an absent contributor.  Hey, what’d you do in the last couple of years?

Back before children, I was at the BlizzCon where they announced Overwatch.  It was my first BlizzCon where I had even a vague idea what was going on (Hearthstone), and I was paying more attention to things than I ever had before.  So, being there at (public) inception, Overwatch has a special place in my heart. Having said that, to this day, I’ve never played Overwatch.  It’s just not my style, and honestly, doesn’t even look that fun.  I do, however, have a vague concept on the gameplay, the characters involved (particularly at inception. . .I’m sure there have been developments since then!), and the aesthetics.  So that’s what I’m here to talk about when it comes to watching the Overwatch League as someone who only vaguely understand what’s going on. If that seems like a useless exercise to you, I posit that there are more of us than you think, and if you like the Overwatch League, or even eSports in general, I’m the demographic you need to convince to come along with you:  the casual but interested observer.

I’m a sports fan.  I like sports for a myriad of reasons:

  1. I’m a competitive prick
  2. There’s something majestic and life-affirming about pure athleticism and raw talent
  3. It’s the last socially-acceptable arena for hate (think about it) — a negative emotion to be sure, but one that I’d rather channel into something meaningless like sports than something ugly and debilitating like hating a coworker or roommate
  4. The way it pulls together a community

I’m a California transplant to Philadelphia.  It’s a difficult transition for a million reasons, but one of them is that Philadelphia is an incredibly divided city.  There’s a great deal of racial tension (I will always contend that the Starbucks incident was 20% Starbucks and 80% Philadelphia) that piggybacks onto and further feeds an incredible pervasive and ugly economic divide (Philadelphia has, particularly for a city so large, a gargantuan wealth disparity across the population).  One thing about Philadelphia is incontrovertible: it’s a sports town. An amazing sports town. People here know their shit, and they go hard and deep for whichever of their beloved teams is currently making a push. I’m half convinced that one of the reasons it’s such a sports town is because of the way sports unifies an otherwise totally disparate population.  That Eagle’s Superbowl Parade was no joke. And while I’m not an Eagle’s fan (see California transplant), I couldn’t help but be floored at the way that event brought together the city that nothing else has since I’ve been here (not even the Pope!).

Having said all that, I don’t know how I feel about eSports.  Correction. I am vaguely dismissive of eSports. I get it. They’re amazing at what they do (I’ve casually played enough video games to know that).  But someone once told me the popularity of Steph Curry as a basketball player isn’t just how amazing his game is (it is), it’s that his diminutive stature makes him seem like a normal human being and gives the illusion that, but for 10 billion hours of practice, you could do that too.  When you look at him, you don’t see god’s genetic gift to the game of basketball (looking at you, Kevin Durant).  No, you see someone who looks like a normal guy, who worked harder than anyone else, and made his game what it is through a little bit of genetic talent and a boatload of hard work and perseverance of will.

My problem with eSports is that the level they play at is so far and away above anything that I can do (or have ever seen), that I can’t even imagine doing it.  It’s the god’s genetic gift problem. And it doesn’t help that the Overwatch League is all male (correct? [Editor’s Note: there was one female player on a roster]), and mostly non-English speaking (right?). It’s difficult to watch something I barely understand being played by folks I don’t really relate to engaging in a skill I certainly can’t imagine ever becoming even proficient at. Add to that, I honestly can’t tell how much is talent and how much is practice.  It all looks unreal. And the final problem, not unassailable, but still there: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!?! (This might be an Overwatch specific problem, but still. . .).

Having laid out ALL of the reasons I’m not that interested in the Overwatch League, I have to confess, I got into the Finals — or at least, the semifinals (can we all agree the Finals were boring?  You know, in the way a favorite beating up on an underdog is always boring? Good.). The only match I watched all year was the semi-finals between the Philadelphia Fusion and New York Excelsior. That was the hook for me.  As I said, I’m not a huge fan of any of the Philadelphia sports teams. But I will always hate New York. The Philadelphia/New York dynamic mirrors the Oakland/San Francisco dynamic just with just a touch more physical distance and much heavier accents.  This, I understand.  And the way I ride-or-die for Oakland translates really well to the scrappier, underdog, less-glamorous city/team sticking-it to the over-priced douchebags over the bridge (I have no idea if the Excelsior players are douchebags, I just hate NY.  And hey, hatred, especially regional hatred, can’t be overlooked as a potential hook for getting anyone to follow your sport!).

I loved watching the Fusion beat the Excelsior. And here’s why: I still have no idea what’s going on (you have to hold territory? Move a payload? — There’s WAY TOO MUCH going on at any given moment to understand. Future broadcasts are going to have to get better at giving you one player’s perspective, and letting you know why it’s important…), but I understood enough to know that Fusion’s talent was in their adaptability.  They seemed much better at adjusting than the Excelsior did AND they seemed like the most diverse (such as it is) team in the League. This I can get behind. Finding strengths in our differences and our ability to adapt is a universal truth. Sell me on that, and I’ll watch way more Overwatch League. Just, you know, also throw in better explanations on what the hell I’m watching. Cool? Thanks.


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