As someone whose never really felt invested in the culture around traditional sports, I’ve often taken the cynical position that eSports have the right to be just as dumb as regular ones. This weekend’s Overwatch World Cup qualifiers made me rethink my position. At least, a little.
Losing myself in the crowds that descended on Sydney’s Star Casino helped me see that eSports might sometimes be just as bold and ridiculous as regular sports.
However, it also helped me see that they can also be every bit as contagiously-exciting.
Over the course of the weekend, the Australian, Portuguese, Swedish, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese and Japanese teams went up against one underneath the pearled chandeliers of the Star Casino’s Marquee.
Over 2000 attended the event in person and over 250,000 are said to have tuned in online via Twitch. The Overwatch World Cup playoffs even made their way onto terrestrial airwaves with Channel Seven airing Sunday morning’s showdown between Australia and Sweden.
However, this hometown advantage quickly ticked into a hometown triumph for the Australian team. After taking out both the Italian and Portuguese teams, Australia managed a respectable 1-3 result against the formidable Sweeds.
They went on to take the Japanese team all the way to a sudden death tiebreaker match and end the weekend on a high note. The Australian team’s journey continue in November, where they’ll join seven other teams to compete for the global title.
Although this is hardly the first time Australia has sent a team overseas to compete, our guaranteed placement in the final eight still ranks as a significant step for the local eSports scene. It was an achievement worthy of recognition – and it received exactly that from the weekend’s roaring crowds.
While Blizzard’s team-based FPS is certainly not the first eSport to try and garner a mass appeal (or at least, something resembling it), there’s something positively “Olympian” to the culture surrounding the Overwatch World Cup.
There was an aspirational vibe to the whole affair that rung true. Everywhere you looked, the spectacle carried with it an appealing internationalist sense of tone that goes well beyond the game’s colourful globalist trappings.
Despite facing off against the Australian team, almost every one of the foreign teams playing over the weekend quickly earned the appreciation of the crowd, with Japan emerging a favorite.
Each team represented the best their country had to offer – and the best deserve to be cheered.
Like the world’s biggest sporting event, the Overwatch World Cup qualifiers featured cheering crowds, talkative commentators and feats of agility, coordination and accuracy. The fact that all these disciplines are being tried at once, rather than at once, only elevated the excitement and fervour of it all.
Sure, there are a few differences. There are more cosplayers, for one. Then there’s the the fact that this trial is happening in a digital arena, rather than a physical space. Of course, in the face of the unrestrained passion around the event, that detail almost seems entirely beside the point.
As someone who plays Overwatch on a regular basis, the level of play here can be described as nothing short of blisteringly fast. However, the running commentary both before, during and after each match helped keep it clear to newcomers that there was always a method to the madness.
Even if someone might not always be able to immedietely-grasp the depths of the game’s meta, it feels like they would have always had a good sense of who was winning.
When your team is a flag, it’s easy to stand behind it and cheer.