This week, Nate Nanzer, the Overwatch League commissioner, magnanimously accepted invitations to appear on both the High Noon Podcast and The OverView. His presence provided a rare opportunity for the competitive Overwatch community to have their questions and concerns addressed by a representative of the League himself.
Each podcast sourced questions from social media and touched on a variety of League topics, including mid-season signings, player discipline, and the disappearance of pro pugs, to name a few. Nanzer approached each question carefully and was as transparent regarding League operations as he deemed appropriate. His responses to topics remained consistent across both podcasts. On The OverView, the first set of questions dealt with the League’s viewership and streaming platform.
“The way most people judge success in esports today – because it’s the one number they have access to – is viewership,” said Nanzer. “We expect to grow the audience over time. What we will be happy with is if we look back at the end of season one and see … that we built a fanbase that grew with us over the course of the season.”
The commissioner refused to give specifics regarding the League’s pre-season viewership, reiterating that the Overwatch team was pleased with the results considering that “there was no marketing around pre-season.”
No new information was provided regarding which streaming platform the League will be broadcast on. Blizzard’s choice to stream pre-season on MLG.tv was controversial, and some see the company’s unwillingness to disclose the League’s streaming platform and viewership numbers as worrisome. French, Korean, and Mandarin broadcasts will be available in addition to English, with more languages to come.
Nanzer also teased an upcoming promotional campaign. Blizzard did an excellent job marketing Overwatch itself prior to release, but the company has yet to promote Overwatch esports in a similar fashion. The scale and impact of their promotional campaign – both for opening week and the inaugural season as a whole – will be particularly telling for the League.
Throughout both interviews, the commissioner emphasized Blizzard’s focus on the League’s long-term development. In five years, Blizzard aims to have expanded the League into enough cities that viewing a match in-person is relatively easy. When asked about changes to the spectator client’s overwhelming color schemes or the option to view multiple players’ perspectives, Nanzer said only that improvements to the interface have been and will continue to be made.
“These tools are still very, very new and we are still learning how to maximize them, and that will get better over the course of the year,” said Nanzer.
A new spectator client, featuring team skins and colors, was unveiled at the 2017 World Cup finals.
Similarly, a player draft (as is seen in traditional sports and was depicted in the BlizzCon 2016 League announcement video) is still a possibility – but not in the near future. However, roster shuffling and creation will be more organized going forward, with clearly defined signing windows and practices.
Nanzer told the High Noon Podcast that the mid-season transfer window, or signing period, will open at the end of stage one and close at the end of stage two. Any eligible player can be signed to the League, and any current League player will be eligible to trade, whether for money, another player, two players, etc.
“If [management] can always add new players and can always make changes, then it matters less. So, at some point, you have to lock your roster and play with what you signed,” said Nanzer. He went on to clarify that while season one’s signing period is approximately six weeks long, the League will be listening for and reacting to player and management feedback regarding the length of the transfer window.
As for Contenders, Nanzer told The OverView that the sizeable prize pool available in tier two Overwatch will encourage endemic organizations to re-enter the esport.
As many are aware, 2017 saw an exodus of notable organizations from Overwatch, including Fnatic, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Dignitas, and Counter-Logic Gaming. Ideally, the commendable prize pools for Contenders regions, as well as the bonus owners receive for their players who are signed to the League, will convince endemic organizations to re-enter the esport.
“[A quick note] to Contenders players and aspiring Contenders players out there: if somebody tells you that you should sign with their Contenders team because they have a guaranteed spot in Season 2 of the Overwatch League, they are lying to you,” said Nanzer.
He continued: “That’s not the way it works. There’s no guaranteed spots in the League. … Yes, we want to add expansion teams in the future, [but] moving to the Overwatch League should not be a consideration on which Contenders team you’re signing with.”
Nanzer also confirmed that the Academy teams of those in the Overwatch League are subject to the same promotion and relegation policies as any team competing in Contenders. Nine of the 12 current Overwatch League teams have Academy teams competing in Contenders Season 2.
On a related note, the commissioner emphasized Blizzard’s interest in “[incentivizing] good behavior” among Contenders organizations. He stated that those who pay their players on time, adhere to their contracts, promote their matches, etc. are “good for the ecosystem,” and that Blizzard is considering ways to reward such behavior.
Nanzer went on to dismiss the accusations that pro pugs had ceased following the player summit because of League regulations. He stated that the details of the player and team participation agreements are private; that the League made changes to the League’s streaming policy based on player feedback provided at the player summit; and, suggested that pro pugs have ended because of team scrims.
At the Overwatch League player summit, competitors discussed League expectations, operations, and more with League representatives. Photo via OWL.
Finally, regarding player discipline within the League, Nanzer had this to say: “Thank you, Reddit, for bringing everything to our attention, but we check things out too. And when there’s things that happen, we are quick to investigate it, and if we deem that what a player has done deserves some sort of punishment, then we will hand that out.”
League punishments can range from written warnings to fines to suspensions of varying length, said Nanzer, and the punishment will be determined by the magnitude of the offense. Nanzer did not reference specific instances of League punishment that have already occurred, save for the suspension of one of Philadelphia Fusion’s players for boosting, but boosting, toxicity, and throwing were mentioned as punishable offenses.
“We will be transparent with the community, by the way,” said the commissioner. “People can expect that when the League takes action, whether it’s a fine or suspension of the player, that we will let the community know what we did and why we took that action.”
Furthermore, the commissioner encouraged those in the Overwatch League to form a player union, and stated that it was not Blizzard’s job to do so. Should a draft take place in future seasons, a player association will be necessary.
A variety of minor topics were also touched on, such as Blizzard’s desire to expand collegiate competition and their intent to allow teams to control merchandising in the future. You can view Nanzer’s appearance on the High Noon Podcast here, and his appearance on The OverView here.
Overall, Nanzer’s interview was a reminder that the Overwatch League is built to last, and that its success or failure cannot and will not be determined by the inaugural season’s function and performance. The inaugural season of the Overwatch League kicks off January 10, 2018.