The 2017 World Cup at Blizzcon saw the launch of Overwatch's new spectator mode. The long-awaited update to tournament observing brought in home and away team skins, an overhead map, and a live replay system.
Those features and other features added since have been constantly refined since the opening day of the Overwatch League. It has been the task of the robust Overwatch League spectating team to use each feature effectively to create the most compelling broadcast possible.
The positions the observers have is not an enviable one. Constantly under scrutiny by the 100,000+ fans watching every match, the opening season has not been an easy ride for the observers' room. Constantly working to improve their spectating tactics and please fans, the broadcast style of Overwatch League matches has evolved over the course of the season.
The observing team answered some of over.gg's questions about the tough job of Overwatch League spectating as a group. The interview and those who participated in it are as follows:
- Jason Baker – Lead Observer
- Daniel Tompos - Observer (Free Cam)
- Craig Whitfield – Observer (Free Cam)
- Maikol Brito – Observer (First Person)
- Dylan Rode – Observer (First Person)
- Nate Shanks – Observer (Replay)
- Joseph Carothers – Observer (Replay)
How has OWL observing changed from the start of the season to now?
When Stage 1 started, even though most of us had worked together a few times by that point, we were still getting our communication line and terminology together. We feel a lot more comfortable now, knowing what everyone else on the team is doing, what their responsibilities are, and how to best communicate with one another.
What's the mood like in the observing room when you get a really good play on camera? What about when you miss a play? Do people get excited and emotional in the room?
Much like viewers, we can't help but erupt into oohs and aahs when players hit crazy shots, take unexpected paths, or sneak in a back-cap, and we have to remind ourselves to focus and make sure we don't get caught up watching the game.
Conversely, we immediately know when we've made a mistake or a bad call. Long strings of expletives are said, but we can't afford to brood on them for too long; the next fight is already coming up. If we feel like we're making incorrect choices on a fundamental level, however, we usually discuss those events during breaks or non-show day meetings to see how we can keep it from happening again.
What is the most difficult part about observing?
Each of our positions would consider different parts hard. First-person cameras have to be constantly aware of what ultimate abilities are coming up and the likely order they will be used in, free cams have to swing positions around in what can sometimes feel like a fruitless attempt to keep players fighting at high speeds in the same smooth cam movement. Replays have to worry quite a lot about when they have time to run instant replays and what the best point of view to replay is, and our director has to listen to all the call-outs we’re giving him about what we have on our screens and decide what’s the best way to show any given event in an extremely short amount of time.
What was the team's proudest observing moment this season?
We're not too sure if there's one single moment that we can come up with as the best, but we're usually pretty proud of being able to catch high-impact flanking plays at just the right time. Any time we can show a support shutting down ultimates is great. We had a crazy fight between the Outlaws and Uprising where 10 ults were used in the final fight, and we think we managed to capture that pretty well considering how much was going on at once.
Can you think of a moment during a broadcast in which you wish you did something differently?
When looking in hindsight, there are sometimes events that we think we could've shown from another player’s perspective or free cam better, but that's a byproduct of a game that goes at the speed that Overwatch is at, with players who make incredible plays all at the same time. Specifically, there are a couple of D.Va bombs we wish we could have back—one by Poko on the third point on Eichenwalde early in the season, and one by WooHyaL on Gibraltar in the middle of Stage 2.
Thankfully, we do have a fantastic set of replay tools and replay operators to save our bacon if we do happen to miss something crucial—their value to the show is immeasurable.
Does the observing team communicate with Blizzard to help give ideas on improving the spectator mode?
We're in contact with the dev team quite a lot. They provide us with feedback about what they're seeing that we could do better, and in turn, we provide them with feedback about bugs and feature requests that we'd like.
It's been an absolute pleasure working alongside them, and they've been very receptive to our feedback. To give an example, before the season began, we were testing out some new features and had wondered if we could get something added to a hotkey; within 10 minutes, there was a new build for us to test with that request fulfilled. Obviously not everything can get fixed at that speed, but both they and we want the same thing: to make the show the best it can possibly be.
What is your biggest wishlist item for spectator mode?
Most of the wishlist items we have are small, nuanced things that most people wouldn't even notice, but would make things look better/make our jobs easier. We don’t want to spoil any surprises, but there are numerous additions in the works.
How will OWL broadcasts change in the future (if at all)?
We don't really know how broadcasts will change at this point. There are always new ideas that arise spur of the moment, and who knows what kind of innovative tool the dev team will come up with that they think could help us! We will always have new metas to adapt to, and new maps and heroes to learn how to best show off. We’re always constantly iterating and improving, while taking into consideration the feedback from both industry experts and the Overwatch community.
This interview was conducted over email in which the observers answered as a team.