Is The Overwatch Competitive Scene Dying?

Is Overwatch dying? It’s a common question, fans and commentators love to speculate about the untimely demise of such a big competitive game. Things change year to year, but Overwatch particularly often gets accusations that it is dead or slowing down. Even with active teams, people speculate that the Overwatch League is dead, or that Valorant will kill Overwatch. However, with a sequel on the horizons and a huge player base still active it may be premature to declare the game dead.

is overwatch dying

©Blizzard Entertainment

Speculation that the Overwatch League is dead is often more grounded in reality. The league itself might not die, but the increased regulations placed on it and the interest of fans might be taking its toll. League and Contenders tournament are still in pretty good health. There are a lot of teams and players that still draw huge crowds. While there have been missteps, like hero pools becoming quite muddled and the unpopular role queue, it is overstating things to say entirely that Overwatch is dying.

Therefore, is this just another example of the internet getting worked up over nothing or is Overwatch dying for real? We’re going to help you understand what people are really referring to when they ask is Overwatch dying, and we’ll even see if the first-person shooter is actually already dead.


What do people mean when they ask ‘is Overwatch dying’?

The question of is Overwatch dying is a little tricky to answer without deciding what the lifespan of a game like this actually is. Most games have their active online communities die off a few years after release. Some titles last considerably longer despite replaced, like Smash Bros Melee, and others are dead on arrival. This mainly only applies to the standard model for a game though; it releases, people play it, it gets sold pre-owned on the cheap for a while, then it gets forgotten, eventually nostalgia kicks in and it is remade or becomes a retro thing. In recent years though, it has become clear that this model doesn’t apply to every game.

Speedrunning and competitive communities can keep the most niche title alive long after it has stopped being supported by the developers. Competitive communities, in particular, will typically stick to one version of a game forever, expecting updates and balancing changes rather than sequels and replacements. As Esports have increased in popularity, more games are being sold as a ‘service’. This means the game will be active for considerably longer than normal, with regular updates and patches to keep it alive.

Overwatch falls into that second category. This is a game that despite having been around for much longer than a game normally would, is still getting regular updates. However, regular updates haven’t stopped people speculating. A quick look at Google Trends shows that this question of is Overwatch dying has been asked roughly as frequently in 2016 as it is today.

Most games don’t achieve the kind of longevity that allows them to stay relevant long past their prime. Overwatch already has to a degree. On top of this, with a sequel coming out soon the lifespan of one title is no longer the lifespan of Overwatch. However, despite this promising looking future, Overwatch news is frequently full of players and streamers abandoning the game. Overwatch League news even has to address the players jumping ship to Valorant. So what does all this mean? It is helpful to look at the past occasions where Overwatch was proclaimed to be dead.


Is Overwatch already dead?

In a word; no.

You’ll have probably seen lots of memes that claim that Overwatch is a dead game. This is actually far from the truth, as a game can only be considered ‘dead’ if it’s not being supported by the developers.

Overwatch is still receiving regular updates, balancing changes, and events to keep the interest of players. Developers are working on a sequel which will keep the majority of the multiplayer game exactly the same. All of this makes it pretty clear that no, Overwatch isn’t dying. Overwatch League also remains very popular. It sells out stadiums and brings in massive amounts of viewers. So, Overwatch League dying probably isn’t going to happen any time soon.

This might make you wonder why you’re constantly seeing content creator’s rage about how Overwatch is dying or dead. It is a popular topic, but the majority of this is just down to inflating minor problems with Overwatch into the death of the entire game.

is overwatch league dead

© Robert Paul | Blizzard Entertainment

2017 saw Overwatch esports dying for the first time

In 2017, three fairly large Overwatch teams have decided to drop their competitive rosters. This follows the consistent theme of organizations hesitating to invest in Blizzard’s popular shooter game, many of which did previously invest, wish to pull out.

Throughout 2017, orgs have been dropping out slowly, and fairly subtly. However the short burst of three teams pulling out in only two weeks is something of grave concern. It likely signals there may soon be a boycott of the competitive Overwatch scene until Blizzard addresses their issues, which multiple teams have brought up over the past couple of months in their departure statements.

Teams and the organisations sponsoring them have been long complaining that Blizzard has failed to pay enough attention to their competitive scenes, especially Overwatch.

They have stated that there is not enough funding, proper structure and an overall lack of interest and focus on Blizzard’s part. These setbacks have been addressed by Blizzard since, and their concerns dealt with. The league has moved past these concerns and most are now happy with blizzard’s level of support.

Teams leaving Overwatch in 2017

Earliest of the three teams, Ninjas in Pyjamas announced late June 2017 that they would be renouncing their support of the Overwatch scene. The organization mentioned that while the roster they had signed initially had very good potential, NiP stated that ‘the scene has failed to evolve’ to be sustainable for investors, which they reiterated concerned a number of teams, not only theirs.

This not only puts blame on Blizzard for their decision to discontinue investment, but is also somewhat passive aggressive due to the mention of potentially having more teams abandon the scene.

NiP: ”Today we announce that we will be joining the growing list of organizations placing Overwatch as one of the titles to observe but not to be involved in, given the uncertainties of the scene.”

Around the same time, Evil Geniuses also announced that they would be parting ways with their Overwatch roster. While they had publicly stated that the parting was due to the org and roster wanting to go their separate ways mutually agreed upon; you have to think, was this really the reason?

EG: “As a team, Evil Geniuses would like to stress that this is not the end of our interest in competitive Overwatch, and we will be looking on to how the scene continues to develop.”

Team LCDC was the latest team to abandon the scene in 2017. While they did mention their poor result at the Overwatch Contenders as being a factor for dropping the roster, LCDC directly blamed Blizzard for their decision in departing the scene. They mention that Blizzard’s previous management of the scene is extremely poor and has done worse for the scene than good, an extremely harsh statement on LCDC’s part.

LCDC: “Moreover, our results during the Overwatch Contenders and the strategic choice of Blizzard Entertainment, which don’t help clubs like ours to continue to invest in this game, make us decide to stop the story.”


Was Overwatch League dying in 2019?

Upon its release, Overwatch became the fastest-selling game to reach the 20 million players mark in Blizzard’s history. Obviously, these figures have plateaued in the past couple of years, but there were still 40 million active players as of May 2018. It is worth considering how much stock you can actually put in declining numbers though. Blizzard is known for running ‘free-to-play trials’, then counting all of those new unplayed and temporary players as active players in their community. This practice makes Overwatch look busier, but it also artificially inflates player numbers which can then give the impression that they’re declining.

In 2019, the Overwatch League sold out the Barclays Centre for matches. This weirdly makes Overwatch a bigger draw to these massive arenas than traditional sports. It is hard to argue that these crowds showed up to watch a dead game. Overwatch dying wasn’t the reason for this huge league attendance.

The game has earned Blizzard Entertainment in excess of $1 billion and it is still one of the biggest-selling titles for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. In 2019 the Overwatch League continued to reflect this, with interest picking back up and the entire tournament becoming elevated to a higher level.

By 2019, it was clear was Overwatch was out of its initial release window. Fewer players discovering were the game for the first time and getting hooked. This is natural, since the game had been out for quite a while already. 2019 was also tainted by Blizzard’s scandals involving Hong Kong as the Overwatch League. These don’t need covering again, but they did lead to a backlash. Overwatch bounced back from this, but this big scandal led to the rushed announcement of a sequel.


Overwatch 2 – Is Overwatch Dying in 2020?

Overwatch 2 is due to be released soon enough (Blizzard is yet to announce an official release date). The game will bring new content to Overwatch, including a much more fleshed out PVE mode. However, Blizzard plans to make the game’s multiplayer backwards compatible. Players will still be able to play that Core Overwatch gameplay without missing out on anything.

This is a weird move for a sequel. In essence, Overwatch 2 will be glorified story mode DLC. This is hardly a sign that Overwatch is dying. Instead, it shows Blizzard might be wanting to refresh the title a little bit or give it a boost in exposure.

Another factor behind the sequel’s release is the introduction of a new generation of consoles. Other Esports game can be ported to new consoles without much fuss. Overwatch though has always been sold as a full-price retail game. Essentially, it is a game as a service being sold as a traditional short life span title If players on the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox wanted to play Overwatch, they would have to buy the game for a second time. Presumably, it would have to be sold at full price again too.

This would make straight ports of the original game unappealing to players. Who wants to buy a nearly 5-year-old game you already own at full price? While not the entire motivation behind a sequel, this is a decent explanation for why an Overwatch 2 is coming at the time that it is. Activision-Blizzard are also pushing out a half-hearted call of Duty instalment for the new consoles rather than porting Warzone and Modern Warfare, which will clearly outlive the ‘spin-off’ style title. It allows blizzard to sell Overwatch on the next-gen without having to deal with doubling down on consumers, and gives it a new burst of popularity to bring in any players that skipped the game the first time around.

With a sequel on the horizon, it doesn’t look like Overwatch is dying in 2020.


Some theories that attempt to explain why Overwatch is dying

The most common thing that people point to when they suggest that Overwatch is dying is the fact that Blizzard Entertainment laid off 800 staff at the start of 2019. It was rumored that this was a result of games like Overwatch, Hearthstone and World of Warcraft having stagnating player bases.

blizzard lays off 800 staff memebers

© Blizzard Entertainement

While fans of a game might leap to conclusions from reports from this, they’re not out of the ordinary. The conditions of staff at AAA developers have been exposed as kind of terrible a lot of times in the past. It is routine in the industry for massive amounts of staff to be brought on board, used for one stage of one project, then immediately fired. It is hard to say why Blizzard laid off staff, but it definitely wasn’t due to Overwatch losing some players for a few months. 800 staff is too many to have just been dealing with server maintenance for larger player bases. Instead, layoffs are a natural part of a big developer scaling up or down to deal with how many games they’re working on at any one time.


Is Valorant Killing off Overwatch?

If you’re wondering if Overwatch is dead in 2020, then you’ve likely seen all of the fuss over Valorant. When this game exploded over twitch, a lot of content creators and players suggested they were going to be switching from Overwatch to Valorant. However, there are a few reasons to be sceptical. The game itself like play like Overwatch, but it has influences from other games too and unique gunplay. It feels like a cross between CS:GO and Overwatch. While it is popular, it is very early in development. Esports is currently so big that players can even bet on their own performance on sites like Unikrn UMode, so the business can probably support both Overwatch and Valorant.

Valorant is going to be successful, but it isn’t going to cancel out Overwatch. Some players might jump ship, and we might see the Overwatch power rankings change, however not all will. Overwatch League routinely fills the biggest stadiums in the world and attracts a lot of people to Overwatch betting. When Valorant can bring in those crowds and interest, then it is worth worrying about it replacing Overwatch.

Above all, it looks like the whole ‘is Overwatch dying’ debate has come around due to the fact that a few very vocal gamers have decided to voice their opinions. In the echo chambers of Reddit and the Blizzard forum, this might add up to a lot of noise. But for the majority in the real-world, it seems that most of us enjoy playing Overwatch just the way it is.


Key things Blizzard needs to do to stop Overwatch esports dying

Even if Overwatch isn’t dying, there are certainly a few things that Blizzard could do to ensure that they retain their player base and continue to attract new gamers. Obviously, the release of Overwatch 2.0 with new maps, new heroes and even seasonal events will be nice, and fans are looking forward to the official release date.

Many Overwatch fans have stated that Blizzard would benefit from more community involvement in the game’s development. Although the likes of lead developer Jeff Kaplan did a great job in keep us all updating during the Overwatch Beta testing, these updates became scarcer and the resultant isolation that fans felt quickly turned to that ‘toxicity’ that everyone complains about.

The habit of releasing newer versions of Overwatch initially seemed like a cool thing. But constantly having to wait hours to download and install the next patch quickly got boring, and the whole thing quickly felt like another money-making project.

Hopefully, Blizzard can just fix the problematic things and not go down the ill-fated route of a solo story mission or – heaven forbid – a mobile version of Overwatch. Experiments such as the Overwatch PTR quickly proved to be a waste of time, and the feature had a negative effect on the release of each new update.

Other things that could be improved include providing players with more in the way of statistics. Although it’s pretty easy to keep track of the movements of the opposite team, it would be great to have more information about the amount of healing received, and the same goes for DPS and tanking.

Overall, Blizzard Entertainment did a great job with Overwatch, and it’s easy to see why it smashed sales figures upon its release. But the fact that people have been asking if Overwatch is dying pretty much as soon as the game came out does pose big questions about the future of this first-person shooter.