With the biggest prize pool competitive Overwatch has seen so far and the Top 4 teams from both Europe and North America, the ESL Atlantic Showdown at Gamescom was the perfect opportunity to gauge the present and future of Overwatch esports.
The competition delivered from the very first series, with plenty of upsets, huge plays and encouraging viewership totals. When Rogue hoisted the trophy and claimed the lion's share of the $100,000 prize pool, it was the last moment in a long string of excellent performances.
More than that, though, there were lessons to be learned about where Overwatch is now, and where it could potentially go in the future.
The blend of genres is what excites viewers
From an abstract standpoint, there are clear signs of the inspiration Overwatch draws from various competitive genres, but it's a different matter entirely to experience that combination for yourself.
The action this weekend blended the incredible individual plays of an FPS like Counter-Strike with the Hero-based abilities and team coordination of a MOBA like League of Legends. A competitive lexicon that includes terms like "getting a pick" and teamfighting feels right at home in Overwatch esports alongside staples of FPS terminology like "flick shot." It's the combination of these two genres that creates the frantic, white-knuckle pace of Overwatch, where the decision to use an ultimate can make or break a teamfight.
Speaking with theScore esports at Gamescom, caster Leigh "Deman" Smith described a similar view of the game: an FPS base with a MOBA-style teamfight element. "It's kind of like a mix of Counter-Strike and League of Legends put into one, so it's perfect for me," he said. "For me, from a caster point of view, it's got the extended fights that suit my casting style, like League of Legends was."
The event was a big step forward in casting, analysis and observation. The observation in particular was much improved from previous events, and for once it didn't seem like an accessible and fluid Overwatch viewing experience was a pipe dream.
Of course, in a perfect world, you'd catch everything. We aren't there yet, but with time and experience, we might be.
The hype is real, and the money is too
Though there's no guarantee that the excitement around competitive Overwatch will translate into lasting viewership and a viable esports ecosystem, for the moment the future looks bright.
Held in Cologne, the event's start times were pretty awful for North American audiences, particularly on the East Coast. Still, Twitch viewership peaked at about 75,000 concurrent viewers for this first big LAN. It's a good vote of confidence from viewers, and one that sponsors and investors will be sure to note.
Big organizations have already shown a lot of interest in Overwatch, and the race to snap up the best teams is in full swing. Both Team Dignitas in Europe and compLexity Gaming in North America picked up rosters competing at Gamescom ahead of the event, and other officials there representing teams that haven't yet taken the leap said they were paying close attention. G2 Esports' chief gaming officer Jakub "Lothar" Szygulski told theScore esports that his organization are just waiting for the right team.
REUNITED co-founder Frederik Kragh Christensen told us that sponsor interest has seen a big upswing since the announcement of Atlantic Showdown and ELEAGUE's upcoming Overwatch Open.
"We saw a bigger interest after [ELEAGUE] was announced, but they're not saying that it's because of ELEAGUE," Christensen said. "I think it has had a big influence [...] that's also important for sponsors, saying that you're going to be on national American TV, potentially. That's interesting for a lot of American sponsors."
Europe is the stronger region — for the moment
Pre-event coverage tried to come to grips with how both regions felt about each other, but no one was quite ready for Rogue to silence North America in dramatic fashion with their 3-2 semifinal victory over Team EnVyUs.
Rogue killed more than one NA dream en route to the Grand Finals. They sent Cloud9 to the Group B Loser's match where they were upset by compLexity, then rolled over compLexity to eliminate them in the decider. In the semis, they felled the biggest giant of them all: Team EnVyUs, who despite a 57-match win streak and a 5-game series could not best the EU squad.
While it's true that two teams from each region made it out of the group stage, both of the Top 2 were European. On the opposite side of the bracket, REUNITED took a 3-1 victory over Fnatic before their trip to the Grand Finals with Rogue. EU teams defeated the best that NA had to offer.
Before the event, Rogue's Jonathan "Reinforce" Larsson told theScore esports he felt that "North America is a bit overrated in most people’s eyes." That prediction — as well as his feeling that "nothing is set in stone" — turned out to be true.
North America will undoubtedly work hard to prepare for the Overwatch Open, but Europe holds the crown for now.
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is the guy on your team who will play Sniper Mom, even if it means he's a solo support. You can find him on Twitter.