Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League has rapidly become a prominent titan within the esports scene. The heavily funded franchise league is host to the highest level of international Overwatch competition found anywhere in the world. OWL’s highly televised matches have created massive fan followings, turning players and teams into esports celebrities.
Professional players enjoy contracts with the biggest organizations in gaming, their salaries often exceeding $100,000. In addition, they receive the added benefits of luxurious team houses and free travel. Combine these facts with Blizzard’s own “Path to Pro” marketing and professional Overwatch instantly stands out as an alluring, viable career path. However, like with any sport, the road to the top is not for the faint of heart.
Path to Pro
The road to the top begins within Overwatch’s in-game ranked ladder. Winning ranked matches award Skill Rating (SR) as a method of reflecting player skill. The SR ranks range from a low end of bronze and silver towards a high end of Grandmaster and Top500. The latter end of the skill distribution is mainly professional players. As a result, grinding this ranked ladder is an essential part of any Overwatch player’s competitive journey.
During this time players should get accustomed to all the heroes in the game and decide on a specific role they want to play. There are 6 different roles in the game: Main tank, Off tank, Hitscan DPS, Flex DPS, Main Support, and Flex Support. Each role has its own hero pool.
For example, Main tank players are expected to play heroes like Orisa and Reinhardt. Meanwhile, a Hitscan DPS is expected to have an insane Widowmaker and Tracer. It is imperative to thoroughly research these roles and choose the one that best fits a player. Remember that prospective players will commit hundreds of hours to practice the role they play. It is important for players to find a role they find enjoyable.
After choosing a role, the next goal will be to increase their Skill Rating (SR). Breaking through to the next rank requires improving mechanics and game sense to the point of consistently outperforming the players in the competition. As players near the higher end of the SR spectrum, they will have developed a good understanding of the base game and what constitutes a favorable interaction for their role.
Open Division and Tier 3
The real competition begins in the Open division (OD), a league hosted by Blizzard available for any team to sign up for. Hundreds of teams varying in SR sign up every season. The top 32 teams and those around them are considered Tier 3 competition. Almost all T3 players are expected to have a minimum average of 4100-4200 SR and a seasonal peak in the Top 500.
If a player meets these qualifications, then it’s time to join a team. Posting within esports consultant Slasher’s “The O.W.” discord is the primary resource for formal team recruitment. Almost every single competitive player is a member of this discord and it serves as a main hub for the community. Joining requires sending a DM to @Slasher on Twitter for an invite. alternatively, prospective players may also acquire an invite from a current member.
After joining a T3 team, a player will be expected to attend at least 20 hours of practice a week. This is in addition to their individual practice routines. Teams at this level are often fully equipped with coaching staff and managers who will help set up scrimmages and demo reviews. Scrims are essentially practice matches against other teams in order to learn the meta and improve the team’s gameplay.
Demo reviews are gameplay reviews typically conducted by the coaching staff to analyze and rectify teams mistakes. A player’s performance within these scrims and their official matches with their team will allow them to create a reputation for themselves. This is player branding and it is absolutely necessary to get on better and better teams.
Trials and Contenders
Above OD lies Overwatch Contenders, the home of tier 2 competition. The entrance to this scene is an 8 team tournament known as Contenders’ trials. This tournament pits the top 4 OD teams against the bottom 4 Contenders teams. Only the top 4 teams from this tournament will be allowed to enter next season’s Contenders.
At this level teams and players have committed a great deal of their lives to the game. T2 team practice involves a much harsher scrim schedule and more extensive demos and meta-reviews. With players practically living within the game at this point, the community is very tight-knit, making connections and relationships become all the more important.
The upper half of contenders is filled with academy teams. These teams are the goal for every aspiring pro. Academy teams are secondary rosters held by the same organizations that run OWL teams. These rosters are used to cultivate new OWL talent and give players an opportunity to prove themselves as tier 1 material. In addition to the exposure boost, academy players are all paid decent salaries of over $50,000. This allows them to fully commit all their time towards the game.
Academy rosters allow people close to a pro-level to feel more confident in choosing Overwatch as a career path. However, getting to this point is long and arduous. Only a small percentage of the community ever make it this far.
That being said, if a player’s passion for the game is large enough to face these challenges, the competitive grind can be one of the best experiences of their life. An experience unique only to the T1 esports world, that few will ever share.
Written by Jash Rai