The Overwatch League celebrates one of the biggest FPS games in the world by pitting some of the best players against one another. From Philadelphia Fusion to Boston Uprising, these teams include the best of the best players for Blizzard’s game, but on July 26, a statement made by Hangzhou Spark’s main support Park Ho ‘iDK’ Jin sparked a conversation about burnout and how the Overwatch League contributes to it.
The statement from iDK says: “The hardest time has come for me now. The game is too stressful for me. I’m so sorry to have caused inconvenience to my teammates. I’ll try to find my old self as soon as possible. I’m so sorry for the fans who support me. Ggs Chengdu Hunters”. This comment was made after iDK’s team lost 3-0 to Chengdu Hunters in an Overwatch League match.
Off the back of this, Dr Doug Gardner, a professional mental performance coach in esports who has worked with the OWL’s LA Valiant and LCS’s Immortals, responds that “Tweets like this are heartbreaking. Player after player in the Overwatch League succumbs to the mental and physical toll of a 29 week season, where most teams have played roughly 16 games. Months of preseason practice and endless days of scrims while isolating. Gotta be a more humane way.
“It should not be the players who have to apologize for poor performance. A comprehensive and impartial examination of working conditions for the Overwatch League players must be done to improve day-to-day life. Most of these players get paid the minimum salary of $50k, before taxes.”
It should not be the players who have to apologize for poor performance. A comprehensive & impartial examination of working conditions for @overwatchleague players must be done to improve day-to-day life. Most of these players get paid the minimum salary of $50k, before taxes.
— Dr. Doug Gardner (@thinksport) July 26, 2020
This conversation was posted to Reddit which then prompted the head coach of Atlanta Reign Brad ‘Sephy’ Rajani to make a post calling out some of the practices of the Overwatch League. Although players are facing difficulties in lockdown, Rajani says that Overwatch League chasing a normal sports format is wrong. “Trying to copy normal sports like the NFL, is just wrong in so many ways for esports. For example, you could never do a tournament format or even play more than one game a week in football because the body needs time to recover, but in esports players actually prefer it hands down – they hate one game per week, and they love round-robin tournament formats with tons of games, or, at the very least, two games per week of regular season league play. And guess what, that’s what esports fans like more too, as evidenced by the success of the formats used by League of Legends , Dota 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.”
Rajani continues to detail what a regular training week is like for OWL players from scrims to video reviews and critiques which quickly adds up. “So that’s about 30 hours of scheduled practice alone, not counting all the ranked ladder on their own time, to play a single game vs a single opponent, and when you lose, it feels like a gut punch. Now imagine you go through that every week, for like seven months almost continuously, and you start to understand why players are quitting left and right.
“There’s so many amazing ways to design a better system for both players and fans (and viewership) alike, but it has to start with tearing down some of the totally asinine core concepts that the league has been built around.”
The coach goes on to give examples of the problems he identifies within the OWL which includes the infrequency of official games, the new hope in homestands, catering to physical events rather than improving digital events, and OWL attempting to copy NFL-like seasons and elimination brackets in playoffs.
“I feel like I could go on forever here,” he finishes. “As an esports fan, I tune into LoL Worlds and Majors every year even though I don’t play those games because those events have a soul, a life of their own that transcends across gaming borders. I really strongly feel that we haven’t achieved anything like this at all with Overwatch Esports and that it’s low-key the biggest reason for viewership decline, which also has a mental impact on players btw as they start to question if they’ve made the right career choice or not.”
The Overwatch League has been losing players – from pros retiring to go to other scenes, like Jay ‘Sinatraa’ Won leaving to join Sentinel’s Valorant team, to Houston Outlaw’s Alexandre ‘Spree’ Vanhomwgen retiring from his team. The scene is finding it hard to keep a hold of some of its best players at the moment and keep viewers interested in the scene.
Even NRG’s CEO Andy Miller admits that he wouldn’t invest in the Overwatch League in 2020 if he had the choice today, but his team San Francisco Shock continues to be one of the best in the league.
Hopefully, the League can improve its practices by looking after the talent they have and supply support to the teams during the difficult lockdown period and the 2020 season.