When Overwatch was launched in 2016, it was almost immediately made obvious that it was a game built with one thing in mind: esports. The age-old Hero-based combat system was built using a formula that had been successful for years where gaming was concerned, and Activision wasted no time in fleshing out the competitive foundations for Overwatch.
However, as the 2020 season unraveled, so too did the Overwatch League, and within a few short months, the top title had seemingly collapsed through the rankings with an unnerving speed. It was a tumultuous time for fans, with long-time pros retiring left and right, Activision breaking the game with the introduction of Hero Pools, and the broadcasting talent behind Overwatch all but disappearing.
Not So Heroic, After All
Hero Pools were originally blamed for the rapid departure of so many players from Overwatch’s competitive scene, owing to the seemingly bizarre mechanic it introduced. These ‘Hero Pools’ were designed to almost sporadically remove particular Heroes – playable characters – from rotation, to ‘keep the game fresh’.
However, the end result was a huge level of stress, as professional players were forced to use characters far outside their comfort zone. As if the introduction of Hero Pools wasn’t bad enough, Activision subsequently threw out the biggest U-turn in Overwatch history, totally scrubbing the mechanic from the game months later.
In a statement from Activision, community manager Molly Fender explained:
“We initially implemented Hero Pools to address issues with stagnating metas and to keep match-ups exciting and fresh. However, we’ve found that the introduction of Experimental Card and increased hero balance updates has helped us work towards a healthy, changing meta in Competitive Play without needing to disable heroes.”
Enter the CDL
As the Overwatch League fell from grace, the Call of Duty League found a firm foothold in the esports industry. When 2020 opened, it brought with it a revitalised and refreshed competition in the Call of Duty League, a multi-million dollar tournament fought between the world’s greatest – and most iconic – Call of Duty players. Almost immediately, it seemed like Activision, the powerhouse behind both Overwatch and Call of Duty, was making a decisive and tactical switch.
With the close of the inaugural season of the CDL marking a huge and definitive success for Call of Duty, the Overwatch League continued to flounder. It comes as no surprise, as fans of the OWL have been doubting its future for a long time, following what seemed to be a desperate expansion attempt by Activision. As time pushed on, the OWL roster weakened, the hype behind the League died out, and fans dropped off to pursue other titles, such as the newly-released Valorant.
The 2021 season of the Call of Duty League launched just days ago, and there is already a massive and exciting following propelling it forwards. It’s a return to former glory for Call of Duty, which has been one of the strongest titles on the esports scene since Call of Duty 4 launched way back in 2007. We’re once again seeing legendary plays from teams like OpTic and FaZe, who have been industry staples for several years.
Ultimately, the Call of Duty League is more lucrative for players and sponsors alike, and the competition is set to draw bigger numbers than the Overwatch League. As the OWL stagnates, the exhilarating drive behind the CDL is working wonders at poaching the attention of the esports spotlight.
Two Paths, Diverged
Admittedly, it’s apples and oranges where Overwatch and Call of Duty are concerned. Although they’re both first-person-shooters, their base formulae are dramatically different. Overwatch is a Hero-based arcade-style shooter, while Call of Duty is a military-style shooter, more rooted in realism than the cartoony Overwatch.
While esports bettors will likely fare better with Call of Duty League wagers this season, fans of Overwatch are unlikely to depart the franchise to follow the CDL. It’s a remarkably different audience, and although the Call of Duty League is extremely welcoming to newcomers, it’s nothing like the frantic, colourful combat of Overwatch.
The 2021 season of the Overwatch League is set to launch in April, by which point the Call of Duty League will be two stages deep. If the OWL is going to open with any kind of following, some drastic action has to be taken to placate the worried and departing fanbase. As Activision effectively suffocates the Call of Duty League with attention, funding, and exposure, it seems like, at an executive level, the decision has already been made…