Over the last three years, the Overwatch World Cup has been a marquee event at BlizzCon, not only as a display of global talent in the game, but also one of the biggest stages for emerging talent to impress a wider audience. This year’s tournament was a fitting finale for a long, intense year of Overwatch, taking fans all over the world during the Group Stages and culminating in South Korea’s three-peat as world champions.
As players and teams start preparing for the 2019 season of the Overwatch League, Commissioner Nate Nanzer stopped by for a chat about some of this year’s highlights, including the unique fan atmosphere at BlizzCon and his favorite match of the weekend.
This was the last big Overwatch event of the year. What makes the Overwatch World Cup special?
To me the thing that’s special about the Overwatch World Cup versus really any other esport event is the national pride component that we see at the Olympics or the football (soccer) World Cup, those types of events. It brings out a different level and expression of fandom than a league. I think the combination of national teams plus single-elim, one-and-done brackets—the tension is very high. It’s just so cool to see the Aussies with their crazy chants and Team China and Korea fans with their chants. What other esport competition have you ever been to where the entire audience breaks into the national anthem?
Every country seems to bring their own flavor.
Yeah, it’s really cool. What we did great this year was having both a head coach and GM [for each team] but also a community manager. It really helped; you got a Twitter handle for everyone, and it helped them focus the fandom as well. [The Overwatch World Cup] is a constant moving target until we perfect it, but I felt like this year was pretty good.
Check out the pictures that caught our eye at the 2018 Overwatch Would Cup at BlizzCon.
We see fandom being expressed constantly online, but having it translate to a live event like this must be one of most exciting things about the Overwatch World Cup.
When you’re in the arena, the whole crowd is screaming, the noise, it’s infectious. It’s much more exciting than watching at home. I say this all the time, but why do people like to go to traditional sports games? It’s really fun to be somewhere and connect with others that like the same stuff you like and cheer for it together. It’s basic, basic stuff. But it’s cool to see how that passion translates and how it’s literally identical—it doesn’t matter what the game is, if it’s Overwatch or basketball or hockey, it doesn’t matter.
What is it about the Overwatch World Cup that has captured so many people’s attention over the last three years?
All weekend I’ve been thinking, oh man, I missed watching high-level Overwatch. I can see a world where the Overwatch World Cup at BlizzCon is a great capstone to a calendar year and also a look ahead into the next year. What’s so cool about this year is that there’s a bunch of guys up there playing today that fans don’t even know what [Overwatch League or Contenders] team they’re on yet.
Think about how many players have made a name for themselves at this event. Go to 2016, you had Mickie. The only reason anyone knows who Mickie is, is because he played for Thailand at the Overwatch World Cup. Last year, and it’s still crazy to think about it, nobody really knew anything about Jake. At the Overwatch World Cup in 2017, Jake made a name for himself.
I feel like this year it’s probably Guxue who is the player that no one really knew, and I’ve already had multiple people say to me—is he the best Winston in the world? The fact that people are already saying that is pretty crazy, but it seems like he has pole position as the player who’s making the biggest name for himself out of the Overwatch World Cup.
The Overwatch World Cup can definitely act as a bridge to the Overwatch League for a lot of these players. In your mind, how does this event fit into the professional Overwatch ecosystem?
Because we do the final at BlizzCon, it’s maybe the best opportunity for players that maybe fans don’t get to see a lot because they play in a region [that’s hard for them to follow] to really get exposure. The viewership that we have at BlizzCon is on par with a really good Overwatch League broadcast, and it’s a huge opportunity for these players. What’s awesome for me is to see players recognize that this is an opportunity and seize it. It fits really nicely as that spotlight moment at the end of the year where we start to think about the next season of the Overwatch League.
South Korea again proved that they’re still the best in the world with an impressive win over China at the Overwatch World Cup.
There were so many exciting moments at BlizzCon. What was your favorite match of the weekend?
I thought UK-Korea was the best one, the most competitive. The UK put up a heck of a fight. Korea, it’s always hard to tell. In 2016, I’m not sure they ever broke a sweat. Last year, they got taken to the edge by Team USA, so they’ve bled in this competition, but they’ve never lost. There were a couple times in that UK match, like on King’s Row, where you had a player like Carpe—they just have this gear that other players don’t seem to have. It’s like, “Oh, we’re going to win now.” There’s basically nothing you can do about it. They step on the gas for this brief moment, and it’s just lights out for everybody.
That’s a very sports-y moment you’re describing—even if it’s more of a mental shift rather than a physical maneuver that you can see, the effect is the same.
A lot of people will say, oh you can’t carry in Overwatch. I would say that statement is a little bit true—you can’t carry an entire match. But you can definitely carry in sports. You can definitely carry a fight. South Korea, one of the reasons I think they’ve won every time we’ve done this is that they are so good as a team, but they have those individuals who can just take over a moment with a level of skill that you don’t see everywhere.