Say what you will about Overwatch League, but there's no denying that the unique stage at the Blizzard Arena provides attendees with one of the best viewing experiences in all of esports. With its massive, digital backdrop full of vibrant colors and dynamic graphics, it's easy to see why newcomers are often blown away. So when the Overwatch World Cup's US group stage was announced as a Blizzard Arena event, many regular OWL fans expected a similar presentation. What they got was something very different.
Instead of the standard OWL fare, Blizzard went with a more stripped-down experience. The constructed stage was smaller and closer to the audience, with two screens hung almost directly above the front row. The Arena faithful who typically arrive early to get the best seats in the house were horribly let down. I went down to see how bad it was from the center of the front row, and it was pretty painful—literally—craning my neck back to watch the action on the screen above.
To make up for it, there were two monitors on the floor for those who didn't want to spend all day staring upwards. Neither option should be acceptable for ticket holders. Every fan in attendance should ideally enjoy the same experience no matter where they're sitting.
Another big problem was that it was very dark. I overheard two people discussing how they had to delete most of the pictures they took because of how poor the lighting was.
Granted, this was not an Overwatch League event. It was an esports event hosted by Blizzard, and it's possible the company wanted the setup to match the experience at other group stage events, like the one a few weeks ago in South Korea and upcoming in Thailand. But you have to wonder why everything looked so much worse than during OWL.
Blizzard declined to comment for this article.
There was also the issue of attendance. Though some players said they felt as though the World Cup was more significant than any single OWL game, the arena was pretty empty apart from Sunday, when the much-hyped USA vs. Canada game took place. Twitch numbers weren't great, either. True to form, however, Blizzard did manage to sell quite a number of World Cup jerseys to those in attendance.
Going forward, a single screen suspended over the center of the stage would make for a much more comfortable experience, if nothing else. The OWWC might not bring in the same money as OWL, but it's still a significant event for fans and developing talent of Overwatch esports. Hopefully we'll see some improvements next year.