It’s the subject every gamer has been buzzing about: as of June 20th, Overwatch overtook League of Legends as the most-played game in Korean internet cafes. These cafes, or “PC bangs,” are the ultimate battleground for MMO’s: if you can make it in the gaming industry’s number one hotbed, you can make it anywhere.
And Overwatch did, dethroning League of Legends from its four-year streak as the most popular game at 30% over 27.86%. Should League of Legends be making a riot out of this? Probably not. But Blizzard’s new first-person shooter could pose problems in the future for Riot. Not because of its marketing strategy, but rather its content.
As someone who has had experience playing both games, I’ll be going into detail on how Overwatch trumps League of Legends not by the numbers, but through its compelling storyline and diverse cast.
While tied to its marketing push, Overwatch released an invitational beta testing of the game as well as a series of cinematic shorts that basically left the entire world wanting an Overwatch movie over a World of Warcraft one (looking at you, Warcraft). Now, that’s not to say that League has also released its fair share of vids. But I do notice that League tends to release videos only when 1) a new character is released, or 2) for their annual World Championship.
“Get Jinxed” was released in 2013, and is still known as one of League’s most memorable character videos.
Even then, League’s videos have become shorter, and their character introductions haven’t held as much backstory since Jinx, Amumu, and Tahm Kench’s releases. Otherwise, it’s mostly been a bunch of team fighting scenes.
On the other hand, you can take Overwatch’s “Dragons” short, as a true piece of compelling story. “Dragons” features Overwatch’s Hanzo and Genji, two sons born into the yakuza. The short parallels an ancient tale involving two dragons and two brothers, emphasizing the overwhelming amount of guilt one dragon (Hanzo) bears for killing his brother. The resolution ends with Hanzo realizing that his brother Genji is still alive, though in a half-human, half-android form. It also ends with humility, leaving it open to interpret whether or not the two brothers can reconcile and work together to overtake the evil afoot.
“Dragons” features two yakuza brothers who must put aside their past to fight for the future. It’s also pretty cool.
Yes, sometimes the fighting can get a bit corny, especially when it relies on overused Asian tropes, but the story really rang larger than life—and you also can’t deny the fact that Blizzard’s animation sequence was Pixar-quality.
Now, we shouldn’t judge League too harshly, because Overwatch is OBVIOUSLY a new player in the gaming world and needs some form of character content to buff its cause. But if Overwatch keeps producing content like “Dragons,” “Alive,” “Recall,” and also keeps building off what they’ve already created with their trailer, then Overwatch will really become a force to be reckoned with.
And maybe they’ll finally give us an Overwatch movie.
HUNTING FOR LORE
In Overwatch, there are nuggets of clues embedded within maps in the form of posters in alleyways, dark corners in rooms, and computer screens (that you might accidentally fire at in-game). There is already a slew of videos already up on YouTube by game theorists who are piecing together these bits and using them to predict who might be the next playable character, as well as relationships between characters, and overall history within the Overwatch universe. It’s fun to be able discover the bits and pieces of lore that Blizzard sprinkled into the game. Rewarding gamers with shreds of story and character only leads towards satisfaction.
As for League? They used to post bulletins that gave ‘news updates’ on characters and their shenanigans around Valoran and Runeterra as a whole. I’ve heard from my veteran League players that they used to be fun and cute to read, but these updates have been dropped for the past year or more. Also, note that I actually had to do a Google search to ask, “Where does League of Legends take place?” because even I, as someone who has invested hours upon hours in this game, did not know the name its universe. Summoner’s Rift is just about all I know—and pretty much all I’ve needed to know, until this article. There are no nods to League lore embedded in any of the maps, save for the cute little Poros you might find in ARAM games, as well as Lux and Garen screaming their homeland’s name (Demacia) before they totally decimate you with their ultimates.
Last but certainly not least, Overwatch has been critically acclaimed not only for its diverse set of roles, but also its racially diverse cast of characters. Race comes into play mainly due to Overwatch’s story, which involves a UN-like effort to combat lethal robots. If you have the whole world cooperating and creating an international task force, you can bet there are going to be characters from all different nations.
But I think what Overwatch has done with to set itself apart is evident in how respectful Blizzard is to depict each nation with its correlating hero—while kind of making fun of America at the same time (McCree saying, “It’s hiiiiigh noon” in Clint Eastwood-like fashion? C’mon!).
The community seems to have also taken some of Overwatch’s more feminist characters positively, such as the ‘crushin’ Russian,’ Zarya, whose bodybuilder type is rarely seen on women in the gaming industry, but is something I think everyone wants to see more of. (I guess League has Illaoi to counter, but everyone always bans her.) The community has also fallen hard for D.va, an Overwatch character who is a parody of the gaming community itself, touting how she’ll own noobs, carry when she has to, and even cheers “gg” after winning. Using gamer-speak gives a shoutout to the gaming community and in turn sparks gratification for being noticed. Games are for players, by players—it’s only natural that we parody ourselves in the process.
With creative stories and diverse characters, it’s not surprising that Overwatch has taken the gaming world by storm. Coupled with League’s famed toxic community, Overwatch may seem like a haven to new players or players who are sick and tired of dealing with negativity in team-based MMO’s. Many people have commented how they feel appreciated when they play the usually-shunned support role in Overwatch, receiving gratitude and thank yous from teammates when healed; this differs greatly from the widely accepted fact that League support players get harassed by their teammates for not “supporting enough”, even when it might be another player’s fault.
Price can also be a factor in the lack of toxicity in Overwatch: the game is $40 minimum to play, whereas League is free . This heavy price tag might steer many (and many Internet trolls) away from coming to Overwatch. At Korean PC bangs, however, Blizzard made a strategic choice to make Overwatch free to play, giving Overwatch an attractive if not equal edge with League.
But instead of just crediting Overwatch’s success to a 3% overtake in Korean PC bangs, its price point, and its gameplay, I think it’s also important to consider the ways Overwatch has set up creative environments and compelling storylines and how they have contributed to the game’s rapid popularity as well. With over seven million players despite being just a month old, Overwatch will be giving League of Legends a run for its money. It will be interesting to see how these two very different games will duke it out for first.
May the best MMO win!