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The Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact health and safety guidelines as well as travel and immigration restrictions. The Drum finds out how Overwatch League is working with brands to improve the fan experience at home for their audience.

Overwatch League, the professional esports league for the video game Overwatch, produced by Blizzard Entertainment, continues to operate in an uncertain environment in 2021 as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact health and safety guidelines as well as travel and immigration restrictions.

This means the league has focused this offseason on making many significant upgrades to its broadcast to improve the fan experience at home, says Jon Spector, the head of Overwatch League.

The league recently launched streaming in 4K quality, debuting sleek new motion graphics and a new soundtrack, and a new virtual set for its broadcast talent. 

The effort to improve the fan experience will see the league introduce “Project Aloha” in 2021, a new tournament initiative that will allow North American teams flown out to Hawaii to compete on a level playing field against teams in China and Korea.

“We have also partnered with the University of Hawaii to facilitate global tournaments – by flying a few Western teams to Hawaii for each tournament, they can compete with Asia-based teams using a cloud server in Tokyo. We expect this season will feature the highest level of competition ever and are excited to watch all the action unfold,” he explains.

“Post-pandemic, we hope to take everything we have learned in the first four years of the Overwatch League and continue to refine our operating model, accordingly, staying nimble to prepare for a range of possible situations in the years ahead.”

He continues: “Looking back over the last few years, we’ve been proud to watch the Overwatch League grow a global fanbase and improve the level of competition every year. We have learned that it is important to be very nimble and quick to identify and execute improvements in all areas of our League. We take fan and professional player feedback seriously and that’s been key to our growth.”

Like many other businesses, the pandemic threw Overwatch League’s 2020 plans in disarray. It had to rebuild the entire season schedule since it now had teams and players based all over the world and some teams could no longer play each other.

The league used that reset to also launch a new month-long tournament format to create more significant moments throughout the season.

“We started by pausing our competition until we better understood the situation and could make sure our players, staff, and fans, would all be safe while competing. After just a two-week break, we came back with the competition and broadcast production shifted online and into the cloud, allowing our players to compete safely from their own homes or from dedicated team facilities,” says Spector.

“At the end of our season we planned out having the best two teams from North America travel to Korea, where after their quarantine period, they were able to play in a “Final Four” bracket with the best two teams from Asia to crown our 2020 champions, the San Francisco Shock.”

However, Spector says the league has been fortunate to continue working with many brands by activating globally and reach the coveted younger and more tech-savvy demographics that many of them seek.

“That is often done by either experiential activations or fun content-driven campaigns. For our 2019 Grand Finals, we worked with our major brand partners to create a Fan Festival outside the Wells Fargo Center, including things like a Coca-Cola foam pit photo station where fans could emulate action poses of Overwatch’s most iconic hero, Tracer, and a digital sign creation station from State Farm,” he explains.

“More recently, we have just launched an AI-created “Power Rankings with Watson” system together with IBM which processes hundreds of different player statistics and millions of data points to output who the best players and teams in the world are, facilitating a lot of fun debates for fans and our broadcast talent.”

One of the biggest roadblocks for brands in understanding gaming is the audience and not subscribing to outdated stereotypes in terms of who or what comprises a gamer. The Drum recently found out how brands should approach the esports space.