Blizzard’s Overwatch instantly stole the hearts of gamers worldwide when it released on 24th May this year. It’s easy to see how this team-based shooter has introduced many to the genre, and with its cast of colourful characters and delightfully fun gameplay; it’s been readily accessible for beginners and veterans alike to pick up and play.
I fall into the beginner category. Prior to Overwatch, PVP (players versus player) games have intimidated me. I failed at getting into League of Legends, Hearthstone, and even Tomb Raider (2013) multiplayer mode. I either disliked the community (I’m looking at you here, League), felt ‘too bad’ at the game to start playing, or just couldn’t bring myself to communicate with my team members.
That being said, the visuals and soundtrack of Overwatch drew me in long before it was released thanks to Blizzard’s stellar marketing and supplement releases, and I soon found myself playing alongside a group of (mostly) strangers on an almost nightly basis: chatting away over my microphone and laughing alongside them at the team adventures we were having- my anxieties left behind.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago. One of these strangers-now-friends invited me along to an Overwatch 6v6 tournament at Talk & Surf Gaming in Cardiff (abbreviated forthwith to TSG). I took a chance and said “yes, I will travel two hundred miles to go play a video game with a bunch of people I’ve never met for the day”.
TSG is an internet café just outside the city centre and boasts beautiful hardware alongside a plethora of games, movies and refreshments; all helping it become the backbone of Cardiff’s gaming community, along with hosting regular events and tournaments.
The Overwatch 6v6, held on 3rd September, was TSG’s first Overwatch event, so it was great to see the café full of players when I arrived for the start at 1pm. Five teams had been assembled, my own included, along with ‘extra’ players inserted into incomplete teams by store owner, Qasim Din, making sure everyone got the chance to play.
A couple of shout-casters were setting up a livestream so viewers in the seating area and those who couldn’t make it in person could watch the matches, via Twitch, as they unfolded throughout the day. Admittedly, this terrified the heck out of me as I could foresee myself making stupid mistakes and the idea of a cheering roar of mockery coming from the big plush sofas in the other room furthered my embarrassment.
I didn’t have long to be scared, however, as the matches were soon underway, and it was easy to be distracted by the brightly coloured and fast-paced carnage that was streamed directly to two massive tv screens in the general area. The atmosphere was electric from the go and teams rallied around to cheer those playing and to discuss tactics for their own matches.
Some players brought their own gaming mice and headsets, for comfort and familiarity, which caused a few technical difficulties in the first few games. Thanks to some quick thinking by the staff, these issues were quickly resolved and a new ‘audio test’ match was subsequently put in place where the players could spawn into a map and check their communications were working properly.
The day passed quickly as the buzz of excitement carried across from room to room, filling the entire building, happily egged on by the vigorous commentating from the shout-casters; who quickly endeared themselves to the crowd and helped put more nervous players at ease with the occasional interview between matches.
With every round the tension and anticipation grew as more and more teams were knocked down into the ‘loser’s bracket’ (which was affectionately renamed the ‘wildcard bracket’ after my own team’s first game. Read: we lost) and then out of the tournament altogether.
Whether players won or lost, the camaraderie was high as compliments on various characters or maps were passed from team to team with a laugh and a ‘good game’, often accompanied by a handshake or a pat on the back. Alternatively, if a player had a particularly good kill streak, they would be bombarded with ‘I hate you’ and various swear words, but each one spoken with a smile and a chat about the game.
The crowd began to thin out after the semi-finals, as one of the favourites to win was knocked out by the very team they’d beaten way back in round three: our team. By this point we were all riding on our own adrenaline, our excitement boosted exponentially by the stream commentators making us feel like celebrity sportsmen with the entertaining analysis of every play.
The finals went quickly.
We were obliterated, to be frank, though I’m proud of how we held our own against a far more skilled team (a few of them over 20 ranks higher than myself in the last competitive season placement), and they were so charming and supportive it didn’t matter.
The tournament was over.
Neither team had time to relax however, as the shout-casters quickly ushered us over to the microphone where they were streaming and gave out two special awards. One for MVP (most valuable player) and one for best sportsmanship. My friend and teammate, Liam, won MVP for their amazing and consistent playing as the character ‘Mercy’, and I was lucky enough to win best sportsmanship; much to my delight.
Honorary awards complete, the winning team ‘Chicken BIG’ began their interview with the shout-casting crew and I finally got a moment to step aside and chat with store owner Qasim Din about his thoughts on the tournament.
Thanks so much for speaking with me, I know you’ve been incredibly busy. How do you feel today’s gone?
I think we’ve had a really good day! We’ve done the Overwatch community proud. Everyone seemed to have a really good time, and you’ve told me you’ve had a good time, so that means a lot us.
This is TSG’s first 6v6 Overwatch tournament. I saw on your website that you’ve done other tournaments and competitions for various other games, such as CS:GO, League of Legends, Smash, to name but a few. How does today compare?
It’s on the same level, to be honest. There’s definitely no give away in the sense that one game is doing better than another. They’re all on the same level. If anything Overwatch has a better community at the moment in that people are a lot friendlier. Whether that changes or not over time, I don’t know, that’s the way games tend to go. Hopefully the community will stay upbeat, and the way it’s growing right now it’s only going to get bigger.
It’s very obvious that community means a lot to you and what you’re creating with TSG. How do you think events like these help that community grow?
It’s one thing to have things online, but at the end of the day if you don’t put a social aspect to a community, then where is the community? I think having LAN (local area network) centres like us provide the gaming community a place to come and actually socialise. You can meet with like-minded people with a love for a game; you’ve already got a topic to talk about and that’s it, you’re away. You’ve got brand new friends and you’re in a social environment.
(He happily gestures to the laughing crowd enjoying their interviews behind us)
These people have probably never met each other before and yet they’re getting along and having fun.
It’s great. One final question! I’ve heard tell you play a bit of Overwatch yourself. Who are your favourites?
Reinbae. Well, Reinhardt. Forever. Absolutely love him.
Qasim speaks with pride about the community he’s helped foster in Cardiff and the passion with which he works reflects in every aspect of TSG, including the staff and friends it’s attracted; who all share his enthusiasm and zeal for what they do.
I spoke with the winning team, Chicken BIG, after the shout-casters finished discussing their win and wrapping up the day’s stream. They were local, only being around thirty minutes away from TSG. It was apparent that the team shared the same outlook as Qasim. They met through friends, but had come together and forged strong friendships with communication and a respect that took them all the way to placing first s with an unbroken win-streak. All very different individuals that simply shared a love of video games and the community it brought with it.
It was upon closing my interviews that I knew: I was hooked.
Hooked on the friendship and rivalry and adventure that I’d been introduced to by the event. Hooked on the adrenaline and the thrill of sharing that experience; that I’d only previously been sharing with a few voices over headset but otherwise alone. The wins and losses were suddenly equal in measure and simply boiled down to the intense few minutes of battling alongside friends that I’d been able to meet because of the tournament.
That is why I’ve been won over by eSports.
You can also watch the stream of the event, among others, here on Twitch.
Photos © @tundrasretreat, 2016.