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Interview

Nate Nanzer, OWL Commissioner: "We really want Overwatch League to be an aspiration & have a very clear path from amateur to pro."

By Mark Register
Aug 16, 2017
We sat down with Nate after the recent OW World Cup Santa Monica Qualifiers to talk about all things Overwatch esports.

Q: Who's watching Overwatch right now and who will be watching the Overwatch League?

They are Overwatch players. I mean first and foremost to me... Our mission in the Overwatch League is to convert everyone who plays Overwatch to fans of the Overwatch League. That's what we're focused on. We're not trying to get people who don't play games or don't play Overwatch... that is not our target at all. We really want to make awesome content for Overwatch fans. I think Overwatch is a unique game in that I think there's a lot of fans of Overwatch who maybe don't actually play Overwatch or maybe they used to play Overwatch or they kind of come back and forth. The IP is so appealing to so many people it's amazing how many people already know all the stories. The amount of storytelling we've already done through the animated shorts and those are things that we're going to continue to do and continue to tell those stories and we hope that between the work that we do and the comics, animated shorts, the work we do in the Overwatch League, then obviously the game, and the continued development of the game, we're really going to build out an awesome universe around this just incredible IP.

Q: What's truly unique to Overwatch League?

I think the thing that's truly unique about Overwatch League is it's a truly global league. Even if you look at traditional sports there isn't a truly global league. There's competitions like the World Cup and things like that in the Olympics but there is no truly global sports league. There's no sports league in the world where Shanghai plays Los Angeles in the regular season. That's not just unique for esports, it's unique for sports. And I think that to me is one of the key things about the Overwatch League is it was really important to us that with this game that's very global, it's a game that's played all over the world. This is not a game that's only played in the West or only played in China. It's a game played everywhere. So it's important that we have a global league that represents our global player base.

Q: What have you learned from Blizzard's other competitive esports titles?

Blizzard's in a really unique position because we've been doing esports for almost 20 years, and we've tried almost everything. At Blizzard our approach is that every game is different and therefore the esport approach should be different. Starcraft & Hearthstone are 1v1 games so for those games does it make more sense to have a circuit like a golfer or tennis or something that’s more 1v1? Obviously Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch are the more team-based games so maybe leagues make more sense. But we really take an individual tailored approach to each game. I think it's awesome to be at Blizzard and have people that I can go talk to who were there on the beach in Busan in 2006 to watch pro league finals with 100,000 people and be able to learn from those experiences to help inform what we are doing today.

Q: You check in with the top 25 Overwatch players every few weeks, what're some of their most recent feedback?

We're constantly getting feedback around tournament formats, map pools, what they think about certain maps, what they think about hero balance... the whole game team loves the feedback from players. I think it's great when when fans go online and write a big manifesto, that's cool, you can express yourself that way... but you can also just write me an email. We read that stuff. I know Jeff and the game team reads that stuff, I read all that stuff, I spend a lot of time in the subreddit I'm always there, and a lot of time in Discord. Making sure that we're listening to the community is hugely important to us is the way we do things. There was definitely a period where we didn't have a lot of information about the Overwatch League and that's something I wish... we could have been more open but we really wanted to make sure that the process we were running on team sales was a really structured organized process. We wanted to make sure that when we had an announcement it was a really meaningful one. And now that we've done that I really want to focus on making sure that we're being open with our community and having an ongoing dialogue and conversation. So that's going to be a big focus for me and I always love to hear feedback from both players and fans. One of the cool things for me about being at events like this is I love just hanging out and talking to the players. I was just over there talking with InternetHulk and it's great to really get to know these guys know what they're thinking about and know what's important to them. For me as an ex-failed athlete I see a lot of the same things in these guys... when I was 17-18 years old and I thought I wanted to be a pro baseball player... it's the same motivation. It's not any different at all. They want to win they want to be the best. And I'm really humbled to be able to create and help build this league along with the entire team at Blizzard to give these guys a chance to be pro athletes and so it's really cool.

Q: How are you developing players' storylines?

It's really important for us that we build a path to pro in Overwatch, so we have to think about not just building the Overwatch League but building the entire sport of Overwatch. So from somebody who picks up the game and plays at home, to the Overwatch open division, getting good enough and participating in contenders, or one of the global development leagues, and then ultimately sign into an Overwatch contract. We really want Overwatch League to be an aspirational thing and have this very clear path to pro from amateur to professional. I think you see just being here today... I don't know if he got a chance to see the interview that Malique did earlier with Jake... that kid's going to be a star like great on camera, super smart, super well spoken, and a great player. Those are the types of guys that we really want to make sure that we're creating content around and making sure that's the type of content that allows the fans to get to know them better. I was just over in Korea for Apex Season 3 finals and you know I'm sitting in the audience and they played a segment where the players were singing karaoke very badly. Now I didn't get it but the fans loved it and I think that's another example of how you also need to make content that's tailored for different fans around the world. So we're taking that approach really thinking globally about the type of content we create and we really want to create content that's going to be appealing to fans and help them get to know the players better. Our goal is absolutely to make all of these guys household names someday.

Q: What can't you quantify when you're looking at the potential success of a player?

I think what's hard to quantify... Overwatch is a very teamwork focused game. I think when you talk to pro players what you'll hear is the best teams in the world are the teams that have the best communication. You know I think there's this perception that "oh South Korea is so good!" They're great players mechanically but one of the things you notice when go and spend time with them is how coordinated they are and how tight knit they are. In Overwatch... I think that's something in great Overwatch player that you really need to get to know them, you really need to spend time around the teams, and you'll really see there are some some great leaders and those are things that are hard to quantify they're a little more qualitative but they're absolutely essential to building a great Overwatch team.

Q: Anything you'd like to add?

I really appreciate the time and the attention on our Overwatch League. We're really excited to be able to build this. The World Cup is a great example of an event that is really important to us. I think there's a lot of gamers out there that haven't really got into esports yet, or maybe they know about esports, maybe they watch sometimes, or they watch a grand final every now and again. But they don't have a lot of connection to the teams or maybe they don't know much about it. Team USA is pretty easy to get behind if you're from the USA, Team Canada if you're from Canada, same with South Korea. This is an event where I really want to make this event where Overwatch players who maybe haven't got into esports yet have an opportunity to maybe dip their toe in the water and hope they like what they see and become lifelong fans.

Interview
Overwatch League
Mark Register profile
Mark Register
Mark is the Editor-in-Chief @ Blitz Esports. He was the creator of Esports in a Nutshell, led production @ the Young Turks for 5 years, and in his other lifetimes won an Oscar, recorded albums (on Spotify), and most importantly spent a summer as a SeaWorld performer.
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