Stage 2 of the Overwatch League kicked off last Wednesday. After a week off, the League's 12 teams, featuring the best players in the world, continued their quest for supremacy. As the action unfolded at the Blizzard Arena, Shacknews was on-hand to catch the action, which included a Friday rematch of the Stage 1 Finals between the London Spitfire and the New York Excelsior.
After that match was over, Shacknews was given an opportunity to speak to League Commissioner Nate Nanzer. There were several topics to touch on, including the recent overhaul of the Stage playoff structure, the implementation of Overwatch League Cheering on Twitch, the future of franchising, drug testing, and the state of Fantasy Overwatch League.
Shacknews: How do you feel Stage 1 has gone, in terms of production, logistics, and from an overall fan standpoint? Is there anything in particular that you feel you could have improved on?
Nate Nanzer, Overwatch League Commissioner: There's always things we can improve on. I don't think there will ever a moment in the history of the Overwatch League where I will say everything is perfect. Stage 1 went really well. Overall, I think the production was really solid, turnout from the fans, viewership, like everything's been really good.
But we're going to be constantly iterating and working to improve the overall experience. Everything from the in-video experience, to the broadcast experience, online. We want to continue to improve the website. We just launched the viewership incentives and Cheermotes on Twitch, which we're constantly going to constantly look to improve and iterate. I feel we had a good start, but right now, we're focused on "How do we continue to make things better?"
Shacknews: You were very quick to respond to criticism of the Stage 1 Playoffs, jumping on Twitter that same night. What were your thoughts over the course of that day and at what point did you realize "Something about this needs to change?"
Nanzer: I hate to break it to the internet, but they actually had nothing to do with that change. We've been talking about making that change for several weeks. The decision was made prior to that day even starting that we were going to do that. I just jumped on to answer it, because I knew people were going to talk about it.
At some point, when you're designing the League, you have to plant your flag on the ground and be like "This is the decision." You can't linger on everything, right? That was the decision we made. We're like "Okay, we'll do the Stage Finals that Saturday." But as the season went on, we could start to see two or three weeks out, "Oh man, London and New York, somebody might have to play three times on Saturday. Is this the right way to do it?" So we kind of already made that decision prior to that Saturday.
I think it'll be cool, because it'll give us the opportunity to really make that Sunday a big special day and build some extra hype around the games.
Shacknews: Fatigue was one of the concerns with the Stage 1 Playoff. The Overwatch League seems to have taken fatigue into account with the overall stage structure, giving teams a week off. How important is it to give these teams time to make sure they're well-rested?
Nanzer: I think it's really important. I think that's why we have the Stage format. That's also why we made the schedule change on Thursdays and Saturdays to push the start time back, was to make it easier on the players. The way things happen with scheduling, there's going to be teams that play on back-to-back days and it was really tough to play at 9-10PM and then have to come back and play again at 11AM or 2PM.
We made that change to really improve the quality of life for the players, but not just for the players. You walk around this facility, there's 150 people or so that work on the Overwatch League here in the Arena and it's hard on them, too. Four days a week, we're here really late every night. Making those schedule changes was really about improving quality of life for the players, for the team, and for the production team that works on the League.
Shacknews: You mentioned earlier Overwatch League Cheering and wanting to reward viewers for engaging with the Overwatch League. What's been the fan feedback so far and are you open to further changes down the road?
Nanzer: It seems like feedback's been pretty good so far. Like everything we're doing, I think what we've launched so far with Twitch is v1.0. We're not going to stop working on it. We want to continue to iterate and make it better. The Cheermote program is really cool.
I think for viewership incentives, we have lots of ideas for additional things we want to do in the future to make that more interactive and more engaging for fans. We'll have news on that in the future, but it's definitely something we're going to continue to work on and continue to improve.
Shacknews: You brought in Malik Forte near the end of Stage 1. How important is it to have a Master of Ceremonies presence like his for the Overwatch League going forward?
Nanzer: We were trying to bring in Malik from day one, but we just couldn't get the deal done with his team in time. But we're so happy to have him now and it's awesome to have an MC for the show and somebody who's not just hyping the crowd coming in and out of breaks, but he also does a lot of stuff here at the Arena. You'll see him hyping the crowd up.
Malik is a super talented guy. Looking forward, you'll probably start to see Malik show up at Watchpoint soon.
Shacknews: In the last Activision Blizzard earnings call, it was said that the franchise fee would rise by quite a bit. Is there a concern that this could turn off prospective buyers and how do you plan to convey to a team that it's worth the extra investment cost?
Nanzer: We don't have anything to share at this point on exactly what it's going to cost, but I can tell you that there's a lot of interest in expansion in the Overwatch League. I think the process this year will be a little bit different than it was last year.
Everyone's calling us right now and asking how they can get involved. I think in the same way that we sold teams in the first year, where we sat down and talked about what we're building, the structure, and the tremendous potential for value creation and owning a team in this League, we'll do the same thing. But the nice thing this year, is that we're actually selling a real successful product versus last year where it was much more conceptual.
Shacknews: Esports is unique in the sense that there are different kinds of performance enhancing drugs than in traditional sports, but the issue of drug testing is no less important. With that said, are there any unique substances or supplements the League has had to research and ban from competition?
Nanzer: No. I've yet to see a scientific report studied that says that there's any substance that makes you better at playing video games. When that happens, we'll address it at that time. We have a Code of Conduct that says our players can't be intoxicated when they're playing and on stage and at League events.
But drug testing is not a thing we do currently. It's something we'll continue to evaluate and keep our eyes on, as esports grows and evolves and as more studies come out on what potentially can affect performance in video games, but we haven't seen studies on that yet.
Shacknews: Something that my colleagues on the staff have pointed out, is there a concern about Adderall usage?
Nanzer: Adderall is a legal prescription in the United States of America and, again, there's no data that suggests that it makes you better at playing Overwatch.
Shacknews: And lastly, I want to add myself to the chorus of the press asking about Fantasy Overwatch League. Is that still in the works for Season 2 and is there anything that maybe fans can look forward to later this season?
Nanzer: We'll see! I'll tell you that last week in the office, we had an internal fantasy draft. We have lots of ideas, we're trying some things out, we're definitely looking to launch some sort of fantasy product for Season 2. And who knows? Maybe by the end of the year, maybe for playoffs or something, we might have a fun game we can put out there.
But it's definitely something we're actively working on and we want to get it right. So we're going to launch it when it's ready.
The second week of Overwatch League - Stage 2 is set to begin this Wednesday, February 28.