Behind the Scenes of OWL's Opening Week
Going all out for the launch of the Inaugural Season of the Overwatch League, Blizzard invited a number of press outlets and gaming sites out to Los Angeles, and provided them access to all the teams, players, and staff unlike anything we’ve experienced so far. Taking a step back from stats and analysis for a moment, I felt our readers may enjoy a look at what’s been going on behind the scenes.
Tuesday was a Media Day, which allowed the press to interview individual teams about their thoughts on, and preparations for, the Overwatch League and its players. After opening with Nate Nanzer’s news about OWL skins in-game and the Twitch announcement, each franchise was brought to the stage.
Some teams used their time to talk about the players and atmosphere, while others introduced sponsors or discussed future plans for their arenas. For example, the London Spitfire are currently planning a facility that allows the public to not only come in and play at something similar to a PC bang, but they also want to host tournaments and have viewing parties in their own pub that will serve food and drinks. While some organizations are hopeful they can have their arenas up by season 2, most projections seem to lean towards season 3 (2019-2020).
Each team also fielded questions. Most players were timid this first day, referring to coaches or owners unless asked directly, something very different from the rich personalities we see on streams or behind the screen during events. That said, we were able to squeeze some fun moments and soundbites out of them, like Seoul Dynasty’s Bunny saying Zenyatta needed a nerf, and the San Fransisco Shock’s Sleepy saying, “No way! The one who needs a nerf is D.Va!” Unlike most teams, the Houston Outlaws, especially DPS player JAKE, were naturals in front of the camera and crowd, and were the most willing to share their insights, even on the recent hotbed topic of diversity in Overwatch esports.
Opening day finally arrived there was already a long line of attendees waiting to get in when we pulled up. Impressive as the studio looks on camera, it’s really awesome to see in-person. The wrap around screens display hero info such as HP, ult charge, deaths, and even light up when Resurrection is cast on them. Above the audience seating on the floor is a large semicircle that actually moves with the capture progress of whatever is going on screen, such as point capture or payload movement. Regarding this, one official was overheard saying that they get questions about the API used to run it, but it’s actually done manually and they’ve since nicknamed that person “API.” When asked, no one has been able to confirm or deny this, but when watching the semicircle in action, it’s clear that it’s not 100% aligned with what’s going on on screen.
During the first two days at the studio, the OWL set up post match interviews for the press to let us ask questions of the teams on topics such as their performance, what went wrong or what went right, and so on. These types of interviews are unfortunately only reserved for launch and other major events, like the stage finales and playoffs.
Most teams understandably wanted to keep their strategies close to the chest and were reserved on such talk, but the players were clearly more comfortable than the earlier media day on their feelings on other topics. While I’ll be saving some comments for future content, during these interviews we heard Taimou rant about 2cp (Capture) maps, how some members of the Korean teams feel shy on stage until their second map, and most teams are practicing Lucio/Moira on Control maps right now, at least on Lijiang (hence why Houston Outlaws didn’t run Mercy on Control Center in the tiebreaker map on Thursday, expecting Fusion to do the same).
Media were given a backstage tour of the facility by Senior Director of the Global Broadcast, Pete Emminger. The Blizzard Arena itself is set up in former home of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, and while none of those original stages or seats are still around the main areas, there are a set of five chairs set up inside one of the meeting rooms.
Walking past rooms with titles such as Torb’s Toolbox, Leper Gnome, and Blackwatch, you can see the Blizzard love throughout the old building. Our first stop was the hallway that houses practice rooms for all 12 teams. Each team has their own room and they have access to to the area 24 / 7. Every computer is also exactly the same as the ones on stage to help ensure players have a consistent experience.
Behind the main stage is the rest of the building where other productions film and, being careful to avoid the Days of Our Lives sets, you’ll find the studio for the new official Watchpoint show recapping what’s up in Overwatch esports.
One of the coolest places to see was backstage of the main set. From here, production staff in charge of the integrity of the tournament sit during the broadcast. Each player has their own hard drive that stores their game settings and preferences, with new clones made periodically, and players must provide their own, factory-sealed peripherals that can never leave the building.
Upstairs houses the media rooms and some of the Overwatch League offices, including Nate Nanzer’s, who has taken Jay Leno’s old office for his own (it even has a private shower). For any who’re curious, I didn’t catch the brand of keyboard but Nate seems to use a Corsair or HyperX keyboard with red lighting.
Under the audience is the majority of the production staff and equipment. Here you’ll find rooms with people monitoring every feed, the servers that send every feed out into the world, and even a team that watches the colorization of the video streams to make sure no one looks particularly green or blue one day. In the picture below, you can actually see CaptainPlanet hard at work (fourth person from the left that’s sitting down). By the end of season 1, over 18 petabytes of data will stream out, and over an exabyte of footage will be stored.
Near the analyst desk and under the audience we found Uber and Mr. X casting in a secluded room. From the tiny window that peaks into their room, you can watch them shouting into a single monitor, with a separate monitor setup with the birds-eye view map to the left. Aside from the extra map, they literally see everything we see, so if something is off camera, you can see why it can sometimes be missed by the casters.
Watching a game in the Blizzard Arena is quite an experience to be had, and even if you can’t get behind the scenes, you should absolutely try to catch a live match if you can.
Finally, wrapping things up is something that most readers love the most, a picture from the spectating room. This area is home to all the observers who follow the action around the map. While this picture only shows about half the room, but there is a big team back here in charge of catching everything.