Overwatch 2 should have been a surefire hit. The original Overwatch took the world by storm when it was released in 2016 and introduced a fresh take on the hero shooter subgenre established by Team Fortress 2. It had a healthy community, and its sequel would maintain that by not overriding its multiplayer base. In 2022, though, Overwatch 2 is both sorely needed and a controversial title.
In the years since its announcement, Activision Blizzard has lost multiple major developers related to the franchise and reportedly fostered a problematic work environment. Overwatch 2 has been delayed numerous times, and the original Overwatch hasn’t received a super-substantial update in almost two years as a result. Fans have since jumped to games like Valorant and Apex Legends.
As the Overwatch community feels frustrated and abandoned and workers organize at Activision Blizzard, Overwatch 2 has lost some of its shine. That’s why it makes sense that Blizzard is taking a clever marketing cue from one of its biggest competitors to stay relevant and keep discourse about the game in a place it’s happy with.
Overwatch 2‘s first PvP beta begins today, finally giving fans a taste of what they’ve been waiting for through many ups and downs. Players can sign up for a chance to get access to the beta on the Overwatch website, but that’s not really the way Blizzard wants to attract people to the game. Instead, it wants players to watch several streamers play the game during a specific timef rame on April 27 to get a beta code via Twitch Drop.
Rolling out the beta in this way will drive engagement and discussion about Overwatch 2, which the game sorely needs. It’s all pretty clever, but there’s a catch: This has been done before.
Back in 2020, Riot Games had the challenge of introducing Valorant, a brand new IP that was quite similar to Overwatch. Previous Overwatch challenges like Battleborn and Lawbreakers had failed gloriously, and they weren’t launching in the middle of a pandemic. It was a tough sell, but Riot Games managed to make its shooter the hottest title of spring 2020.
Leveraging some intrigue in the title and its League of Legends clout, Riot Games gave streamers access to the closed beta and made Twitch Drops the primary way to get beta access. This fear of missing out helped encourage many players to try the game once they finally got access and broke a single-day viewership record on the Amazon platform.
And because Valorant is a well-designed and entertaining multiplayer hero shooter, players stuck around, and its popularity skyrocketed. Valorant is still very relevant today and has kind of taken Overwatch’s place during Blizzard’s dearth of updates for Overwatch and news about Overwatch 2. Blizzard is fighting from behind to recapture some of the same magic with Overwatch 2, if only for a day.
This Twitch Drop approach is a smart decision for Blizzard. Overwatch 2 has some stiff competition these days and needs to court hardcore fans back to the franchise after scorning them with a lack of updates. A limited-time stunt like these Twitch Drops will likely inflate viewership numbers and bring Valorant and Apex Legends players’ attention back to Overwatch 2.
Blizzard was historically a company that charted its own path and found creative and unique ways to promote its games. Now, the best way to ensure Overwatch 2’s success is to follow the competition during a beta period. On top of those benefits, this approach keeps the focus on the game itself, not the questions and problematic conditions surrounding its development.
How has Blizzard’s workplace changed since the revelations about rampant harassment last year? How did Chacko Sonny, Jeff Kaplan and Micheal Chu’s departures impact Overwatch 2’s design? How will Microsoft’s impending Activision Blizzard acquisition impact future support for Overwatch 2 and the studio as a whole? These are all significant questions looming over Overwatch 2 that Activision Blizzard would probably prefer not to address outside of highly controlled PR statements.
Now, most players will just be paying attention to the gameplay and excitement behind potentially getting a Twitch Drop with a code. Blizzard can generate hype through streamers who will signal-boost Overwatch 2 gameplay, likely without addressing or critiquing Blizzard’s company culture and the game’s troubled development. This approach, unfortunately, worked well for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and it now looks like Blizzard is seeing how well it works with Overwatch 2.
After years of waiting, it is exciting that some players will finally get their hands on Overwatch 2′s PvP beta and hopefully help mold the game with their feedback. Still, these Twitch Drops make it abundantly clear that Blizzard needs to think outside the box to promote Overwatch 2 and attract new players after several controversies.
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