Is Overwatch dead, is a common question considering the dwindling player base. The answer, obviously, is no. The context, though, is more complicated and significantly more important.
Since 2017, reports of Overwatch's demise were hailed from the rooftops, with one of the core statistics presented being the decrease in play rate in Korea's PC 방's (PC Cafes), as at-the-time newcomer PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds skyrocketed in popularity and with it, the genre of battle royale.
That PUBG itself was soon ousted by Fortnite BR was offered as a point against the idea of PUBG as an Overwatch killer; it was merely pointed towards as indication that declining numbers are to be expected as the casual gamer moves on to whatever's newest on the shelves. Fortnite itself has recently lost the spotlight to Apex Legends, in the natural cycle of "the popular game."
The Overwatch League Season 2 Broadcast team is here!https://t.co/3VVg0CdYCU— DBLTAP (@DBLTAPesports) February 6, 2019
But what this thought process misses is that the issue isn't in the players who've moved on to new games: it's that the players who were retained are near-universally dissatisfied, disgruntled, or, most critically, just bored.
There are countless reasons given: stale metas, "toxicity," problematic role queue, lack of features such as replays, chronically underpowered or overpowered heroes. But at its core, it all boils down to one thing: stasis.
Since early 2017, Overwatch has repeatedly settled into periods where for long stretches, nothing changes.
The worst offender is the lore: in 2014, the first trailer promised the return of Overwatch after disbanding to battle against a rising threat. Four years and three months later, and Overwatch is still trying to get its members back together. Instead of any advancement, it's just had more and more characters and settings dumped into its overloaded backstory backpack, while the actual story walks in one place on the narrative treadmill.
The events are likewise worn-out. The entire year can already be predicted with little hope of significant change or variation. In 2016/2017, the events were all new and exciting. Now on their third cycle, they feel significantly duller and, in the cases of Winter Wonderland and Lunar New Year, even less has been added.
This relates to the lack of new characters or maps, the slowness of gameplay updates and hero reworks, and an overall lack of anything novel, which in turn generates less interest and less income. Whether this is the cause or result of internal issues which reportedly resulted in hundreds of layoffs at Activision Blizzard, it remains the case that there is little indication that there will be a significant uptick in content output.
The seemingly-only division of constant change is Overwatch esports. It is the nature of sports that there is always something new, be it teams, players, or storylines. The Overwatch League is growing in size, sponsorships, and scope, and the addition of the Gauntlet for Overwatch Contenders sees changes coming to competition outside OWL.
But the Overwatch League's six-months-long off-season shows another issue; the extended period in which the only sure method of seeing something new is taken away until the next year.
Overwatch isn't dead. But the fact is that, aside from its esports, the game and its world aren't growing. If it's not growing, then, by virtue of the universal laws of entropy, it's dying. And it'll take more than some new skins and a passing "By the way this character's gay, bye" comic to jolt some life into the main game.
Photo courtesy of Blizzard