At the beginning of the year, my life went in an exciting and terrifying new direction when I left home to pursue my studies. I am my parents’ only child, the first in the family to go to college, and I was wracked with guilt due to the knowledge that I left during a difficult time for the sake of my future. The distance from my parents, difficulty in making friends and crippling isolation bred a loneliness that I tried to ignore until my depression made it almost unbearable.
Around the same time that I left, the Overwatch League began, and it quickly became one of the things that kept my depression and anxiety at bay. Since Overwatch is a game I’ve played for almost 1000 hours, the events of Overwatch League were familiar enough that I could take time to focus on my work and still understand everything that was happening. While I stepped into unknown territory, Overwatch League was one of the few familiar things that inspired me, brought me peace and instilled excitement in me.
Before Overwatch, I had never indulged in first person-shooters or in competitive games, nor did I ever have an iota of curiosity about them. But Overwatch’s diverse cast and vibrant world captured me right from the days of its beta release, and even today, years later, I love it just as much as I did back then. That’s because, when Overwatch works as the team game it’s meant to be, it’s brilliant and unlike any other game. Few games are ever as satisfying as when your team combines ultimates at the perfect moment to overthrow your enemies, or as touching as when a good tank steps in front of you to take damage or a healer rushes to reach you right before your health reaches zero. It’s because everyone’s role matters—everyone is important and serves a greater purpose. And Overwatch League shows what the game is when it’s at its greatest.
I was filled with joy and pride as I heard the audience scream every time Kim “Geguri” Seyeon would appear on the screen, celebrating the lone woman in the league. I felt the sadness and pain that you could feel overwhelm the arena even through a screen as Shanghai Dragons—the only team in the league to have zero wins—closed in on a victory over Florida Mayhem, only to lose it at the end. I was deeply touched by seeing Boston Uprising nervously start off the first match of Stage 3 without Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez—their star damage-dealer whose contract was terminated at the beginning of the stage due to sexual misconduct allegations—and not only win that match but also emerge victorious in every single match throughout the stage, making Overwatch League history as the first team to go undefeated throughout a stage.
I’d be remiss to not mention the issues I have with Overwatch League, such as the severe lack of women and the extent to which the players are overworked. For being the competitive league of a game that has a foundation of inclusivity, it’s embarrassing that there is only one woman player in the entire Overwatch competitive sphere. At least, in regards to overworked players, there are rumors that the league is taking steps to lessen burnout.
However, despite its flaws, Overwatch League is special to me because it’s the first time I have ever indulged in esports—and sports in general. It’s the first time I have been able to feel the excitement that many people, particularly men, have felt and had access to while participating in the competitive gaming scene. In a world that constantly reminds us of the depths of human selfishness, Overwatch League gives me a concrete vision of an ideal world—one in which everyone can come together to make creative, hilarious and beautiful things happen.
This year has brought a lot of firsts to me, and even when they have been painful, they have remained exciting. Change can be as nerve wracking as it can be thrilling (unless it comes in the form of more Mercy nerfs), and I appreciate that throughout all the recent changes in my life, I have had Overwatch League as a constant to keep me grounded. It has given me something that I always look forward to, that makes me feel a spark of adrenaline even when my depression is doing its best to make it hard to feel much at all.
I hope that Overwatch League can improve upon its strengths and weaknesses, for it’s dedicated to a universe in which everyone has access to triumphs and losses—and those victories and failures, those rushes of adrenaline and those stretches of perseverance, are what make up our lives. Overwatch League shows what Overwatch can be, as well as what we can achieve individually and together. The dedication and hard work of the league’s players will always motivate me to achieve all I can as an individual, as well as with the people alongside me both near and far.
Natalie Flores is a Paste intern who specializes in videogames. She’s on Twitter @heartimecia.