One of the joys of competitive first person shooters is a pixel perfect shot by a skilled player. However, in Overwatch what is meant to be a sharp point is often a smeared block obscuring the action it is supposed to represent. Blizzard has created a colorful fast paced game, an asset in the gaming market filled with dull shooters. Though this color and pop distances the game from other shooters, viewers experience a loss in quality due to the visual complexity of the game itself.

The more changes that occur on screen between frames, the lower the overall detail has to be to fit inside of the bandwidth available. When action is high Overwatch has constant changes both in brightness and color across most of the screen, leading to a degraded and glitch filled picture.

One way to remedy this is by throwing more bandwidth at the problem. Unfortunately Twitch, the leading streaming platform, has stagnated in the bandwidth it provides even to organizations it partners closely with. Youtube's streaming service has much higher bandwidth allowances, but its adoption is far lower, and less likely to get traction in the already small viewership market that Overwatch has right now. Even if Twitch was to allow for more bandwidth some people's internet would not be up to the stress it would imposes.

Another solution is in client viewing for tournaments. Counter Strike Global Offensive and DOTA 2 both provide users the opportunity to watch competitive matches from inside the engine of the game. This gives the highest quality viewing experience, with a comparatively small amount of bandwidth usage. Unfortunately this is not the silver bullet, not everyone has the ability to watch the game on a machine capable of playing it, or the desire to. CS:GO’s GOTV consistently makes up a small minority of viewers from tournaments, despite Valve growing the user base in the past with special souvenir drops inside the client itself.

One fix that tournament organizers could implement today without changing how viewers watch the game, or reshaping the infrastructure related to providing the streams would be to turn down the graphics. Reducing the number of particle effects and colors could both alleviate the degradation in quality to the stream, as well as having the added benefit of better readability for what is happening in the game. In an ideal world Blizzard would support this graphics setting, possibly integrating it with other esports specific visual changes such as team skins or banners.

Tournament organizers could also work with their in game observers to smooth out the images going to the viewers. Spending more time in third person view or observing from more static hero's points of view. Riding along with Tracer as she dashes in and out of the enemy team while exiting can leave both the inexperienced viewer and the video encoding software unable to keep up with what is happening.

Overwatch pushes the limits beyond what other games have required for a good viewer experience. The optimal solution will be a mix of strategies, from technical changes and in-game visual modifications, all the way to how the game is presented. The end goal should be to make it easy for any Overwatch fan to appreciate the action and skill of its star players.

by Thomas Swaggerty, on 2016-12-14, in #Article