No Lone Wolves
To understand the fanatic popularity of Overwatch, one must go back in time to when the gaming world was a bit different. A less diverse online gaming community existed a decade ago, limited to MMORPG giants like World of Warcraft, computer based competition such as Starcraft or League of Legends, and in the FPS genre, the king of kings, Call of Duty.
All of these games had some teamwork aspect, but were, for the most part, individual centered. For CoD, Nazi Zombies changed that. The game became all about team work, with any of up to four players being incapable of survival without the others. It was a huge hit, and remains a part of the series today.
It was on this tidal wave of Teamwork based gameplay that Overwatch rode onto the scene. Unlike previous online shooters, Overwatch was built for support positions. Each character has key strengths and fatal weaknesses if left to its own devices, necessitating communication and forcing players to work together towards victory. Players win and lose as a team, something which can't necessarily be said for Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Halo. This, of course, makes it a perfect eSport.
Do it for the Children
While the idea of encouraging kids to play more video games might have made parents scoff for the millennial generation, Gen Z has a different situation on their hands. Professional Gaming has broadened and become both more profitable and more legitimate in recent years. Most importantly, the games being played at the competitive level have decreased in ESRB rating.
Call of Duty, long one of the big names in MLG, has been rated M for Mature for over a decade, having moved up with graphics improvements and changes to the ESRB rating criteria. Overwatch (like Fortnite) does not have this problem. The game's T for Teen rating makes it accessible to players over the age of 13, and the anonymity of online competition means that ranked play is available to a much larger demographic than that of M rated games.
In 2017, the gaming world witnessed an occurrence in Blizzard Studios' Overwatch League, with the top player for one class, Genji, being unable to play due to his age. The 16 year old Lunatic Hai has been a champion in South Korea on more than one occasion, but the new level of organization presented by the US developer froze him out. With Overwatch now finding investment from big name investors like New England Patriots' owner Robert Kraft, new rules and regulations, as well as a higher profile league, are all coming onto the scene. So if 16 year olds are iced out of professional play, then where should they go?
This is a niche built for the University system. Collegiate eSports can rely on Overwatch especially due to the presence of these age restrictions on professional play, and the real opportunity for contracted team play after graduation. At the collegiate level, a school could make a large difference in its defection rate, and even its application numbers, by providing funding and legitimacy to serious Overwatch players. In the specific case of overwatch, eSports has really never been more like basketball or football in terms of its post-graduation potential for student athletes.