The Overwatch League 2022 grand finals were last week, concluding a season that was one of OWL’s most successful. Fans broke viewership records, there were several successful live events, and on the whole, folks were simply jazzed to see competitive Overwatch played in a brand-new game. And though the San Francisco Shock were thankfully (blessedly, praise Jesus-ly) kept from a third championship, the real winners weren’t the triumphant Dallas Fuel but, curiously, one of the worst candy bars on the planet: Butterfingers.
Before this season’s playoffs, the Overwatch League was going through a bit of a rough patch. After the news broke about Activision Blizzard’s lawsuits surrounding a seemingly pervasive culture of harassment and discrimination — advertisers, predictably, pulled camp. What was once a broadcast filled with Coca-Cola, State Farm, Cheez-It, and Toyota ads became a ghost town.
The covid pandemic shuttering the league’s plan to have weekly live events, layoffs affecting Blizzard’s esports department, and the general economic downturn brought on by the pandemic haven’t helped matters. Add to that a report in The Washington Post stating that league team owners were discussing postponing paying franchise fees, and it’s easy to see that, even without a balance sheet to look at (since Blizzard’s never shared information on the league’s profitability), it might be in dire financial straits.
All this signaled to fans that maybe their beloved league was in trouble and that, one day, Blizzard might just get tired of hemorrhaging money and pull the plug.
Enter the crispety, crunchety, peanut buttery taste of Butterfinger.
When the 2022 Overwatch League playoffs began last week, ads for Butterfingers started appearing in between matches. Even more shocking, the Butterfinger logo appeared plastered on the sides of buildings in-game, mimicking (poorly) the more polished ads League of Legends displays during its broadcasts. The ads looked like some kind of filter placed over the stream and not something hard coded into the game itself, as it would move and jiggle with the camera, occasionally clipping over the stream’s UI.
But as low budget as it looked, fans latched onto the advertising and did not let go. Both the broadcast and the actual in-person grand finals were overtaken by people espousing their love, either genuine or memetic, for Butterfingers.
On the second day of games, a content creator showed up with a grocery bag full of fun-size Butterfingers and started handing them out to people waiting in line.
“We’re just excited to have sponsorship for [the Grand Finals],” said Brian, an Overwatch content creator who goes by NPC. “We had some sponsors back out in the past, and now we have new sponsors, and we are excited to see that and we wanna support those brands.”
I asked him why he specifically took it upon himself to evangelize for Butterfinger, and he responded, “It’s become part of our culture.”
Indeed, in the downtime between matches, fans would chant and clap for Butterfingers, reminiscent of the way fans would meme endlessly on social media when Cheez-It was the big sponsor.
I don’t think the ability to make a meme out of literally anything, especially corporate advertising, is unique to the Overwatch League community. But I do think it speaks to the dedication of its fans. To show such an outpouring of love for what is (objectively) one of the worst candy bars in existence just to ensure your favorite esport has the money to keep running is dedication incarnate. On the other hand, it shows how rich live events for Overwatch can be. There is nothing quite like being in an arena full of screaming fans cheering for Butterfingers or a bouncing DVD screen saver, with the crowd losing their minds when the Overwatch logo hit one of the corners just right.
The 2022 grand finals wasn’t the flashiest of events. It was a smaller, more intimate affair that I think suits Overwatch far better than huge sporting arenas or big-name half-time acts. Though the actions of its parent company have rightfully given some advertisers pause, I hope that the marketing departments at Butterfinger and other lapsed advertisers see the ardent love and support of the league’s diehard fans and consider it worthy of a few more sponsors for next year.