You read that right, Overwatch is officially bursting into the E-sports scene. Blizzard announced today that they would be selling the rights to 7 teams, based in major cities around the globe, to join what they call the “Overwatch League” (OWL). Teams for Boston, Los Angeles, Miami-Orlando, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, and Shanghai were all announced. Each team was purchased by a major player in either the sports or E-sports scenes, and some big names already stand out.
Here’s the full list of teams, and who they were purchased by:
- Boston: Robert Kraft, Chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots
- New York: Jeff Wilpon, Co-Founder and Partner of Sterling.VC and COO of the New York Mets
- Los Angeles: Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals
- Miami-Orlando: Ben Spoont, CEO and Co-Founder of Misfits Gaming
- San Francisco: Andy Miller, Chairman and Founder of NRG Esports
- Shanghai: NetEase
- Seoul: Kevin Chou, Co-founder of Kabam
While all are big names, Robert Kraft perhaps stands out the most. A big-time CEO, and owner of a successful football franchise, diving headfirst into the E-sports scene is nothing short of remarkable for the industry. While this isn’t the first time that a major sports executive has dived into E-sports (former NBA player Rick Fox acquiring the League of Legends team “Echo Fox” comes to mind), Kraft signing on so early shows a significant level of confidence in both the upcoming Overwatch scene and the E-sports industry as a whole.
It is also encouraging to see several major E-sports organizations joining in on the fray. Immortals, Misfits, and NRG have all had teams in major E-sports leagues before, ranging from League of Legends’ LCS, to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive‘s ESL. Gaining an initial spot in the Overwatch League only promises to further establish these organizations. It’s interesting to note, however, that several of the largest E-sports organizations, including Cloud9, TSM, FNATIC, and NaVi, are all noticeably absent from the roster.
The Overwatch League isn’t like the standard E-sports league, however. A traditional league would be organized into regions (North America, Europe, etc), which would field their own sub-leagues, sending only the best teams to international tournaments throughout the year. OWL abandons this philosophy, and instead gives cities across the world their own teams, having them all compete together in one league. At this point, only North America and Asia are represented, but one could assume that there may be future expansion into European or Oceanic cities as well, creating a massive league with dozens of teams, similar to the existing NBA or MLB in the United States.
While the first season will have teams all competing in a Los Angeles arena, teams will be building infrastructure in their home cities, with the promise of “home” and “away’ games in future seasons, a notion that is all but absent from current E-sports culture. This is another innovation to the formula that mirrors standards in traditional sports and promises a more tightly knit team culture. Only time will tell if fans appreciate these changes to the model.
However, if there ever was a company to make these changes, it would be Blizzard. They have already proved themselves capable, creating leagues for beloved games including Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and StarCraft. They have the resources and the experience to pull off successful E-sports operations, and fans should be relatively confident that Overwatch will be no exception.
Official dates for the start of the first season are yet to be announced but is expected to being sometime this year. For more information on the league, and updates to its schedules, check out the official website.