January 10, 2018 by coachcarter717
Written by Carter Cotrupi
In the 21st century, we have seen an increasing popularity surrounding the world of esports. Games like League of Legends, CS: GO, and Rocket League have all contributed to a growing audience of passionate gaming communities watching their favorite games start to make a dent in the mainstream media. Although esports has a long way to go before reaching the viewership of the NFL or NBA, the developers over at Activision Blizzard Inc. have made a significant advancement in how esports can be consumed by a global audience. Their platform for this grandiose idea? None other than their best-selling multi-platform game, Overwatch.
What is Overwatch?
Overwatch is a vastly popular game that was released in 2016 and has since gathered an enormous player base thanks to the developers’ constant updates to the game and interaction with the community. Overwatch is a team-based, objective-based, first-person shooter that emphasizes the use of many different characters, each with their own unique abilities that can interact and integrate with other characters in a variety of ways. Since the launch of the game, casual gamers have been in love with the ever-expanding cast of heroes to choose from. The folks at Blizzard have made it a point to provide plenty of lore to satisfy the cynophiles and bookworms while also making a visually stunning game at the surface level.
Breaking into the Scene
The backbone of any successful game in the modern esports era is its competitive mode. Overwatch has boasted one of the most marketable competitive scenes of any game in recent memory. Taking full advantage of the rise of livestreaming services such as Twitch, fans can now watch their favorite players and gaming personalities play Overwatch anywhere in the world. But the team at Blizzard weren’t satisfied with their hosted pro tournaments and World Cup events coming in such short spurts throughout the year. The company wanted to create their own version of a major league sports season.
Presenting the Overwatch League (OWL). First announced in November 2016, OWL looks to be the first major global esports league with city-based teams. According to the official mission statement on the website, OWL’s goal is to create the world’s premier esports league that will thrive and can hold its own against other mainstream professional sports leagues.
Roadmap for OWL
In its inaugural season, Overwatch League is launching with a model of 12 teams, divided into the Atlantic and Pacific divisions and spanning across five continents. Each of the founding franchises had to buy their spot in the initial lineup which means that most of the teams are backed by organizations and individuals that are easily recognizable, such as Sterling VC, The Kraft Group, and celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal and Alex Rodriguez. Whereas previous popular esports games like Rocket League and CS: GO have short, sporadic weekends of world championship broadcasts, OWL will feature a full-length competitive season complete with weeks of regular season matchups leading towards the inaugural playoffs and championship rounds.
Just like professional sports teams, players on each team are signed to contracts and will operate under a familiar trading and free agency system. Player salaries start at $50,000 with a minimum one-year contract and second-year option. Teams are also required to provide their players with housing, health insurance, retirement options and other accommodations. Blizzard is currently in the process of cementing rules about trading players between teams, signing new players throughout the season (i.e. “free agents”) and even creating a draft system of their own for pro players not featured in OWL to vie for a spot on each team.
Meet the Teams
|Boston Uprising||Boston, MA||The Kraft Group|
|Florida Mayhem||Miami/Orlando, FL||Misfits (Esports)|
|Houston Outlaws||Houston, TX||OpTic Gaming (Esports)|
|London Spitfire||London, GB||Cloud9 (Esports)|
|New York Excelsior||New York City, NY||Sterling, VC|
|Philadelphia Fusion||Philadelphia, PA||Comcast Spectator|
|Dallas Fuel||Dallas, TX||Team Envy (Esports)|
|LA Gladiators||Los Angeles, CA||Kroenke Sports &
|LA Valiant||Los Angeles, CA||Immortals (Esports)|
|San Francisco Shock||San Francisco, CA||NRG Esports|
|Seoul Dynasty||Seoul, South Korea||KSV eSports|
|Shanghai Dragons||Shanghai, China||NetEase|
For a more in-depth look at each of the initial 12 OWL teams, check out this site.
The Overwatch league preseason has already come and gone, but the regular season starts January 10th. Matches will run every week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday until the end of the regular season on June 16th.
The regular season will be divided into four stages, each stage ending with one title match between the two best teams in each division with a prize pool of $125,000 for the Atlantic and Pacific winners of that stage.
At the end of Stage 4, the championship playoffs will start after an extended break on July 11th and run until the Grand Finals from July 26th– July 28th, where one team will take home to inaugural Overwatch League Championship trophy and a $1 million bonus.
After all that, OWL will host an All-Star Weekend from Aug. 10- 12, where the league will host festivities celebrating the inaugural season and invite the community’s favorite pro players to face off in “unexpected” challenges.
Where can I watch the Overwatch League?
It was just announced on Tuesday that the OWL has partnered with Twitch for Season 1 and 2. You will also be able to watch the live broadcasts on Major League Gaming’s streaming service as well as in-game if you own a copy of Overwatch.
I’m sold. How do I show some team pride?
Overwatch League has already embraced the full spectrum of merch available for fans to support their favorite teams. One advantage that OWL has over physical sports leagues is that the entire league is based on a videogame. Overwatch itself is prided on having many cosmetics options, so what better way to capitalize on the debuting esports league than to have team skins available to all the in-game characters? The team skins are not free, but all proceeds from the purchases of the Overwatch League skins goes towards supporting that team. It is the electronic equivalent of buying a team jersey of your favorite player (and the cost is pricey just like a real sports jersey).
The Overwatch League is Blizzard’s big attempt at streamlining esports into the global appeal of major league sports like the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLS, etc. The fact that companies were quick to invest in the city-based franchises is a great sign for things to come when OWL starts the bid for even more international slots in the league. If anything, this shows that the market for esports is there and major business figures are aware of its appeal to the tech-age consumers. The hope is that the Overwatch League will one day rise to the recognition of localized sports teams around the world. Maybe we’ll see not only the business investment, but the fan investment in teams like the Boston Uprising similar to that of the Boston Celtics or New England Patriots.
Personally, I hope that OWL is a success. I don’t think that this esports league should be compared to physical sports where athletes put their bodies on the line. But I do think that this league is a way to bring a global audience of gamers and fans of Overwatch together in one official platform. Friends can gather around their TV and watch their hometown team on a weekly basis, inviting a similar social atmosphere to the gaming community that sports fans have enjoyed for decades. And that’s something that should be celebrated.
Keep a lookout for more Overwatch League news and coverage as the inaugural season progresses!