Blizzard Entertainment, the game developer famous for the Warcraft series, recently announced the first seven owners for a brand new league based around their hit game Overwatch.
The Overwatch League (OWL) is Blizzard’s plan to bring organized esports structure to a game that boasts over 30 million registered players. Leagues for the game such as South Korea’s APEX existed before this, but were not nearly quite as large.
New owners for the teams in the league may sound familiar to traditional sports fans. Robert Kraft, the owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots is perhaps the most well-known of the bunch, with the MLB’s New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon being another. Their teams will be located in Boston and New York City respectively.
Other US cities involved in the announcement for teams include Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, with international involvement from Seoul, South Korea and Shanghai, China. Many of these teams are owned by esports industry powerhouses, such as the CEO of Immortals Noah Whinston (L.A.) and NRG Esports founder Andy Miller (San Francisco). There are plans for more cities and several other countries to get involved in the future.
Entrance into the league is not cheap, at least for the still-growing esports landscape. It is reported that buy-in prices for teams hovered around $20 million each and teams could not share in revenues until 2021. Teams did not have to pay the entire fee upfront though. This buy-in price may seem steep but could begin to set important valuations of professional teams in a burgeoning industry. For comparison, Robert Kraft’s other team, the New England Patriots were valued at $3.4 billion late last year.
The OWL is a massive undertaking by Blizzard designed to invest in not only the future of the game itself, but their reputation as a leader in competitive gaming infrastructure. A city-based approach for teams is very rare in esports, as most other games localize all teams and talent to a single location. For example, the largest game in the world League of Legends has all of its competitive North American teams playing out of Santa Monica, California.
The concept of city-based teams is interesting as it will bring more allegiance from fans and better opportunities for city-specific brands to grow. This has been a large selling point for Blizzard to new investors in the scene.
“What we saw is that in traditional sports teams make money because they have a venue and host home games and sell tickets and merchandise,” said Nate Nanzer, OWL commissioner. “That’s completely missing from esports.”