Is Blizzard Pressuring The Overwatch League?
Blizzard’s Overwatch League has been the focal point of the eSports scene since the reveal at Blizzcon 2016. There were bold,industry-shaping announcements, press releases, news and updates rippled throughout the competitive landscape, resulting in an involvement of major tech and entertainment brands, and other deep-pocket investors & sponsors.
The Overwatch League rosters will be built around and assembled from the Overwatch Contenders, which is already in full swing. It fits the role of a minor league (breeding grounds for upcoming prospects), and a place for professional players and scouts to connect. It currently encompasses NA and EU divisions, with a symbolic prize pool of $100,000 per region in Season One.
Blizzard’s plan for the league to span the entire globe. The teams will be based around cities worldwide. Prominent franchises should have a critical role in the team branding and expansion into the mainstream media, similar to how the NBA, MLB, and NFL operate today.
What are the 9 teams and places?
Teams and places
So far, nine teams and their owners have confirmed for the upcoming Season 1:
- Boston, MA (USA): Robert Kraft, chairman, and CEO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots
- New York, NY (USA): Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets; co-founder and Partner of Sterling.VC
- Los Angeles, CA (USA):
- Team 1: Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals
- Team 2: Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, LA Rams, and Denver Nuggets owners
- Miami and Orlando, FL (USA): Ben Spoont, co-founder, and CEO of Misfits Gaming
- San Francisco, CA (USA): Andy Miller, founder, and chairman of NRG eSports
- London, UK: Cloud9
- Shanghai, China: NetEase
- Seoul, South Korea: Kevin Chou, co-founder of Kabam
The team roster formation will follow these rules:
- Team size: 6-12 players
- Birthplace and home country don’t matter (no region locking)
- Teams have to abide by Overwatch League minimum standards regarding player housing and training facilities
Blizzard’s Minimum Requirments
Players can expect a cozy career head-start once a team signs them. Blizzard, in their Overwatch League Player Agreement, institutes these mandatory minimums for every player:
- A guaranteed one-year contract with optional extensions
- Starting salary: $50,000 USD
- Health insurance and retirement savings plan
- 50% of the team’s performance bonuses from league and tournament prize winning are split evenly between their players.
The signing period will last until October 30th. There’s no set date, but Season 1 is expected to start before the end of 2017.
Any bumps along the way?
The numbers and the hype around the league have been unprecedented so far. Blizzard’s machinery has put immense resources and logistics in motion to ensure it’s a smashing success. However, the process hasn’t been without its fair share of controversies, drama and heated discussions. Mainly, there are some eyebrow-raising issues and concerns surrounding the franchising model and the overhead expenses associated with it, as well as the state of the game itself with its young and evolving competitive scene.
What are the pros and cons of dealing with franchises?
Traditional franchising model draws its roots from the North American continent’s favorite sports, such as basketball (NBA), football (NFL), hockey (NHL) and baseball (MLB). In fact, it’s characterized by the closed membership system, with pre-determined teams that have a guaranteed spot in the league regardless of their results.
Although this system has obviously been successful in North America, it’s not entirely applicable worldwide. European sports are the best example. They have deep historical and cultural roots in the promotion and relegation systems, with vertical mobility between higher and lower tiers of competition. This invariably drives the competitive quality of the entire European sports ecosystem, constantly pushing players and their teams to perform better against ever-improving opponents.
It’s certainly difficult for The Overwatch League to impose a franchising model in regions where it has no historical and cultural roots. Even the eSports household name League of Legends has only recently begun toying with the franchising model, and only in the North America region.
When it comes to overhead expenses, the teams are looking into a minimum of $3.5 million in Season 1. While definitely not unheard off in the eSports scene, that number reaches stratospheric levels when you consider the price of a league buy-in. Although it’s not officially confirmed, the numbers have been juggling between $2 and $20 million for a single spot in the league, which is a steep barrier to entry. High fees can prevent teams and organizations that get less funding from entering the fray. In fact, the owners of the current 9 league teams have Fortune 500 background. After all, they’re the only ones who can afford the “gamble.”
A legitimate question comes up: will these drastic measures slow down or stop the natural growth of Overwatch competitive scene?
What’s Overwatch’s current competitive state?
When it comes to the game itself, it’s objectively far from a fine-tuned, polished and finished product. The DPS-focused dive meta has been dominant for a while. The additions of two new heroes, a shield-spamming, sharp-shooting Orisa, and more recently, an ultra-diver Doomfist, intensify this issue. Still, the meta will evolve organically, as more players begin searching for ways to counter the counters.
Recently, Blizzard announced that eligible players need to be at least 18 years of age, which has caused some backlash. Some of the best players in the world are still in their teenage years. On the other hand, the decision makes sense. eSports is a stressful industry. Young players are exposed to public scrutiny. Often, these youngsters buckle under the overwhelming psychological pressure. They simply don’t know how to deal with all the negativity and responsibilities their career places upon them.
Realistically, it will take years for the league to mature into a proper eSports. It just doesn’t happen overnight. Perhaps it’s better to let the older guys carry the mantle, and keep the pool of young talent unharmed.
Peaking Over the Horizon
The competitive landscape is still largely in its infancy. Blizzard is still experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see a company take care of its game. In his most recent developer update, Game Director Jeff Kaplan also referred to these issues. Apparently, in-game competitive Season 6 will be a month shorter (2 months), with a slew of adjustments in line for Competitive Points, Skill Rating decay, control-type maps, placement match ratings, and matchmaking engine. These are significant changes that will affect competitive play immensely.
The bottom line is this: the developers need more time to figure things out quickly since the league is entering its final pre-launch phase. Can the developers patch and stitch everything together just enough before Overwatch League starts? It’s a hell of a task for sure!
Nobody can dispute that The Overwatch League shows promise to become a flagship of “next-gen” eSports. Blizzard will be navigating through lots of uncharted territory from this point onward. If there’s a company that can do it, it’s them. Hopefully, they’ll pull it off. What a time to be alive!