Recently, rumors and news spread throughout the web in regards to the Overwatch league. Activision Blizzard’s newest, popular competitive title has already garnered a massive following after a critically successful launch in 2016. Featuring fast FPS gameplay with highly strategic matches where players choose characters and adopt different play styles to effectively counter competition, Overwatch continues to improve and impress. After a successful 2016 Overwatch championship match, Blizzard set out to launch the Overwatch league. According to an ESPN article, however, the process has not been terribly simple - and the league entrance fee appears to be outrageous.
According to ESPN’s sources - sources they claim are close to potential franchises in negotiations with Blizzard - Blizzard is asking for a 20 million dollar entrance fee for teams interesting in joining the league. Furthermore, if a team chooses to sell its spot, it would be required to forfeit 25% of the proceeds from the sale. If these sources prove true, it is understandable how team owners and players may shy away from an Overwatch league. A handful of owners have reportedly cut members from their Overwatch teams, as well as eliminating Overwatch teams as a whole.
Activision already owns a reputation of being an incredibly greedy organization. Blizzard, on the contrary, has always created quality games for their loyal fanbase. While few sources were actually named in the ESPN article that I’ll link at the bottom of this write up, the negative press surely hasn’t improved the prospect of an Overwatch league. And if the team split ups reported have indeed been caused by either extreme entrance fees or a disingenuous set of sources, then the proof of impact is already in sight.
With that said, and as with any such situation, there are two sides to the story. After an article analysis by Polygon, Blizzard reached out with a statement to clarify the rumors. According to Blizzard, the rumors and sources are unsubstantiated. The company split its response to address various rumors, and it seemed to clear up a few issues (particularly involving whether they’re “ignoring endemics”). What the response to Polygon did not clear up, however, was exactly what the ESPN article presented. Blizzard simply stated that anonymous sources should be taken with a grain of salt. In other words, Blizzard warned consumers that anonymous sources may be trying to “leverage the media to deliberately spread misinformation as bargaining tactics or for other competitive reasoning” (Hall).
The press release sounds a bit like a call for fake news. Readers shouldn’t necessarily trust anonymous sources because they’re anonymous. I think it is certainly important to take any information and double down on research to verify, but the same should be said of both sides. ESPN names a few sources in its May 11th article (while still utilizing numerous anonymous sources), but one can argue that ESPN - of all outlets for sports - could be considered a trustworthy media outlet. I’m not saying Blizzard is in the right or wrong (the same for ESPN), but in dissecting the information, I can’t discredit ESPN and its sources just yet.
What we can do, however, is parse through the information further. Keep in mind that most of this information is, in fact, from ESPN sources, so it is not yet verified or even discredited by Blizzard. Outside of the alleged $20 million buy in fee for franchises and the 25% loss of profits if a franchisee decides to sell out, we don’t have much information to parse through. According to ESPN, the Robert Kraft Group (Kraft owns the New England Patriots) has already made a handshake deal to join the Overwatch league. From what I read via the Polygon article, too, it appears that rumors suggest traditional major league team owners would be Blizzard’s targeted market. Why? They have the money and knowledge to make an informed purchase.
Overwatch is set to storm the Esports market, particularly if Blizzard is capable of creating a structured gaming Esports platform. Already involved in the Esports community, Overwatch certainly has the potential to dominate the FPS genre since it sits in a fairly unique position. There aren’t many other games in the FPS genre that are designed with the team based strategic elements of Overwatch, especially when you include the MOBA elements of character skills and mid-game switch options. Let’s not forget that Overwatch reportedly reached over 30 million players, making it a historically massive FPS/MOBA game.
With that said, Blizzard announced an Overwatch amateur league called the Contenders League. Within, players will compete, and aspiring professional gamers can show off their abilities and climb the 'professional' ladder. If the Overwatch league was professional baseball, the MLB, then the Contenders League would be independent ball. What does that mean, exactly? Players who can't find a major/minor league contract or who go undrafted often opt to play independent league baseball. There, they can redefine themselves as outstanding players (look at Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta or Astro's pitcher Chris Devenski) and grab the attention of club owners around the league. Likewise, the Overwatch Contenders League is designed to earn amateur players cash prizes and the attention of professional Overwatch teams who may be searching for a new member. This alone is a huge redeeming quality to the current haze around the Overwatch league and allows players to achieve their dreams by proving their worth.
As more information continues to release and as Blizzard continues to update the world on its intentions, Esports fans, Overwatch fans, team owners, and professional gamers everywhere will be intently watching. If the Overwatch league is a success, it could pave the way for an extremely lucrative business venture for those willing to take the initial risk. Most importantly, however, it could, in theory, begin to change the shape of Esports as we know it.