Did you see it?! Did you? Last night (Jan. 10th) was the first day of the opening week of the Overwatch League. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the newly developed league and it carries a great weight on its shoulders. Let’s talk about what the League is and why the success of Overwatch will be critical to a this new direction for eSports.
Why should you care about the Overwatch League? Well no matter what game you may actively be playing, Overwatch is set to play a very important part in the eSports community. The League is the first of its kind as up to this point eSports had mostly been scattered tournaments throughout the globe sometimes culminating in one final tournament. So how is this any different? Overwatch League has a layout and setup that is much more comparable to other physical sports such as the NFL, or NHL. The League currently has 12 different teams which play scheduled games against other teams to vie for position in the season’s playoffs. It’s a more western approach to eSports that hasn’t been seen yet.
Blizzard has provided a great explanation of the seasons here, it reads:
Matches in the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions will play out live from the Blizzard Arena each Wednesday through Saturday. Though the season is divided into four stages, wins and losses will count towards teams’ full-season records and all-important seeding for the postseason. On the last Saturday of each stage, the top teams will compete for hefty bonuses and the title of stage winner.
Those casually mentioned Atlantic and Pacific Divisions are the two regions that teams are organized into. The thing to pay attention to here is that they are not limited to the US. Meaning this League is potentially global as of right now as only 2 teams are not based in the States. So should things go the way Blizzard hopes we could easily see many more teams from elsewhere coming into the League (here’s hoping for some fellow Canadian teams!) Additionally, those “hefty bonuses” they’re talking about are no laughing matter either. For this first season, each stage (of which there are 4 stages, each stage being 5 weeks long) will have $125, 000 up for grabs by that winning team. Remember that’s money that usually they’d be competing for all or nothing.
After Stage 4 finishes, top finishers in each division will prepare for the championship playoffs, which run from July 11–22. The grand final on July 26–28 will determine which team will be crowned the first Overwatch League champions, claiming glory, the Overwatch League trophy, and a USD $1 million bonus.
So… this is all great for Overwatch, but why does it affect all other eSports? Because if it’s successful it will create a precedence. It will be proof that eSports are profitable and will attract other large corporations and players usually reserved for physical sports. It’s not as if eSports isn’t profitable right now, but there just aren’t many big players interested in laying down the money to support them. The more money and global interest that can be generated, the more fans, players, investors, venues and teams can be expected to be seen.
Blizzard is gambling a great amount on this as can be seen with all of the standards they’ve chosen to set. Even simple things like a salary ensure that these professional gamers aren’t stressing out on something so simple as being paid. Would you expect a star-pitcher or an ace-quarterback to play their sports for nothing? To walk home empty-handed should their team lose? That’s not reasonable and it’s something this new League is trying to address among other things.
So how do you bring in the audience and fans alike? They’ve already recently completed construction on the Blizzard Arena. Previously, it had been the home to the Tonight Show, but once Jimmy Fallon decided to take that show back to New York Blizzard saw an opportunity. It is now a gorgeous new venue designed for eSports from the ground up.
As a gamer for over 25 years now it is heartwarming to see such a strong step forward in progression in an attempt to mainstream eSports. I want to be able to walk into any bar and see eSports on the TV for a change, and not have to use an app or Google to find what bars even know what that means. This could be the start of something huge, and I for one am fully behind it. Sign me up, get me those streams and tickets, I’m ready eSports.