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Jared Wynne

Overwatch League Finalizes Franchise List At 12, Sets Dates For Season 1

October 3, 2017

Activision-Blizzard announced the final three cities that will get Overwatch League franchises, as well as the dates for the first season of play.

Throughout the year, Overwatch’s developer and publisher has largely kept mum regarding the league’s makeup. What few details were unveiled often came by way of rumor and innuendo.

But as we near the end of the calendar year, Activision-Blizzard has become much more forthcoming with news on the much-anticipated league.

Overwatch Dallas

One of the most prominent rumors regarding potential teams was focused on a team spanning Dallas and Austin in Texas. It’s now been confirmed that Dallas will indeed be getting an Overwatch League franchise. It will be headed up by Team EnVyUs and the organization’s lead investor, Hersh Interactive Group.

Team EnVyUs boasts top talent across multiple esports disciplines. The organization has been a part of competitive Overwatch since the game first rose to prominence, and its involvement in the league seemed inevitable.

Overwatch Houston

While rumors had pointed to Austin getting a piece of the Overwatch League franchise based in Dallas, or even potentially having a team dedicated to Austin, the second Texas team in the league will actually be based in Houston.

Houston makes sense for Activision-Blizzard, as it is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US. The Houston franchise will be led by OpTic Gaming and team owner Hector Rodriguez.

Like EnVyUs, OpTic has established itself as one of the top organizational names in esports. OpTic has yet to have a presence in competitive Overwatch, but that hasn’t stopped the organization from diving into Overwatch League.

OpTic Gaming recently welcomed a new Dota 2 team featuring top players Peter “ppd” Dager and Ludwig “zai” Wahlberg, showing that the organization is ready to expand across more of the top games in esports.

Overwatch Philadelphia

The final franchise to join Overwatch League will be based in Philadelphia. The city was not as hotly rumored as Dallas, and the franchise also stands out for having no roots in the esports industry.

It will be led by Comcast Spectacor, an ownership group with controlling interests in multiple traditional sports franchises, most notably the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.

Comcast Spectacor’s involvement is also notable given the company’s extensive history with sporting arenas and other public facilities. Activision-Blizzard has been pushing the locality of each franchise and eventual existence of local esports arenas in each city. That’s a goal to which Comcast Spectacor may be able to lend assistance and expertise.

The first Overwatch League arena

As teams aren’t yet prepared to host matches in their home cities, all play in the inaugural Overwatch League season will take place at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles in Burbank, Calif. The esports arena will be run by Activision-Blizzard.

The facility will feature:

  • Seating for over 450 spectators, and additional spectator boxes.
  • Dedicated practice areas in addition to the main stage.
  • Merchandise for official Blizzard Gear featuring Overwatch League team branding.

Overwatch Season 1 dates

The biggest news of all may be the confirmation of when play will begin. The Overwatch League preseason will begin on Dec. 6, giving fans their first taste of Overwatch League action.

The season will then officially get underway on Jan. 10, running through to the playoffs in July.

Before all this new information, we knew the first nine franchises:

Overwatch Boston

One of the most prominent early investors in Overwatch League has been Robert Kraft. He is the chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group.

Kraft’s strong background in sports franchise ownership aligns well with Activision-Blizzard’s goals with Overwatch League. He is the principal owner of both the NFL’s New England Patriots and MLS’ New England Revolution. His success as an owner of the Patriots has made him one of the more prominent members of that league.

Kraft has made media appearances alongside Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick promoting the new league with mainstream media outlets. His contribution has lended immediate credibility to the league. Kraft’s investment stands as likely the most important yet secured.

Overwatch New York City

New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon will control the league’s New York City franchise.

Like Kraft, Wilpon has a strong background in franchise ownership in the traditional sports models that Activision-Blizzard is attempting to emulate. Wilpon also has a background in investments. He is a co-founder of and partner in Sterling VC, a venture capital group based in New York.

Wilpon has received occasional criticism during his tenure with the Mets for meddling overly much in team affairs rather than letting his baseball-minded employees make the decisions. It’s doubtful this will carry over to a young esports franchise.

Overwatch Los Angeles

Continuing the trend of traditional sports franchise owners getting involved in Overwatch League, one of the league’s two Los Angeles franchise allocations was delivered to Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. That company owns stakes in six professional sports franchises including the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and football club Arsenal.

Owners Stan and Josh Kroenke will oversee the team. The Kroenke family stirred some controversy in moving another of their holdings, the Rams NFL franchise, from St. Louis to Los Angeles. The move will provide some geographic symmetry with the new Overwatch team. However, fans may feel a bit wary some years down the line that their franchise’s owners have wandering eyes.

Overwatch LA (again)

Also in Los Angeles will be a team headed up by Noah Winston, CEO of the Immortals esports organization. (AEG, owner of LA Live, is an investor in Immortals.)

One early criticism of Overwatch has been that Activision-Blizzard’s practices have alienated traditional esports organizations and team owners. The company has managed to maintain some endemic ties, however, as Winston’s presence shows.

What will be interesting is how owners like Winston attempt to tie established branding into the new franchises. Activision-Blizzard has made it clear that Overwatch League teams must have original branding unique to the team in its new home.

This means it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing the LA Immortals. However, Winston and his associates may pursue other means to maintain brand synergy.

Overwatch San Francisco

The league’s San Francisco location will be headed up by an owner with roots in both esports and traditional sports in Andy Miller. Miller is a co-owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings franchise. More recently he helped to found the NRG Esports organization.

Like Winston, Miller will face the challenge of establishing a new brand presence while attempting to maintain the brand strength of the broader organization he owns. Miller will at least have the advantage of having San Francisco all to himself, while Winston will be forced to share space with the Kroenke family.

Overwatch Miami-Orlando

The last of the American franchises already delivered will be an exception in that it will cover two cities, Miami and Orlando.

The metro areas are closely linked in South Florida. So long as Overwatch League takes place locally in California, fans in either city will equally be able to enjoy their team. Things might get a little thornier when it comes time to build a physical arena in Florida somewhere between the two sunny locations.

The owner is Ben Spoont, owner of the Misfits esports organization through Esports Now LLC, which is in nearby Boca Raton.

Overwatch London

The most controversial franchise decision thus far has been the handing of the London franchise to Jack Etienne.

As the owner of the Cloud9 esports organization, Etienne has built a reputation as being one of the leaders among owners in the esports industry, particularly in the United States. Cloud9 has traditionally fielded American teams, often some of the best that the country has to offer.

Making his ownership of a franchise in England even more strange is that Sam Mathews, founder and chairman of popular esports organization Fnatic, publicly expressed his frustration on Twitter with Etienne’s ownership. Mathews implied that Fnatic should have been given priority on the spot, because the organization is in London.

Mathews’ annoyance provided a window into a negotiation process that appears not to be inclusive to all interested parties, even those as established as the chair of one of the world’s biggest esports brands. It’s unlikely that any of this will affect the London franchise in the long run, but it certainly makes for an inauspicious debut.

Overwatch Shanghai

Moving to Asia, Activision-Blizzard announced that its first franchise in China would be in Shanghai. Internet technology company NetEase, headquartered in Beijing, will own the franchise.

Esports fans may not immediately recognize the NetEase name, but it’s a company that has an established working relationship with Activision-Blizzard. NetEase operates a number of Blizzard’s online games in China, including Hearthstone, StarCraft 2 and World of Warcraft.

This association likely provided a clear path for NetEase to claim the first Chinese Overwatch team. It offered Activision-Blizzard a comfortable choice of partner.

Overwatch Seoul

Rounding out the list of franchises is a team to in Seoul, South Korea. At the helm will be Kevin Chou, former CEO of mobile gaming company Kabam. Chou made a reasonable fortune from the growth and sale of Kabam. He has since founded KSV Esports International to direct one of the debut Overwatch League franchises.

Expectations will be high for Chou and the management team he puts into place to run his team. The bar has always been high for Korean esports teams and players, thanks in large part to an earlier social acceptance of esports in Korea and the strong early infrastructure that resulted from it.

Korean teams have consistently been among the world’s best in the infant days of Overwatch. Anything less than that moving forward will likely be a disappointment for fans in South Korea.

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What it all means for Overwatch League

There’s no doubt that the Overwatch League will have a profound effect on the esports industry. Those effects will certainly be felt at the top as owners attempt to discern the best spots in the marketplace to invest. But fans of the game and interested bettors will also feel these effects.

Overwatch League will bring with it a consistency that Overwatch has not yet seen before. It will allow fans to follow their favorite players and teams from game to game.

It’s a big risk that Activision-Blizzard is taking, but the rewards are plain to see. And no matter how things pan out for Overwatch League, fans will benefit from all the games and the opportunities that come with them.

Madden NFL, Mobile Masters Esports Events Coming To Las Vegas

September 18, 2017

Two more events in a busy esports calendar will be coming to Las Vegas as the city continues to progress as a hub for American esports competition.

Madden comes to Vegas

Gamers will first see a Challenger tournament for the new year’s Madden Championship Series. The latest edition of the pro circuit for EA Sports’ Madden NFL series was announced in August, and brings with it official partnerships with all 32 franchises in the NFL.

The Xbox One event will take place at Millennial Esports’ 15,000 square-foot Downtown Las Vegas Esports arena Sept. 23-24.

The competition will boast a $10,000 prize pool, with the winner advancing automatically to the Madden Classic in October. And with the event being an official part of the Madden Championship Series, competitors will be jockeying for series points as well.

Millennial Esports Corporation CTO Adam Morrison said registration was up from the company’s previous Madden event. That indicates a strong surge in support for competitive Madden play and a good reason to take notice of the new pro Madden circuit. The entry fee started at $100 and is now $125.

“Everyone else is doing a $5k tourney, but we wanted a bigger prize pool to appeal to more players,” Morrison said in a press release. “We had a blast working with EA at our first sanctioned West Coast Madden tourney in March and we were thrilled to see such a strong early interest in registering for this tournament, nearly 200% more registrations so far.”

Mobile gaming makes an impact

Online retail giant Amazon first made its interest in esports known with the purchase of streaming platform Twitch, but the company hasn’t stopped there. The company also runs its own tournaments, and will be hosting Mobile Masters Las Vegas Oct. 14-15.

The event will include tournaments for four mobile titles, including:

  • Vainglory
  • World of Tanks Blitz
  • Critical Ops
  • Power Rangers: Legacy Wars

A total of $80,000 in prizes will be up for grabs.

Mobile gaming has seen an increasing number of developers and publishers attempting to establish competitive scenes around their titles. Vainglory has been among the most successful. Developer Super Evil Megacorp running an official pro league with major events scheduled through the calendar year.

Fans haven’t yet flocked to esports on mobile platforms in the same numbers that tune into games playing on more traditional desktop platforms. But the immense number of smartphone and tablet owners worldwide makes the mobile marketplace an attractive one.

Amazon’s interest, and the continued development of the Mobile Masters series, speaks to the potential of mobile esports. And the choice of Las Vegas as host for the event speaks to the city’s potential for esports events.

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Vegas and esports

America’s betting capital has increasingly been seen as a hot destination for esports event organizers and teams. And it comes as the market for esports betting continues to expand.

The city is obviously good at drawing tourists and visitors to big events. Local casino operators have begun showing interest in incorporating competitive gaming into their entertainment offerings.

These two events coming to Vegas are just the latest example of the city’s intent to increase its footprint in esports.

CSGOLotto Owners Settle Betting Scandal Case With Federal Trade Commission

September 14, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission settled its case with two men who used social media to improperly direct traffic to a CS:GO betting platform.

The FTC and the CSGOLotto case

Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and Thomas “Syndicate” Cassell have settled with the FTC after having been accused of using their sizable social media presences to direct new users to CSGO Lotto, a skin betting platform in which both Martin and Cassell had undisclosed stakes.

The settlement requires Martin and Cassell to abide strict guidelines in how they represent any products and services in the future.

More from the FTC:

“Consumers need to know when social media influencers are being paid or have any other material connection to the brands endorsed in their posts,” said FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen in a press release. “This action, the FTC’s first against individual influencers, should send a message that such connections must be clearly disclosed so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions.”

Social media fame used to improperly advertise

Martin and Cassell’s prominence coincided with the growth and elevation of a gambling marketplace specific to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s in-game goods. These digital goods, generally in the form of colorful weapon skins, can be traded between users.

As the CS:GO player base expanded, so too did the opportunities to gamble with in-game skins and their real-world value. Martin and Cassell seized on the opportunity, backing the CSGO Lotto gambling platform, designed specifically to encourage skin gambling.

The pair then took to their popular YouTube channels to create videos in which they gambled, and won, through their own platform. These videos would sometimes come with titles promising viewers the means to quickly earn thousands of dollars.

Neither Martin nor Cassell properly disclosed their involvement with CSGO Lotto during their promotion of the service. That promotion crept across multiple social media outlets and generated millions of views.

Not long after the pair were outed as being involved with CSGOLotto, the betting platform shut down. But that wasn’t the end of things.

The FTC gets involved

The Federal Trade Commission’s mission is to protect domestic consumers in the United States. As such, it opened an investigation into Martin and Cassell’s activities.

That investigation led to this week’s settlement. It dictated that the pair must clearly disclose any material connections with products and services they endorse. Also, they may not misrepresent their independence from any such product or service.

The entire episode has highlighted just how much power social media influencers wield in the nascent esports industry. That influence is particularly powerful when it comes to activities such as gambling. The very nature and legality of gambing in and around esports is still developing. This involvement from the FTC, which marks the first time the FTC has ever acted against individual social media influencers, is likely a sign of things to come.

As the industry continues to grow and the importance of esports betting grows along with it, watchdog agencies such as the FTC will increasingly make their presence felt.

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More from the FTC

The FTC went into great detail about its issues with what Martin and Cassell did:

Martin is the company’s president and Cassell is its vice president. As alleged in the complaint, each posted YouTube videos of themselves gambling on their website and encouraging others to use the service. Martin’s videos had titles such as, “HOW TO WIN $13,000 IN 5 MINUTES (CS-GO Betting)” and “$24,000 COIN FLIP (HUGE CSGO BETTING!) + Giveaway.”

Cassell posted videos with titles such as “INSANE KNIFE BETS! (CS:GO Betting),” and “ALL OR NOTHING! (CS:GO Betting).” In all, Cassell’s videos promoting the CSGO Lotto website were viewed more than 5.7 million times. Martin and Cassell allegedly also promoted the site on Twitter without adequately disclosing their connection to CSGO Lotto.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Martin, Cassell, and their company also had an “influencer program” and paid other gaming influencers between $2,500 and $55,000 to promote the CSGO Lotto website to their social media circles, while prohibiting them from saying anything negative about the site.

You can read the full press release here; court order here.

DreamHack Unbans Match-Fixing CS:GO Players, Following Esports Integrity Guidelines

September 12, 2017

DreamHack has followed the lead of ESL in accepting new Esports Integrity Coalition guidelines and removing bans from some professional CS:GO players found guilty of match-fixing.

The decision follows the official establishment of a new set of guidelines by the ESIC. The ESIC determined new standardized lengths for bans resulting from a variety of offenses. Those included cheating and the fixing of results of professional matches upon which fans had placed bets.

With this new alignment, DreamHack will be unbanning players guilty of match-fixing whose bans were implemented prior to February 15, 2015. This most notably includes former players for North American team iBUYPOWER.

iBUYPOWER bans shocked the esports world

iBUYPOWER established itself as one of the premier teams in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with its play in 2014. The North American squad collected two ESEA titles. It beat some of Europe’s biggest teams, including Titan and Virtus Pro along the way.

For some time, iBUYPOWER was the only American team to win a premier CS:GO event with Europe’s best squads in attendance.

But the Counter-Strike world was rocked by the revelation that iBUYPOWER players had fixed the result of a domestic game. The match was against the former NetcodeGuides.com team for the promise of a financial windfall.

All persons associated with the infraction were banned. That included four of five iBUYPOWER players. It was a huge blow to CSGO in America and put fans’ and bettors’ confidence in doubt.

Effects of the bans

While iBUYPOWER was the biggest of the teams found guilty of match-fixing, they weren’t alone.

The series of discoveries made and the ensuing bans emphasized the vulnerabilities of an unregulated CS:GO betting market and a loose competitive structure without unified rules.

And given the widespread nature of esports betting in CS:GO and the importance the practice carries in driving player and spectator interest, it was no surprise when tournament organizers began cracking down.

There was much debate regarding the appropriate length for bans based on serious infractions, match-fixing included. It was generally agreed in ESIC’s work that a serious response was required to discourage the practice. It would also give bettors confidence that all professional gamers were being legitimately contested.

But clemency was often floated for early offenders like the iBUYPOWER players.

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What’s next?

With this decision, those players banned prior to February 15, 2015 will now have a chance to resume their professional careers through most of the competitive CS:GO calendar.

Developer Valve has continued to uphold its own bans, as have some other tournament organizers like ELEAGUE. But there should be more than enough leagues and tournaments to sustain a full-time team even without Valve’s majors.

There’s little question that we’ll soon see the former iBUYPOWER players back in action as a team. The question that does remain is which organization will see fit to step forward and fly their banner over a group of players whose actions had such an impact on CS:GO and its community.

CS:GO Platform PvPRO Partners With Sportradar To Distribute Data, Streams For Esports Betting

September 6, 2017

PvPRO announced a partnership that taps data company Sportradar to distribute live streams and data from the CS:GO tournament platform’s competitions internationally.

The deal also covers integrity for PvPRO matches.

PvPRO + Sportradar

The agreement “focuses in on audiovisual streaming rights for the global betting market, plus data distribution rights for the betting as well as non-betting ecosystems,” according to a press release from the companies.

To protect all PvPRO’s competitions, Sportradar’s Integrity Services will monitor betting patterns from all relevant bookmakers and operators around the world in order to identify suspicious betting activity. (Sportradar is one of the founding members of the Esports Integrity Coalition, or ESIC.)

The deal also includes the use of Sportradar’s Fraud Detection System, to ensure there is no betting-related manipulation occurring on PvRO competitions.

Esports betting remains a part of the equation

As the esports industry as a whole grows, so too does the esports betting marketplace. Official partnerships in the data acquisition and provision markets have the potential to provide fans and bettors alike with more and better information around the world’s biggest competitions.

In announcing the move, PvPRO also emphasized its concern with integrity and the proper use of data provided. Attention was drawn to Sportradar’s link to the ESIC, which has partnered with betting regulators across Europe. It recently made waves with its recommendations for suspensions for match-fixing and cheating offenses.

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PvPRO launching global tour

Fans won’t have to wait long to see the partnership in action. PvPRO will implement Sportradar’s services throughout the Electronic Sports Global Tour, beginning Thursday at ESG Tour Mykonos in Greece.

PvPRO CEO Stamos Venios gave a statement expressing optimism on the partnership:

“To really kick off the tour in style and with a statement of professional intent, we also wanted to bring on board the number one specialists in esports data, betting streams and integrity. Securing Sportradar’s support and expertise was really important to the credibility and distribution of the Tour and as we start this journey, we could not be happier to have Sportradar at our side.”

ESG Tour Mykonos will feature eight of the world’s best CS:GO teams squaring off, including SK Gaming, Virtus Pro, Team Liquid, and defending champion Gambit Esports.

It will be the second tournament for Gambit since the team parted ways with captain Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko. The first, DreamHack Masters Malmo, resulted in a top-four finish. Gambit enters as likely favorites along with Brazil’s SK Gaming, and the two teams are likely to cross paths early after drawing into the same group.

Here Are The Nine Overwatch League Teams We Know So Far; How Many More Will There Be?

August 30, 2017

The arrival of Activision-Blizzard’s Overwatch League is imminent, and the effects are sure to reverberate across the esports landscape.

There has been much debate about the much-anticipated league. Some fans believe Activision-Blizzard is jumping the gun, demanding $20 million or more for rights to own franchises and setting expectations astronomically high for a game that has yet to establish a consistent viewership.

Others are excited to see the traditional sports franchise model brought to esports, and to have teams to call their own, based in their own backyards.

Whether it works spectacularly, struggles mightily, or falls somewhere between, there’s no doubting that the effects will be dramatic. But just who are the owners bringing the first Overwatch League teams to life. And where will fans be able to follow players locally?

There are nine confirmed teams so far:

Overwatch Boston

One of the most prominent early investors in Overwatch League has been Robert Kraft, Chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group.

Kraft’s strong background in sports franchise ownership aligns well with Activision-Blizzard’s goals with Overwatch League. He is the principal owner of both the NFL’s New England Patriots and MLS’ New England Revolution. His success as an owner of the Patriots has made him one of the more prominent members of that league.

Kraft has made media appearances alongside Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick promoting the new league with mainstream media outlets. His contribution has lended immediate credibility to the league. Kraft’s investment stands as likely the most important yet secured.

Overwatch New York City

New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon will control the league’s New York City franchise.

Like Kraft, Wilpon has a strong background in franchise ownership in the traditional sports models that Activision-Blizzard is attempting to emulate. Wilpon also has a background in investments. He is a co-founder of and partner in Sterling VC, a venture capital group based in New York.

Wilpon has received occasional criticism during his tenure with the Mets for meddling overly much in team affairs rather than letting his baseball-minded employees make the decisions. It’s doubtful this will carry over to a young esports franchise.

Overwatch Los Angeles

Continuing the trend of traditional sports franchise owners getting involved in Overwatch League, one of the league’s two Los Angeles franchise allocations was delivered to Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. That company owns stakes in six professional sports franchises including the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and football club Arsenal.

Owners Stan and Josh Kroenke will oversee the team. The Kroenke family stirred some controversy in moving another of their holdings, the Rams NFL franchise, from St. Louis to Los Angeles. The move will provide some geographic symmetry with the new Overwatch team. However, fans may feel a bit wary some years down the line that their franchise’s owners have wandering eyes.

Overwatch LA (again)

Also in Los Angeles will be a team headed up by Noah Winston, CEO of the Immortals esports organization. (AEG, owner of LA Live, is an investor in Immortals.)

One early criticism of Overwatch has been that Activision-Blizzard’s practices have alienated traditional esports organizations and team owners. The company has managed to maintain some endemic ties, however, as Winston’s presence shows.

What will be interesting is how owners like Winston attempt to tie established branding into the new franchises. Activision-Blizzard has made it clear that Overwatch League teams must have original branding unique to the team in its new home.

This means it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing the LA Immortals, though Winston and his associates may pursue other means to maintain brand synergy.

Overwatch San Francisco

The league’s San Francisco location will be headed up by an owner with roots in both esports and traditional sports in Andy Miller. Miller is a co-owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings franchise. More recently he helped to found the NRG Esports organization.

Like Winston, Miller will face the challenge of establishing a new brand presence while attempting to maintain the brand strength of the broader organization he owns. Miller will at least have the advantage of having San Francisco all to himself, while Winston will be forced to share space with the Kroenke family.

Overwatch Miami-Orlando

The last of the American franchises already delivered will be an exception in that it will cover two cities, Miami and Orlando.

The metro areas are closely linked in South Florida. So long as Overwatch League is played locally in California, fans in either city will equally be able to enjoy their team. Things might get a little thornier when it comes time to build a physical arena in Florida somewhere between the two sunny locations.

The owner is Ben Spoont, owner of the Misfits esports organization through Esports Now LLC, which is in nearby Boca Raton.

Overwatch London

The most controversial franchise decision thus far has been the handing of the London franchise to Jack Etienne.

As the owner of the Cloud9 esports organization, Etienne has built a reputation as being one of the leaders among owners in the esports industry, particularly in the United States. Cloud9 has traditionally fielded American teams, often some of the best that the country has to offer.

Making his ownership of a franchise in England even more strange is that Sam Mathews, founder and chairman of popular esports organization Fnatic, publicly expressed his frustration on Twitter with Etienne’s ownership. Mathews implied that Fnatic should have been given priority on the spot, given that the organization is in London.

Mathews’ annoyance provided a window into a negotiation process that appears not to be inclusive to all interested parties, even those as established as the chair of one of the world’s biggest esports brands. It’s unlikely that any of this will affect the London franchise in the long run, but it certainly makes for an inauspicious debut.

Overwatch Shanghai

Moving to Asia, Activision-Blizzard announced that its first franchise in China would be in Shanghai. Internet technology company NetEase, headquartered in Beijing, will own the franchise.

Esports fans may not immediately recognize the NetEase name, but it’s a company that has an established working relationship with Activision-Blizzard. NetEase operates a number of Blizzard’s online games in China, including Hearthstone, StarCraft 2 and World of Warcraft.

This association likely provided a clear path for NetEase to claim the first Chinese Overwatch team, and offered Activision-Blizzard a comfortable choice of partner.

Overwatch Seoul

Rounding out the list of franchises is a team to in Seoul, South Korea. At the helm will be Kevin Chou, former CEO of mobile gaming company Kabam. Chou made a reasonable fortune from the growth and sale of Kabam. He has since founded KSV Esports International to direct one of the debut Overwatch League franchises.

Expectations will be high for Chou and the management team he puts into place to run his team. The bar has always been high for Korean esports teams and players, thanks in large part to an earlier social acceptance of esports in Korea and the strong early infrastructure that resulted from it.

Korean teams have consistently been among the world’s best in the infant days of Overwatch. Anything less than that moving forward will likely be considered a disappointment for fans in South Korea.

Overwatch Austin-Dallas?

At least one other team is in the works, according to ESPN.

Team EnVyUs will own a franchised based in Texas, spanning Austin and Dallas. ESPN reported the team’s likely existence in August; no official word about it has come yet. (The league announced the second LA team and the team in London since this report.)

EnVyUs was one of the earliest teams in Overwatch, so it’s no surprise it will take part in the fledgling league.

According to the league, the “latest new owners won’t be the last,” so it’s possible the league gets to a dozen or more.

What it all means for Overwatch League

There’s no doubt that the Overwatch League will have a profound effect on the esports industry. Those effects will certainly be felt at the top as owners attempt to discern the best spots in the marketplace to invest. But fans of the game and interested bettors will also feel these effects.

Overwatch League will bring with it a consistency that Overwatch has not yet seen before. It will allow fans to follow their favorite players and teams from game to game.

It’s a big risk that Activision-Blizzard is taking, but the rewards are plain to see. And no matter how things pan out for Overwatch League, fans will benefit from all the games and the opportunities that come with them.

Betway Will Bring Live CS:GO Odds To ESL Pro League Broadcasts As New Sponsor

August 25, 2017

The ESL Pro League announced Betway as an official partner to one of the world’s top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive competitions.

The sponsorship will span the duration of the upcoming ESL Pro League season. It begins in August and climaxes at a live final in Odense, Denmark, on Dec. 5.

ESL Pro League gets live odds from Betway

Betway is a global online gambling company serving a number of sports betting markets, including esports betting. Betway previously worked with ESL in sponsoring ESL One Cologne, a $250,000 CS:GO tournament held in July.

At that event, Betway contributed live esports betting odds to ESL’s streaming broadcast. That gave bettors an unprecedented look at shifting odds for CS:GO betting during the event as part of the produced viewing experience. Betway has confirmed that this practice will continue through the ESL Pro League. That enables interested bettors to keep up with the odds on matches they’re following.

“Our experience sponsoring ESL One Cologne was a huge success, and the feedback we received from our first-of-its-kind live odds feeds into the broadcast has inspired us to increase our involvement across tournaments and teams in the coming months and years,” said Anthony Werkman, director of marketing and operations for Betway.

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The world’s top CS:GO teams set to compete

The ESL Pro League features a $1 million prize pool. Twenty-eight teams evenly split between North America and Europe will battle it out to determine the 12 finalists who will compete in the finals in Odense. Each team will play 26 matches by season’s end, ensuring that only those who rigorously prove themselves the best will advance.

Returning champion G2 Esports comes into the competition flying somewhat under the radar given the impact of roster changes on other top teams following the conclusion of the PGL Major. Fellow European sides FaZe Clan and Natus Vincere will be debuting newly rebuilt rosters. Across the pond, top American squad Cloud9 will be bringing its own revamped roster in hopes of booking a return trip to the event’s grand final.

Other top teams such as Astralis, Fnatic and Team Liquid are also seeking a piece of the prize pool.

GG.bet Becomes First Esports Betting Site To Take Wagers On PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

August 23, 2017

Fans of the wildly popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) will now be able to bet on the battle royale shooter for the first time.

GG.bet steps to the plate

Esports betting platform GG.bet is now offering fans the chance to make bets on their favorite players and teams competing in PUBG.

The move coincides with the first major esports tournament for PUBG, which starts on Aug. 23 at Gamescom.

PUBG gains popularity quickly

PUBG has shot up the charts since its early access release in March. According to a report from Newzoo, the title was the sixth most popular PC game in the month of July, trailing behind big titles like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but beating out World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto V, and Heroes of the Storm.

Notably, PUBG was nearly on par in those rankings with Activision-Blizzard’s popular first-person shooter Overwatch, which is now being supported by the upcoming Overwatch League with investment from sports business leaders like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

This surge has drummed up plenty of interest in PUBG as a potential esports title.

In an interview with Dot Esports, Team Liquid co-CEO Steve Arhancet was bullish on the game’s future.

“I’m confident PUBG has the right components to have a big place in the future of esports, including a large player base and a dedicated developer to improve the game,” Arhancet said.

The strength of PUBG can also be seen on Twitch, the internet’s biggest hub for esports fans and spectators. The game routinely occupies the top spot in aggregated viewership.

Popular esports personalities from a broad range of games have made the game a part of their streaming rotation. That has helped to expose it to potential new players.

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PUBG ready for primetime?

The PUBG Invitational at Gamescom will mark the big debut for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds as an esports title.

A prize pool of $350,000 is at stake, making it as rich as some big tournaments for established esports titles like CS:GO and Dota 2. And now, thanks to GG.bet, fans will be able to get in on the action as well.