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What Will Happen In Esports In 2018? Overwatch League, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Will Be Key Stories

January 10, 2018

Last year was one of esports’ biggest years to date. The industry has been growing at a meteoric rate, with pioneering ideas being brought to life and previously unimaginable developments being released on a frequent basis.

As we ring in the new year, here are some of the stories we anticipate breaking more ground in 2018:

MLG and Halo reunite

This should be an exciting year for Halo esports.

A mid-December announcement revealed Major League Gaming’s renewed partnership with Halo for the upcoming season, enticing the impassioned competitive Halo community for the best year yet.

The legacy franchise, Halo, has been around since esports’ inception, much before it was a household word. The two companies grew up together in 2002 when MLG launched, but parted ways a decade later due to fundamental changes in the game that altered Halo in ways that were too big to ignore.

However, the unification of both parties is a testament to a decade of what many remember as Halo’s “golden era” and holds a bright torch looking to 2018 and onward.

Blizzard’s Overwatch League

The lead-up to Blizzard’s Overwatch League was one of the most followed stories in esports this past year.

Many fans and industry analysts watched the OWL grow from idea to execution, surmounting to the league’s preseason debut in December. The engineering brilliance behind the preseason blew away expectations for the league’s initial outing and raised enthusiasm ahead of the OWL’s opening week. More excitingly, OWL surpasses its own far-reaching ambitions, which is only the first chapter in its development.

“Launching the league next week. We’ve been working on launching Overwatch League for over two years now and next Wednesday is going to be the culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people across the organization,” Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer said regarding the start of its inaugural season.

The league’s debut matches kick off today.

Franchising in esports

The Overwatch League sparked the new trend of franchising in the sphere that is revolutionizing the esports ecosystem.

In May, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, bought into the OWL for a reported $20 million. Kraft’s investment would be the first of many franchise buy-ins last year, one of 12 in the OWL alone.

Riot Games’ North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) will introduce the same concept into its league moving into 2018.

Franchising presents a level of certainty: Investors can write hefty checks to purchase teams, with promised longevity for the growth of the industry.

Many investors and speculators are seeking proof of concept and stability in esports. Solidity for the year to come is presented by franchising. Expect to see more new and developing leagues utilize this model moving forward as the OWL and NA LCS validate franchising dexterity .

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ revolutionary aspirations

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, more commonly shortened as ‘PUBG’, experienced what some would consider unimaginable success in 2017.

In less than a year, PUBG broke out into a consistent top streamed game on Twitch, selling over 24 million copies in just its early access stage.

PUBG made headlines in August of last year when the young and fresh battle royale game knocked off longtime titleholder, League of Legends, as Twitch’s No. 1 watched game. It takes a lot to ruin League of Legends’ 34-month stretch at the top. Looking ahead, PUBG’s future performance is expected to dominate.

PUBG’s viewership has attracted a ton of attention, raising the question of its esport prospect while also shifting organized tournaments into overdrive. In 2017, PUBG went from releasing its public beta to awarding almost $800,000 of prize money during tournaments in such a short time. Although PUBG’s esport scene is still in a developing state, the velocity of its rise is exhilarating.

Most recently, PUBG’s developers announced the goal of converting the game into a global media franchise. The company’s CEO, Chang Han Kim, has also indicated being in discussion with Hollywood and Netflix in regards to creating content based on the game.

At the rate in which PUBG has came out the gates in its first year, anticipate the game to make a few more huge leaps in 2018.

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2K League brought to life

The NBA has been working feverishly towards its 2K League, building a premise for the league’s structure and operation during its 2018 inaugural season.

Last year served as a primer for the league as it kicked up speed to lead up to its successful debut. The league’s ambitions are quite toilsome; the organization has been carefully fine-tuning the league up until this point, ensuring a smooth and healthy start.

The start of this year has already brought us the 2K League’s official logo, with a promise to be coupled with the unveiling of the 17 team logos. The NBA announced it would be sharing integral details of the league from now until May regarding the upcoming tryouts, draft, season schedule and more.

With the concept of the 2K League in discussion for so long, esports enthusiasts from around the globe are anticipating seeing the league coming to life this year.

Esports Betting Outlook: Overwatch League Is Here

January 9, 2018

It’s a rarity that CS:GO has so little going on but it’s given the likes of Call of Duty and Overwatch a chance to shine with two huge events starting over the next few days.

  • MLG host CWL New Orleans on Friday, one of the largest Call of Duty tournaments of the year with a prize pool of $200,000.
  • The 2018 Overwatch League begins this week with $1 million up for grabs and 12 teams in the running.
  • ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifiers take place over the weekend as one of the few CS:GO events taking place this week.

Where to bet on esports

With both Overwatch and Call of Duty taking most of the spotlight, you’ll want to find a betting site that lists odds for esports other than League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from and we’ve listed the best of the bunch down below.

Bet365

Fans of LoL will definitely want to check out Bet365 this week, as there are hundreds of betting markets available for LPL, LCK, EU & NA LCS.

Elsewhere on the site you can find odds for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, CS:GO, StarCraft II, Rocket League, Heroes of the Storm, King of Glory, Overwatch, Hearthstone and Warcraft III. In essence, they have almost every esports tournament in existence on offer at Bet365.

Betway

Betway has really expanded its range of titles and tournaments on offer in recent weeks. There’s almost as many games to bet on as Bet365, but with the added bonus of having plenty of esports promotional offers too. New customers can get their hands on a 100 percent free esports bet up to £30.

Ongoing customers need not miss out too, as Betway is offering free bets of up to £20 for completing weekly objectives.

SkyBet

SkyBet has a healthy selection of esports available for an all-sports bookmaker. Alongside its more popular sport such as football and horse racing, you’ll be able to find great odds for LoL, CS:GO, StarCraft II, Dota 2 and more. Whether it’s pre-game or in-play, SkyBet is always worth taking a look at.

Pinnacle

Pinnacle is yet another betting site that have gone all out on including odds for a large variety of esports. Its esports section is sometimes lacking in choice but this week, it’s as busy as can be. If you’re looking to get the best odds for your esports betting, Pinnacle is is the site for you.

Betspawn

There have been some small improvements made over at the Betspawn site. It’s now much easier to see what esports are currently available to bet on, as its has separated them from those that are “currently inactive.”

As ever, its active list is full to the brim with practically every esports tournament in existence available to bet on. Be sure to check out its new Profit Boost promotion, where Betspawn will boost the odds of some accumulator bets up to 30 percent.

GG.bet

Although it has been known to lack choice in the past, GG.bet is throwing its weight this week with a whole bunch of esports and tournaments to choose from. This esports betting site is definitely one to check out, as it regularly posts free-bet promotions on its homepage.

Unikrn

There may not be any mid-week special promotions up for grabs at Unikrn, but its extremely generous welcome bonus is still yours for the taking. Deposit £25 and Unikrn will give you a 200 percent bonus up to £50, giving you £75 to play with. Whether you’re using pounds or their very own Unikrn Gold (UKG) to bet with, there’s plenty of esports betting markets to check out.

Unibet

There’s still £30 on offer for new customers at Unibet this week. This can be used on esports or traditional sports, which take up the majority of its site. Fear not, though: there’s five different esports on offer, including CS:GO, Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm.

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This week in esports events

League of Legends is seemingly quiet ahead of the 2018 season next week. CS:GO is also much quieter than usual, although we will have a taste of the ELEAGUE Major action as the Main Qualifiers take place over the weekend.

Call of Duty

A grand total of 272 teams will compete at CWL New Orleans in this huge CoD tournament for a respectable prize pool of $200,000. A total of 25,000 Pro Point series are also up for grabs at the event, which will take place starting Friday. Hosted by MLG, CWL New Orleans comes just weeks before the Stage 1 of the CWL Pro League, which has a prize pool of $700,000.

Overwatch

Twelve teams will compete as part of the Overwatch League, starting this Wednesday. The league season will run up until the final on July 28, where $1 million will be awarded to the winning team. The first season of the Overwatch League will take place at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles. London Spitfire and Seoul Dynasty are currently joint favorites to win the competition at odds of 3.00 (2/1).

CS:GO

Following a quiet few weeks in CS:GO, the scene is slowly warming back up with the arrival of the ELEAGUE Main Qualifiers, which begin this Friday. A total of 16 teams will compete for eight spots in the main event, which has a prize pool of $1 million. Eight teams are already confirmed for the main event, including Virtus Pro and SK Gaming, who both qualified following their performance at PGL Krakow 2017.

Overwatch League Is Almost Here: Everything You Need To Know

Dustin Gouker January 5, 2018

The Overwatch League has been one of the most anticipated endeavors in the history of esports.

After a short preseason, we’re less than a week away from the first official matches in the history of the nascent league. Here’s a primer:

What’s Overwatch?

You probably know what Overwatch is if you’re reading this. But for the uninitiated, it’s a video game from Blizzard Entertainment for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PCs.

It’s a team-based multiplayer online first-person shooter that has quickly caught the attention of gamers around the world. Two teams of six are pitted against each other in trying to control points on a map or delivering a payload.

Here’s how Blizzard describes the backstory:

In a time of global crisis, an international task force of heroes banded together to restore peace to a war-torn world: OVERWATCH.

Overwatch ended the crisis, and helped maintain peace in the decades that followed, inspiring an era of exploration, innovation, and discovery. But, after many years, Overwatch’s influence waned, and it was eventually disbanded.

Now, conflict is rising across the world again, and the call has gone out to heroes old and new.

The basics of Overwatch League

Blizzard announced in 2016 that it would be launching a professional league based on the rising esport. Throughout 2017, it prepared for its launch.

After a successful preseason, the real action kicks off Jan. 10.

The teams

There are 12 teams of Overwatch pros, with most teams based in the US:

  • Boston Uprising
  • Dallas Fuel
  • Florida Mayhem
  • Houston Outlaws
  • London Spitfire
  • Los Angeles Gladiators
  • Los Angeles Valiant
  • New York Excelsior
  • Philadelphia Fusion
  • San Francisco Shock
  • Seoul Dynasty
  • Shanghai Dragons

You can learn more about the teams and their rosters here. Players get a minimum base salary of $50,000.

The schedule

The regular season will run Jan. 10 through  Wednesday through Saturday. Teams will compete over the course of four “stages,” with bonuses coming with the title of stage winner.

The postseason starts immediately afterward, running through July 28. The top finishers in the two divisions — Atlantic and Pacific — will compete for the league title. The grand final on July 26-28 will award a $1 million bonus to the winning team.

There will also be an all-star weekend in August with some of the top players from the season.

The arena

For season 1, the teams will all compete at Blizzard Arena in LA. More on the arena here.

The plan is to have home arenas in future seasons.

Where to watch Overwatch League

You can watch in person, if you’re lucky enough to be in LA.

But if you’re not, the matches will be streamed live on Twitch or on the OWL website.

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Can you bet on Overwatch League?

Many of the traditional sportsbooks and esports betting websites will likely take wagers on Overwatch League matches.

If fantasy sports is more your speed, there is a site offering leagues so you can pick esports pros for your own virtual roster.

Overwatch Is Most Popular Esport In 18 States, New Research Shows

December 15, 2017

In the world of sports, football has always reigned as America’s favorite. But when it comes to esports, Overwatch appears to be king.

Using data collected over the course of a year — starting in September of 2016 — EsportsEarnings and Frontier Communications collaborated to identify the most popular esports by state. They used the relationships between highest earning titles and Google Trends of esports in the United States.

Globally, Overwatch hardly stacks up against the gargantuan communities behind prominent titles such as League of Legends or Dota 2. Variation in esport interest across individual countries is common. But, new intelligence is helping us understand the unprecedented professional gaming sphere on a more precise scale.

Here is a look at each state’s favorite esport, according to the research:

Esports by state

Overwatch in America

Overwatch is dominating American gaming enthusiasts’ time like never before. Blizzard’s recently launched Overwatch League is reframing how pro-gaming competitions operate, propelling the game to new levels.

The success of Overwatch is indisputable. Being watched more frequently than any other esport in 18 states, its popularity is vividly seen and reflected.

The current predominance of American Overwatch professionals is provided clarity by these statistics. It accesntuates the United States as being a hub for the sci-fi first-person shooter. With an inflated interest, a region is more easily able to generate talent over time. Other regions may have less motivation in understanding and playing a game competitively.

Overwatch leads supreme in most of the West Coast, earning the No. 1 spot in California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. The west is also home to America’s first dedicated esports stadiums. Those are the Blizzard Arena (Los Angeles) and the planned Luxor arena (Las Vegas).

Call of Duty and Halo

Call of Duty and Halo are titles whose similarities have historically clashed by their nature of both being successful first-person shooters, and they both boast intriguing statistics to probe.

In the case of Activision’s Call of Duty, the title is not as popular in the west. It’s noteworthy that there is a large cluster on the East Coast in which Call of Duty is most popular, in 14 states to be exact. Being a more global game than Halo, the hearty talent pool of American pros in the Call of Duty World League is better explained when acknowledging its substantial presence in the states.

While the overall popularity has appeared to dwindle over the years for Halo, its global audience has increased overtime. Halo’s long-standing competitive scene spawned in the United States. Now expanding through Europe, the game boasts a more global interest as well as gaining some international talent. Although fundamental changes sent the game on a bit of a decline, Halo’s most elite spartans are still produced in the US, primarily throughout the Midwest.

FIFA dominating the Northeast

One of the best-selling franchises of all time, FIFA, doesn’t sell out stadiums like other esports have shown. Sports-simulation games are by all means fun to play and can be highly competitive, It’s just not as exciting to watch when compared to actual sports themselves. EA Sports recently announced its FIFA eWorld Cup, advertised as its largest tournament ever, likely to shift some attention towards the game.

In the data provided by Frontier, FIFA is the most-watched esport in New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The small yet concentrated area in which the less trendy esport thrives is an interesting contraction. Soccer in the United States is not all that popular. Yes, it has gained a ton of momentum in the last several years. However it still lags behind much of the world in terms of engagement.

Growing up in Connecticut, I can attest to the weighty accent of soccer in these regions as well the heated FIFA competitions among friends. According to EsporstEarnings however, FIFA’s best players are still coming from outside the US.

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Top tier esports in the United States

In this data-driven conversation of esports in the United States, it’s important to understand the relevance of games in professional gaming. Each game has different sizes and calibers of audiences. While Overwatch currently dominates the American gaming world, this doesn’t reflect the global popularity. Although there’s no ‘official’ ranking of esports, you can break games into tiers based off Twitch viewership and prize pools:

While games like League of Legends, Dota 2, CS:GO and Hearthstone are considerably the biggest esports in the world, their influence in the United States is limited. Americans have historically fallen short of their international competitors due to the advanced infrastructures for titles such as StarCraft in Korea, for example, hindering its local interest. Despite this, Dota 2 is identified as being Washington’s favorite.

Not only does the Northwestern state show a high interest in an unlikely subject given its geographic location, it’s also considered one of the top cities for esports in the world. Home to Microsoft, Valve and Nintendo of America, Seattle is a pinnacle for competitive gaming.

Back to the concept of Dota 2, Seattle had been home to the premier Dota 2 tournament, The International, for several years. The tournament congregates the world’s best Dota 2 teams to compete for prize pools in the tens of millions. Despite Dota 2 being an outlier in this study, it’s presence in Washington comes as little surprise.

Overwatch League Preseason Debut Silences Naysayers

December 8, 2017

The long-awaited Overwatch League is finally kicking off this week.

The preseason schedule is already underway, and the inaugural games will take place through Dec. 9. Originally promised to begin sometime in 2018, Overwatch fans are ecstatic for the OWL’s timely launch.

Here’s everything you need to know about the league leading up to its debut and moving forward:

Creating a new type of competition

Overwatch has been nothing short of a success story since its release back in May 2016. The last recorded player count in mid-October marked 35 million heroes.

The masterminds behind Overwatch’s creation and design — Blizzard Entertainment — are also responsible for reputable titles such as World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and StarCraft. Many anticipate Blizzard bringing the game to unimaginable heights with the integration of its Overwatch League.

The Overwatch League is a first of its kind in terms of structure. Rather than established gaming franchises having ownership of OWL teams, Blizzard scrapped that idea and started fresh by auctioning franchise ownership of localized teams (for a lofty buy-in starting at $20 million).

What makes OWL unique in this case is that it disqualifies companies like Liquid, Counter-Logic Gaming and Echo Fox from owning teams and instead shifts that focus to geo-franchising, a crux of this model.

Unexpected start for Overwatch League

Prior to the action taking place this week at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, one of the 12 teams already had to drop out of the preseason.

The Philadelphia Fusion cited “player logistics issues” as the reason for pulling out of the OWL debut match against Florida Mayhem. Further research into the topic shows their South Korean tank Su-min “Sado” Kim was issued a 30-match suspension for boosting, or leveling up other players’ Overwatch accounts for money.

Despite this, the OWL is already in full swing and delivering on its promise of a rich Overwatch viewing experience for spectators as well as a fierce gameplay for competitors.

Preseason launch

Eleven out of 12 teams ventured out to the Blizzard Arena to partake in the four-day event. Inaugural league games include bouts between Florida Mayhem and San Francisco Shock (originally Philadelphia Fusion) as well as Seoul Dynasty squaring up against the Shanghai Dragons. The preseason schedule wouldn’t appear to be impromptu, either, as teams that would in theory be rivals met each other early in the competition.

All three California-based squads face each other at least once over the course of the preseason. Dallas Fuel vs. Houston Outlaws is another rivalry match. New York Excelsior went head-to-head against Boston Uprising in another age-old city rivalry in the opening two days.

The outcomes of the initial matches will determine the remainder of the games.

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OWL meeting expectations

At first subject to a vast scrutiny from esports enthusiasts for seeming ‘too ambitious,’ it’s safe to say the Overwatch League has since silenced naysayers. Blizzard’s dedication to the league shined through much of the controversy surrounding its release.

Our first glimpse of the OWL is more than what anyone could have expected. Intended to enhance the spectator experience, an array of new weapons in spectator mode include a detailed mapping of each hero’s health, kill-feed and objective status bar across the top of the screen.

In replay mode, seamless transitions to past bites of skill helps viewers relive these crucial moments without deviating too far from the current action of the match.

Most popularly, OWL released designated skins for each team to sport in competition. Players wear their squads’ customized armor, making the action that much easier to follow on screen, especially in a chaotic game like Overwatch. Compare this to an athlete wearing a jersey, the concept is simple yet something we’ve never seen in esports. That’s not to mention the skins are purchasable in-game, with 50 percent of the proceeds going in the pockets of the teams themselves.

Revolutionary beginning

So far, the Overwatch League premiere seems to fulfill, if not surpass, the immense expectations the totality of the professional gaming community placed on it.

Tension still exists within a large portion of the esports community, fearing that Blizzard’s global league will collapse under the weight of its own aspirations. Blizzard’s exquisite roll-out of the OWLwas a marketing strategy to marvel at and will more than likely help drive it into orbit.

Overwatch League preseason games and schedule are on the OverwatchLeague.com website or MLG.tv.

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.

Overwatch League Adding Two New Teams, Announces Blizzard Arena LA As Venue

Dustin Gouker September 18, 2017

The Overwatch League officially announced that Blizzard Arena Los Angeles would be its home for its first season, and reports say that the league has added two new franchises in US.

Blizzard Arena LA

Overwatch League said that Burbank Arena would be the home to competition, when it gets underway.

More from the league:

 While the building once played host to landmark TV programs as part of the legendary Burbank Studios, we’ve custom-renovated the space for esports events so that pro players and audiences alike can have a great experience.

Overwatch League matches will be held in one of the full-service studios with seating for more than 450 people and multiple spectator boxes for special guests. The facility includes convenient practice areas, where teams can warm up before their matches, as well as player lounges and offices.

The venue will also feature “a dedicated Blizzard Gear store” when matches take place there, with merchandise also available online.

We’re still waiting for the announcement of when the league will officially start and take place.

New esports arena gets a tryout

In the interim, the arena will get a few test drives.

The Overwatch Contenders Season One Playoffs will be the first event held at the venue Oct. 7-8. Four teams from North America and Europe will complete for $100,000 per region.

Then, on Oct. 13, the Summer Championship for the Hearthstone Championship Tour takes over, with $250,000 on the line. The top players in that event qualify for the Hearthstone World Championship in early 2018.

New franchises in Houston, Philadelphia

Also new for Overwatch League, ESPN reported that new franchises are on the way:

In Philadelphia, Blizzard sealed the deal with Comcast Spectacor, the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers and sports branch of cable giant Comcast. OpTic Gaming and its new investor, a group led by Texas Rangers co-owner Neil Leibman, have purchased a spot in Houston.

There will be a total of 14 franchises, according to ESPN, at a $20 million pricetag per team.

Here’s the list of teams we know about, officially:

  • Boston
  • New York City
  • Los Angeles (two teams)
  • Overwatch San Francisco
  • Miami-Orlando
  • London
  • Shanghai
  • Seoul

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.

How Blizzard’s Overwatch League Will Change The Esports Landscape

August 7, 2017

Blizzard’s Overwatch League has faced scrutiny since it was announced at BlizzCon 2016.

There’s a ton of speculation surrounding the long-term sustainability of the league. Blizzard, however, should ultimately be applauded for its efforts to interject fresh ideas into the esports landscape.

Regionalism and why it’s important

One compelling element offered by OWL is the introduction of teams representing US cities. “ActiBlizz” CEO Bobby Kotick is referring to it as “the biggest milestone” in creating the league.

This form of representation is relatively new to esports. Previously, teams formed simply by assembling players, a team name, logo, and attending tournaments. So what about regionalism is going to be so beneficial to the competitive gaming scene?

Fans are now going to have something to stand behind: an Overwatch team hailing from their hometown. This will further strengthen the connection between players and fans. Certain cities and regions may be recognized as being appreciably superior to others in games, bringing bragging rights for locals.

Team announcements and investors

The Overwatch League has announced the first seven teams. Their respective cities and owners are as follows:

  • Boston, USA: Robert Kraft, chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots
  • New York, USA: Jeff Wilpon, co-founder and partner of Sterling.VC and COO of the New York Mets
  • Los Angeles, USA: Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals
  • Miami and Orlando, USA: Ben Spoont, CEO and co-founder of Misfits Gaming
  • San Francisco, USA: Andy Miller, chairman and founder of NRG Esports
  • Shanghai, China: NetEase
  • Seoul, South Korea: Kevin Chou, co-founder of Kabam

The bidding for each franchise started at $20 million, with prices being higher in certain urban markets like New York City and LA.

The shifting interest in esports towards ‘traditional sport’ owners and investors gives skeptics of the league more of an optimistic outlook. Having that expertise involved in the development of the project and competitive gaming in general is beneficial to say the least.

Examining the model and purpose

Blizzard plans on introducing a home and away game structure similar to current traditional sports, but not immediately. Blizzard’s global director of esports, Nate Nanzer, hopes to build the local scene first:

“We hope that by having these local teams that in a few years every team has home games. There’s millions of kids around the world that would love to go to an esports tournament and buy merch, but can’t because of travel costs. These localized teams will unlock lots of local revenue.”

Revenue aside, having an affordable and accessible option for spectating top-level competition live is the crux of this model. Intimate local competitions bring together fans of Overwatch, on a presumably frequent basis. This creates purpose and camaraderie, all beneficial to furthering the growth of esports.

There’s no set launch date for Blizzard’s Overwatch League. We expect it to commence sometime in 2018, however.

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Image credit: Phillip Maguire / Shutterstock.com

Activision Blizzard Touts Overwatch League In Earnings Call, But Cautions Patience On Revenue

Dustin Gouker August 4, 2017

The pending launch of the Overwatch League was a major part of the Q2 earnings call for Activision Blizzard Inc., although the company warned investors not to expect meaningful revenue in the short term.

Blizzard bullish on Overwatch League

CEO Bobby Kotick touched on the first franchise sales for Overwatch League in his opening remarks for the earnings call. Last month, the league announced where the first seven franchises would be located, and who bought them. (It also recently divulged some details about players and salaries.)

The executives on the call didn’t give us any new sense of when the league will launch. One executive simply said it would happen “later this year.”

Here’s what Kotick had to say:

We also announced the first team sales for the Overwatch League, the first major global city-based professional esports league. We have the very best teams with the very best resources dedicated to celebrating and rewarding the world’s best professional Overwatch players.

Overwatch, with more than 30 million players has captured imaginations and driven strong global engagement. We organized our league around major cities, taking a proven model from competition in traditional sports. Our announced team owners and their locations, New England, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, Shanghai and Seoul and the many more we expect to announce, represent the very best in esports and traditional sports.

“We made strong progress this quarter on the Overwatch League as Bobby already mentioned,” COO Collister Johnson added. “That progress was a meaningful milestone toward establishing a league-based professional competition as a standalone business. We now have a sustainable structure, in which to invest for the long term, with the very best partners from traditional sports and from esports.

But don’t get too excited…

Others were touting the future of Overwatch. But CFO Spencer Neumann made sure that investors realize that Overwatch isn’t expected to turn into a cash cow right away.

Here’s what Neumann said:

Before I turn to our 2017 outlook, I’d like to provide some detail on the impact of the Overwatch League. With the recently-announced sale of seven teams, we do expect some revenue upside to Q4, but it will be modest given the recognition of team sale proceeds over multiple years. Further, from an operating income perspective, the revenue recognition of team sales will be partially offset by the investment required to launch the league including inaugural season marketing.

As we look ahead to the first season, we see a number of important upcoming milestones, including standing up league operations, supporting team’s development of player rosters, attracting sponsors, elevating the viewer experience and securing media distribution. We’re investing in this league for the long term. Over time, we expect to recognize additional revenues related to both more team sales and multiple league revenue streams. We see this as a substantial long-term value driver for the business.

More on Overwatch League economics

Neumann also got more into how exactly the company plans to monetize the league, and how revenues will work. As reported earlier, the leagues and team owners will share in the revenue, 50-50.

But what are those revenue streams?

“So we were really deliberate in structuring this business to attract the best owners and players in order to position the Overwatch League for long-term success,” Neumann said. “And that starts with optimizing alignment between the league which we own with the teams and our players. So at the league level, we’re establishing a pool of shared league-wide revenues composed of media rights and consumer products, league-level sponsorship and a portion of league-related digital in-game merchandise.”

Blizzard is also leaving room for teams to make their own money at the local level via “ticket sales and concessions and local sponsorships and local merch sales,” Neumann added. “But they’ll also have more unique opportunities such as the ability to host certain nonprofessional Overwatch matches.”

Also of note from the earnings call

  • Despite no new full game releases in the quarter, Blizzard’s monthly active users (MAUs) hit a record of 46 million. That’s up 38 percent from last year and up 12 percent from the last quarter
  • Overwatch MAUs are up every quarter since launch.
  • Hearthstone MAUs increased to an all-time record for the franchise, fueled by the new expansion Journey to Un’Goro.

More on the quarter’s earnings report and other metrics here.