The Overwatch League will put in place a level playing field for all the participant teams. Each team in the Overwatch League will need to make a separate business entity with different names specific to the League according to a report by ESPN.
The League is expected to launch at the end of 2017, almost a full year after the initial announcement during Blizzcon 2016. After months of initial silence, there have been nine teams that are announced and confirmed so far. According to Blizzard, there will be more teams that will be announced in the upcoming weeks.
The Overwatch League requires a minimum investment of $20 million. With investments coming from various organisations we have seen a very diversified ownership. The nine teams announced so far include a mix of traditional sports owners and endemic esports organisations. There are pros and cons to both kinds of investment. The OWL is a long term league that has been planned keeping all parties in mind. It ensures that players are not left out in their aspirations to go professional. However it is also equally important to ensure the financial viability of the team owners.
The creation of a separate business entity effectively means the creation of a totally new brand altogether. Brand awareness is an extremely unbalanced topic when it comes to teams in the Overwatch League. On one hand we have traditional esports teams such as Cloud9, Misfits and Immortals. These teams are well known in esports scene. They have multiple teams participating in various esports titles such as Dota2, LoL, PUBG etc.
The other group consists of the investments from Traditional sports owners such as the Kraft Group, Kevin Chou etc. These teams are well established in sports and have created successful businesses. However when it comes to esports and understanding the esports culture, they definitely have a disadvantage. There is definitely no brand that they are associated with (not yet at least).
The Overwatch league will be the brand encompassing all these teams. Blizzard believes that the Overwatch League will grow large enough to be a huge brand. The teams will benefit immensely from their association with the League. Some of the teams have a lot of experience in esports, while some others have decades of experience in building a sports brand ground up. The combination of all these factors should alleviate any concerns that the teams might have regarding this decision.
However the decision does seem to favor the sports brands on face value. With the likes of Kraft Group, VC Sterling investing into esports and the in the success of the Overwatch League there is a lot riding on this esports league. The decision to create separate entities means that any branding that the esports teams have will be lost. The association of the fans with these teams definitely comes in from the brand name and the brand logo in a big way. Several people fear that this will cause lots of hurdles to the teams endemic to esports. However Nate Nanzer definitely disagrees.
There is nothing preventing teams with established endemic esports brands from using their experience and resources to promote Overwatch League teams to their existing fan bases,” Nanzer said. “Just as a sports ownership group may own separate team brands in different sports leagues and use the same marketing or sales team to support both, so the same can happen with teams in the Overwatch League.
Traditional sports teams
The Traditional sports teams invested in the league have some vast amounts of experience behind the team. The decision by Blizzard clearly states that the teams can have overlapping staff with their existing brands. This paves a way for the experience and talented individuals to work on the team’s development and growth.
The biggest focus for these teams will be to build the team brand from scratch. With this decision, they start out on a level playing field with the other team such as Cloud9, Immortals many of whom already have a ready fan-base for the organisation. The focus for these teams will be the growth of the team in their catchment area. The growth of fans and their loyalty to the team directly reflect the financial health of the organisation. Esports still has not been able to monetize their events and teams apart from sponsorship money. With lack of earnings from regular LAN matches and almost no merchandise sales, it is important to focus on these aspects.
While the initial impression of the decision might be that of a disadvantage to the esports teams, it really is not. Esports organisations currently have a varied portfolio. A single organisation almost certainly has teams in multiple esports all playing under the same team name. One of the best examples is Cloud9 who are one of the oldest and most successful esports organisations in the world. Cloud9 are involved in various esports such as CS GO, Dota2 , League of Legends. These teams do not always associate themselves to a particular geolocation. While their CS GO fans will see them as a NA team, the same cannot be said for their other teams.
Geolocation is the core of the Overwatch League. They want to emulate a home and away system for matches in the League. With a big esports brand being associated with multiple locations, it will cause a lot of confusion for their existing and new fans. This will actually work against their efforts to monetize their brand.
“The Overwatch League is an entirely new endeavour in esports, combining a brand-new IP with a city-based team structure and other components that strongly distinguish it from other initiatives and programs in competitive gaming,
” Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer told ESPN. “Our team owners are all as enthusiastic as we are about starting with a clean slate and developing branding that is built from the ground up to reflect and enhance the innovations of the League as a whole.”
The first year will see the Overwatch league take place at Los Angeles. This gives ample time for all the teams to prepare their strategies and business plan for the subsequent years. Their association with the Overwatch League will provide them with a big boost to their brand. If the teams are able to take off from there, is just a matter of time. However all the teams will start out at the same level and there will be no undue advantage to any team.
We definitely think that starting all the teams from the same starting point is a good decision. It will will ensure none of the teams have any advantage. The focus for the inaugural season of the Overwatch league will be solely on the players and their performance in the league. Having unknown team names would essentially allow the game to be the center of attention for the spectators.
The biggest draw for the Overwatch League is the League itself. At least in the initial years, the Overwatch League Brand is expected to be much bigger than that of the individual teams. Things are expected to move fast in the upcoming weeks. The Blizzcon 2017 will be the showcase event for Blizzard to advertise their Overwatch League.
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